Hot hatch has some cool features but force-fed engine loses the gloss.
I blame the turbocharger. The exhaust-driven air pump has transformed modern motoring, boosting power and torque while also delivering frugal fuel consumption and greener emissions.
However, something goes missing when a turbo takes over the engine room. And that's excitement.
Lamborghini says it is staying true to old-school engine technology without turbos to preserve the screaming redline and howling soundtrack of its V10 and V12 engines. This year I've driven a wide range of force-fed engines up to a new Porsche 911. The numbers are good and the performance is strong, but...
Why talk about this in a road test of the Peugeot 308 GTi? Because it's one of the cars that has lost its spark.
It's not alone, as I've felt and (not) heard the same in other cars including the Renault Clio RS, Volkswagen Golf GTi and even Peugeot's own 208 GTi.
The perky 308 is comfortable and refined, with a great chassis and a classy cabin, but it's not ringing my bell.
The turbo surge makes it swift and responsive, with great overtaking power, but there is no real incentive to give it a rev and, even when you do, there is no reward on the noise front. Historically, GTi cars have been rorty little pocket rockets, not grown-up cruisers.
It's no slowpoke and it's quick from the lights.
But enough of the personal preferences, because the 308 GTi is a lovely car. I'm expecting a lot after driving the baby 208 GTi earlier in the year and discovering a car that is surprisingly good on lumpy and bumpy backroads in the hills between Sydney and Bathurst.
The 308 is on my home ground with similar challenges and it meets them easily. It has a huge 300Nm of torque, which means you barely need to downshift for tight corners and that also keeps the chassis relaxed and responsive.
It's possible, and preferable, to hold a high gear, use minimal steering effort and just surge through and away from corners. The GTi still makes 184kW, or 250 horsepower in the old numbers, so it's no slowpoke and it's quick from the lights.
But if you use all the go it's easy to overexcite the front wheels and get the suspension bouncing up and down under hard acceleration, and there is also some steering tug — torque steer — when I'm asking for maximum outputs.
However, the cabin is roomy for the class and I really like the finishing work. The trim looks and feels classy, everything is well bolted together, the seats are both cushy and supportive for any length of trip and it's quiet inside.
It's as good as a Golf for me, and a cut above the Koreans, a feeling that is helped by suspension that is typically Peugeot with good compliance but not too much thump or bounce despite the GTi settings.
Don't get me started on Peugeot's i-Cockpit system, which is claimed as a breakthrough in comfort and, for the instruments, readability. Not for me.
I've tried it before. I can either obscure half the crucial instruments or have the steering wheel set far too low, which means compromising on safety — the digital speedometer is just-about invisible — or settle for comfort and control. Erk.
Then again, some people say they really like i-Cockpit. Both of them.
The fuel economy is good, the six-speed shift is slick.
The 308 has a solid safety package and a five-star NCAP score from Europe, perhaps not as good as I would like, but the fuel economy is good, the six-speed shift is slick — you don't fit an auto in a hot hatch — and the brakes are good.
Balancing the GTi's many strengths against a couple of shortcomings, I'm reminded Peugeot has a harder-edged 308. It's called the GTi 270.
The 270 (also denoting the horsepower figure) is probably the GTi I would want. It would still have i-Cockpit but is a much sharper tool.
For an extra $5000, the power jumps to 200kW. That's significant and also means the engine must have a harder and more responsive tune.
It also gets a Torsen limited-slip differential, so you can use more power and torque for more of the time in corners, as well as larger brakes with four-piston front calipers, lighter 19-inch alloys with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and proper sports seats.
Peugeot says the 270 gets to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds, only 0.2 secs quicker than the 250 but another reflection of the sharper edge. But I'm not driving the 270, I'm in the 250.