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Peugeot 308 GTi 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
7
John Carey road tests and reviews the Peugeot 308 GTi with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its international launch.

French hot hatch has the grunt and good looks to take on Golf's GTI but does it have the appeal?

GTi or GTI? It's a question hot-hatch buyers will be asking from early next year. That's when the fast and feisty GTi version of Peugeot's best new car in years, the 308 hatchback, will join the line-up in Australia.

The French company admits that its car targets a great German, the Golf GTI.

As with Volkswagen, Peugeot has aimed for a balanced blend of power and practicality. The 308 GTi comes only as a five-door car. There are few visual hints that it packs something hyperactive in its engine bay. It sits a little lower to the road (11mm), has big wheels and tyres (18 or 19-inch), wears different front and rear bumpers and has a pair of big exhaust pipes. It's a low-key approach to high performance, which is also the Golf GTI way.

But unlike VW, Peugeot has a solution for anyone who wants their GTi to scream its status on the streets. The optional two-colour paint job Peugeot will offer is eye-catching. The coupe franche treatment — French for "fresh cut" — leaves the front two-third of the car red, but with a black back end. It will only be available on the high-power version, and won't be cheap.

The engine of the 308 GTi is a little beauty

While the 308 GTi comes only with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four, Peugeot will produce the engine with 184kW and 200kW outputs. Metal parts are identical, including forged pistons from German specialist Mahle, heat-treated aluminium engine block and Borg Warner twin-scroll turbo. Engine management software alone is responsible for the power difference.

Developed by Peugeot Sport, which constructs the company's race and rally cars, the engine of the 308 GTi is a little beauty. Though smaller than the 2.0-litre turbo four in the Golf GTI, the French engine is more powerful than the German. Depending on precisely which versions are compared, the GTi gives its driver 15kW to 38kW more power than a GTI.

Peugeot presented the 308 GTi to international media in Portugal, with driving time on both road and racetrack, but only in the 200kW version.

As well as the extra power, this version is equipped standard with larger 19-inch Michelin tyres, a Torsen limited-slip differential and bigger front brakes from English company Alcon. The engine delivers great shove on a circuit, and feels effortless when cruising at the speed limit. It has real muscle, yet is smooth and quiet, too. The tyres are superb, making the steering feel sharply responsive, and the brakes are powerful.

But Peugeot pairs this great turbo four only with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Its innards are toughened to handle the engine's high torque, but it's not the kind of slick shifter something like the 308 GTi deserves. A bigger problem is most Australians prefer autos, even in hot hatches, and Peugeot has no plans to offer one in the GTi. The 308 GTi has a simple torsion-beam axle in the rear, which in theory is inferior to the Golf's multi-link suspension. But Peugeot Sport's engineers have done a good job disguising the disadvantage with the stiffer springs and shock absorbers they chose.

The 308 GTi turns into corners with real eagerness and barely any body roll. And the rear end faithfully follows the front. While the handling is outstanding, ride comfort is good for such a sporty car. The suspension is firm, but it takes the edge off road impacts.

It's hard to see the GTi doing anything but eat the GTI's dust

The interior of the 308 GTi is as understated as its exterior, and equipped with a pair of excellent leather and Alcantara-trimmed sports seats. The steering wheel and instrument layout the GTi shares with other 308s are less easy to like. The steering wheel is small and low-set, while the main instruments are mounted high. Looking at the speedo and other dials over the top of the wheel, as you must, can feel weird. The simple, good looking dashboard also pushes many commonly used functions to the touch screen in its centre. Those who prefer to adjust ventilation with real buttons, levers and rotary controls won't like this.

The 308's interior is fine; nicely made from quality materials, and practical. The rear seat isn't quite as spacious as Golf's, but the 400 litre-plus boot is a good size.

While the 308 GTi can match the Golf GTI in some key areas, like performance and handling, its lack of auto, interior layout and slightly more squeezey rear seat will prove a showroom challenge when it arrives next year.

But price will be the biggest challenge for the GTi. These are not yet fixed, but the official line from the importer is the basic and high-power versions will be somewhere from $45,000 to $55,000. In other words, more expensive than the Golf GTI.

Verdict

Even with its power edge, it's hard to see the GTi doing anything but eat the GTI's dust.

Which do you prefer: the Golf or the 308? Tell us in the coments below.

Pricing guides

$13,990
Based on 32 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$10,900
Highest Price
$21,500

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CC Allure Turbo 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $27,500 – 33,110 2015 Peugeot 308 2015 CC Allure Turbo Pricing and Specs
Access 1.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $9,990 – 11,950 2015 Peugeot 308 2015 Access Pricing and Specs
Active 1.2L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $10,100 – 15,290 2015 Peugeot 308 2015 Active Pricing and Specs
Allure 1.2L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $12,500 – 18,150 2015 Peugeot 308 2015 Allure Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7