Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Peugeot 308 GTi 250 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Renaissance is a French word we all like to bandy about when we talk about things that suddenly - and sometimes inexplicably - get better.

From the outside, Peugeot has done just that, with a dramatic improvement in its products over the past few years. The bustling little 208 was a good start and the 308 an absolute belter, even in manual 1.2-litre form.

But what many of us were waiting for was the revival of the brand's fortunes when it came to the hot hatches it was once famous for. Again, the 208 GTI was a cracking start and then we found out we'd get not one, but two versions of the 308 GTI, which was exciting.

We took the 'lesser' of the two, the GTI 250, and asked the question – why pay more?

Price and features

There are two 308 GTIs on offer, the 270 is $49,990, a full $5000 more than the $44,990 spec of the 250 we have here. It's important to get some context: the Volkswagen Golf GTI manual is $40,990 and the raucous Focus ST just $38,990.

The 250 comes standard with dual-zone climate control, six-speaker stereo with 6.9gb hard drive, dual USB ports and Bluetooth, keyless entry and start, 18-inch alloys, leather and Alcantara trim, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, satnav, cruise control, auto headlights and wipers, sports pedals, power windows and mirrors, LED headlights and daytime running lights and cooled glovebox.

The extra $5000 for the 270 gets you a tick more power (as the name suggests), bigger wheels, electric seats and wider, stickier tyres. It also loses the 250's full-size spare.

Design

Discussing the merits of the 308's conservative sheetmetal is unlikely to cause violent argument. It's a handsome machine, with a fairly conservative, Golf-like silhouette, coupled with Peugeot's evolving corporate face and detailing. You can pick out the GTI with the LED lights and red flashes up front and two huge exhaust exits at the back, poking out of deeper bumpers.

The general fit and finish is outstanding.

Inside is Peugeot's wacky i-Cockpit – the tiny steering wheel sits low, the dials high. To your left is the 9.7-inch screen that looks after pretty much everything apart from hazard lights, stereo volume, door lock/unlock and recirc function. It means fewer buttons, but you have to use the slow-to-respond screen a lot more.

It's an acquired taste but once you get yourself sorted (easy in the uncommonly comfortable front deep-bucket seats) and readjust to the microscopic wheel, you'll be fine. Some people of certain heights have told me they're put off by the layout - and not being able to see the speedo through the steering-wheel rim - which is understandable, but it shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

The general fit and finish is outstanding, with high-quality materials throughout and nothing squeaked or rattled on our test, despite some enthusiastic driving along bumpy roads. There's red stitching and highlights throughout (including a slightly naff strip of red at top dead centre of the steering wheel), but everything is low-key. One lovely touch is the alloy gear knob, although in cold weather it might sting a warm hand.

Practicality

The front seats in this car are terrific, with plenty of shoulder, head and leg room under that high roof. Rear seat passengers won't be luxuriating in much leg or knee room, but if you're under about 160cm, you'll be fine and loading kids in and out is easy, given the squared-off door aperture.

It also goes like the clappers and is a barrel of laughs.

There's a single cupholder up front in a plastic fitting that can be rolled out of the way without it going missing. The rear centre armrest has two cupholders, bringing the total to three. The two front door pockets could take a small bottle each, but the rears are too narrow.

The boot is a whopping (for the class) 470 litres and the rear seats split 60/40, with up to 1309 litres available. There's also a glovebox too small to fit the instruction manuals, but it is cooled as consolation.

Engine and transmission

The 250 and 270 share the same 1.6-litre petrol turbo four cylinder, ripping out 184kW and 330Nm in the 250 (that number refers to the metric horsepower figure). All of that reaches the tarmac via a six-speed manual transmission, driven through the front wheels.

The 270 has 200kW neat, but exactly the same torque figure.

The last hatch this size that Peugeot made to go this fast and this well was the 306 GTi-6 of well over a decade ago.

The engine produces a lot of power for such a small unit – to get to that figure without exploding into bits, there are forged aluminium pistons, stronger condos and a heat-treated aluminium block.

Sadly, the 250 does without the 270's ingenious Torsen limited-slip diff (we're a bit suspicious of the two having the same kerb weight despite the probable 80kg impost of a LSD).

The 0-100km/h dash for the 1205kg hatch arrives in just 6.2 seconds, easily staying with the Focus, Golf GTi and rip-snorting Renaultsport Megane 265. The 270 is slightly quicker.

Fuel consumption

Peugeot claims 6.0L/100km on the combined cycle but if you drive this the way it's intended (like it's stolen, obviously), you'll get closer to the 9.5L/100km figure we recorded. Still not bad for a 184kW engine that's this much fun.

Driving

The GTi is many things – among them reasonably good looking and made of excellent materials with rather more care than past Peugeots.

It also goes like the clappers and is a barrel of laughs. The last hatch this size that Peugeot made to go this fast and this well was the 306 GTi-6 of well over a decade ago. The spirit of that car is alive and well in the 250, a car that can cover ground indecently quickly.

The tiny steering wheel adds to the feeling that the front end is very darty, going where you point it without argument.

The only real loss between this car and the 270 is that you have to be way more patient on the throttle when you're punching out of a corner, and you can't be as brutal on the brakes on the way in.

The GTi has a sport button that sharpens up throttle response and adds a bit of weight to the steering. The dashboard also changes colour, the central dash display shows gauges you can't read while you're driving (displaying live power and torque figures) and the stereo pumps a bit more aggro engine sound into the cabin, which is fake, but pleasing.

The ride can get a bit jiggly on the rough stuff and over 100km/h there's some wind noise, but refinement is otherwise excellent.

Safety

Six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls and brake assist.

The 308 scored five ANCAP stars, the highest available rating, but is missing a number of safety features, even as options.

Ownership

Peugeot's standard warranty runs for three years/100,000km alongside a three-year paintwork warranty. Roadside assistance mirrors the warranty's term.

Capped-price servicing is available, the pricing varying between the scheduled services. Costs range between $715 for the 15,000km service and $860 for the four-year/60,000km service, totalling $3965 over five years or averaging $793 over the five services.