Peugeot 308 GTi 270 quick track test
OH, to be in the market for a family performance car right now.
If you've 50 grand or so burning a hole in your pant pocket your choice is enviably impressive. There are the established tempters of course - VW's Golf GTI Performance ($46,490) and Subaru Impreza WRX STi ($49,490) included, while a Skoda Octavia RS Wagon ($39,090) still looks excellent value, and the harder of core can snap up a Renault Megane RS275 for $52,990 or VW Golf R for $52,740, not to mention the incoming Ford Focus RS at $50,990.
New to the playground is Peugeot's five-door 308 GTi in either 250 or 270 guise. The numbers mean horsepower figures, so in our kW language there's the 184kW version or nice round 200kW option. Both cars come with Peugeot Sport's 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, helping the 270 hot hatch crack 100kmh in six-seconds (6.2-seconds in the 184kW 250), while both models develop peak torque of 330Nm from just 1900rpm.
Peugeot offered us an early Christmas present in the shape of a quick fling around Sydney Motorsport Park (Eastern Creek) in the 308 GTi 270, still a couple of months before the car goes on sale in Australia. The price, incidentally, will be $44,990 for the 250 version and $49,990 for the 270. And Australian pre-orders suggest the 270 is the popular choice: 70 per cent going the full fat route.
Sadly we weren't able to take the 308 GTi into the surrounding countryside for an on-road evaluation, so this report is based on an all-too brief steer on the race track - a place many 308 GTi 270 owners will hopefully give their charges regular exercise.
Shopping for larger hot hatches (or hot wagons) like a VW Golf GTI or this Peugeot 308 GTi gives performance fans greater leeway in the argument that these are, indeed, viable family cars.
The Pug's rear seating offers only average leg room, but head space is decent and you have 470-litres of boot space with a good wide opening for easy loading.
But it's up front that is the most important in such a driver's car. The cabin is awash with sporty red stitching for the upholstery, door panels and floor mats, while there is subtle red for the gear knob (which is a bit too big in the hand) and steering wheel.
The front bucket seats are Alcantara trimmed, feel superb and very grippy and are easy to manoeuvre into a low and purposeful fast driving position.
Soft plastic for the dash is appreciated while hard plastics are kept to a minimum throughout, and the small, flat-bottomed leather steering wheel is a joy in the hands.
The instruments are high mounted which is a great idea in principle (your speedo and tacho closer to your line of sight to prevent you taking your eyes off the road), but inevitably there is some obscuring by the steering wheel. You can't help but think a head-up display would have been a better solution.
But the overall feel is superb. A centrally-mounted touchscreen alongside stylised air vents offer French panache, while buttons are minimal keeping the whole control unit clean and unfussy, allowing you to concentrate on the drive.
On the road (track)
And an impressive drive it is. There's only so much you can evaluate over a few laps on a race track, but you get a picture of the fun and experience on offer.
A core reason the 308 GTi 270 is proving the more popular model is its chassis and drivetrain upgrades. The extra 16kW over the 250 are appreciated, but for track use the real gains will be felt with the combination of the 270's Torsen limited slip differential up front (the 250 misses out on one) and its bigger 19-inch wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber (the 250 gets 18-inch rims with Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres).
The result means you'll not want for traction or grip on a trackday - the GTi 270 remains planted through the twisties with wondeful turn-in - imploring you to push harder to try and unsettle it somewhat to reveal a more playful side.
With just 1.6-litres of boosted powerplant under the bonnet the GTi still pulls tremendously hard. It's a unit that loves to rev and the superb low down torque pulls you out of corners with impressive speed. You don't need to be as busy with the gearbox as a result (it's a manual six-speed only, as it should be), and it could really use a smaller gear knob and shorter throw to feel a bit sportier.
It's one reason the 308 GTi feels quite "sensible" for a performance hatch. Brilliantly quick, grippy and decent feedback, but quite easy to drive, very comfortable, excellent brakes (giant 380mm rotors for the 270) and never feeling like it's going to bite you if you make a mistake. It doesn't have the mongrel that makes us love the Renault Megane RS275 so much, but the 308 GTi certainly feels like it would be easier to live with day to day...plus two extra doors will tick a box for many.
Even though we didn't get an on-road sample, I'd bet Peugeot has got the performance/comfort balance spot on for daily use, rather than the more weekend/track day hero target of its brutal Megane rival.
Here's another good "sensible family car" justifier. Peugeot quotes 6.0-litres/100km as the GTi sups 95-98 octane, which is brilliant for a performance car, and class leading. The GTi's power-to-weight ratio helps, its 4.46 kg/hp trumping the VW Golf R and Renault Megane RS, and smashing the likes of the VW Gold GTi Performance and Ford Focus ST.
A cost problem may be regular track users needing to replace the Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber often. Not cheap.
The 308 GTi is a purposeful looking squat hatch. Those big 19-inch rims in front of giant brake rotors and callipers look the part, as do the GTi bumpers, two front spoilers, high gloss rear diffuser and red detail strip.
Extra funk comes with optional Coupe Franche two-tone red and black paint. The same job costs $4000 on the 208 GTi, so expect similar with the 308 GTi.
Hard to suggest what the 308 GTi is truly all about with just a brief track test, but it feels a worthy contender in this busy $50,000 performance segment.
Its ease to drive fast thanks to a superb chassis and engine combo holds great appeal, as does its premium sports cabin, and first impressions suggest it'd be easier to live with than its French performance rival Megane RS275. The hot Pug isn't as raw as the Renault however, so it's worth sampling both to see which suits your performance family lifestyle better. Either way, fun will be the result.
What matters most
What we liked: Superb torque, balance and grip on the track, engine note better than the 208 GTi, quality racy cabin feel, is a manual only.
What we'd liked to see: A bit more mongrel to challenge the Megane RS275, smaller gear knob and shorter throw, no automatic gearbox option will turn off some shoppers.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is annual or every 10,000km.
Model: Peugeot 308 GTi 270.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive hot hatch.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 200kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 330Nm @ 1900rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Performance 0-100kmh: 6.0-seconds.
Bottom line: $49,990 (before on-roads).
On sale: February 2016.