Peugeot 308 GTi 2015 Review

Peugeot 308 GTi 2015 Review

Motoring journalists from all around the world have been making their way to Portugal for a three-week 'kool aid fest' orchestrated by Peugeot. The occasion is the launch of the 308 GTi, an important model for Peugeot, being the brand's halo car in its 308 range.

In mainstream form, the 308 is a well-regarded car, but the GTi brings an added dimension to the small-car range and complements the 308 GT. Like the petrol GT, the GTi is powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine.

Producing either 184kW or 200kW (the world's press drove just the 200kW version in Portugal), the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a cracker. It hauls easily and without fuss from low revs, but can be wrung out to redline without any drama. Performance is linear (albeit with some noticeable turbo lag at lower revs). The engine sounds marvellous, but is unassumingly quiet compared withthe belter in the Volkswagen Golf R. For all its power and torque the 308 GTi is a laconic performer. Nothing is too demanding for the unflappable engine, whether it's whipping along at 6500rpm or pottering along at 1500rpm uphill in a high gear.

The trip computer posted a fuel consumption figure of 10.9L/100km on a hectic day of fast-paced runs up and down hills, hard-charging along winding country roads and idling for extended periods while waiting for a photographer to get the perfect shot. The following day the average settled down to 9.9L/100km with more open-road cruising. In Australia 308 GTi owners should be able to get well under 10 litres.

Part of the reason for that is the basic fuel efficiency of the 308 GTi, but it's also aided by a kerb mass of just 1205kg with a full tank of fuel, the manufacturer claims. There's also a six-speed manual transmission that offers a pretty good compromise between performance and economy, with the 308 GTi getting along at 2500rpm in sixth gear at 100km/h. With that sort of gearing and an utterly flat torque curve peaking at 330Nm, the 308 GTi will pull away easily in top gear, but without the engine screaming its head off at highway speeds. As a tourer then, the GTi is both fuel efficient and quiet inside.

That changes considerably if the driver selects Sport mode from the Driver Sport Pack. Push a button just north of the electronic park brake switch in the centre console and the 308 GTi's character shows its true beastliness. The engine is more responsive, the stability control is remapped and the soundtrack is piped in all its raw glory through the car's audio system speakers. Peugeot stresses that although the exhaust note is amplified and artificially broadcast, it is the real deal. It is not enhanced, other than for volume.

Peugeot laid on a couple of sessions around the Circuit Vasco Sameiro – unofficially known as the Braga race circuit in Portugal – to see how the 308 GTi could cope with being pressed into service for a weekend at the track. While the 308 GTi offered spirited performance and capable and forgiving cornering and braking (the latter courtesy of four-piston Alcon brakes at the front), there was one point where it fell short: the gear shift. A long-throw lever that finished too far aft in fourth gear, it was a little imprecise for track work. The situation wasn't helped any by a stupid Aussie driver not used to shifting with the right hand. While the 308's shift action was adequate on the road, on the track I wrong-slotted on a couple of occasions, failing to find third.

Out on the road I found the 308 provided an additional challenge when reversing uphill out of a steep driveway. The parking brake did hold the car on the slope initially, but by the 308 lacking the manual control a conventional handbrake affords, it was necessary to heel-and-toe, revving the engine and riding the clutch fairly hard to avoid stalling once the auto brake released.

Away from the freeway out of Porto and on some of the winding back roads the 308 GTi delighted with its steering response, feel and flat, neutral handling. Even more so on the road than on the track, the torsen ('torque-sensing') differential was noticeable for the way it could use the car's power to steer into the corner rather than out of it.

Aside from the shift lever action and the electric parking brake already mentioned, the 308 GTi is right on the money in the driving position stakes. Not everyone appreciates the steering wheel mounted so low and the instruments so high in the dash, but it really works for me. On the track at Braga, the anti-clockwise-spinning tacho needle will catch out new drivers for a while, and if you miss the redline coming up you will lose time when the engine tags the rev limiter, as one or two drivers did while circulating the track.

The front seats provided snug, supportive contouring and they were very comfortable on the extended drive program, as well as cradling the occupant in a very cosy fashion while the car was blasting around the track. Peugeot has come up with the goods for the 308's interior design and that's naturally carried over in the GTi. It's stylish and nicely finished, but a little understated perhaps, if you think back to the brazen, bright red carpeting of the original 205 GTi.

That points to who the target buyer for the 308 GTi will be – someone perhaps a bit older and a little more concerned with comfort as a counterbalance to performance than is the case for Golf GTI and Golf R buyers. The NVH suppression in the 308 GTi is another hint of that.

In keeping with the lesser 308 variants, the GTi's infotainment screen is called upon to do much – with little in the way of redundant switchgear to ease the load. Absolutely everything, including climate control, phone, nav and audio have to be operated and/or viewed from the one screen, necessitating perhaps some frequent flapping around to find the right screen.

There is one point where the 308 GTi may not offer the same level of comfort as the Golf R wagon recently tested: ride comfort. The Peugeot felt a little uncompromising, but the Golf R wagon benefits from a marginally longer wheelbase (2630 vs 2617mm) than 308 GTi. For the Peugeot, the true test will be its arrival in Aussie spec, ready to do battle with either the Golf GTI or Golf R.

In the rear, the 308 GTi feels shorter in the legroom department than either the standard 308 or the Golf 7. It's just adequate for adults of average height, but headroom is generous, despite the sunroof fitted to the test cars. That may be an option in Australia.

Another problem for the rear-seat passengers is the lack of face-level vents, which should not be the case in a car that's bound to be priced at $50,000 or higher in the local market. To its credit, the 308 GTi has a real skiport in the central rear-seat position. That opens into the boot, which is large and practical.

Under the boot floor is a tyre repair kit, but we're not certain this will be offered in all Aussie-spec cars. Assuming the 308 GTi in 184kW tune is offered with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, there may be a space-saver fitted. It's unlikely the cars with 19-inch alloys (expected to be standard for the 200kW variant and optional for the lower-output model) will have anything other than the tyre repair kit.

That then is the 308 GTi – a promising model in Peugeot's small-car line-up, but how it fares in Australia will depend to a great extent on how its price stacks up against its opposition.

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