308 GTi Limited Edition Road Test (2016)

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HATCH IS BACK


Take three random letters and arrange them into a specific order. Next, take a small hatchback that was conceived as a compact and affordable family transport, reasonably cheap to run and ideal for the school run and shopping trips whilst remaining nimble and efficient wherever it is. Next, take self same car, slot in an engine that in theory was never intended to be fitted, beef up the brakes and the suspension along wider wheels and a slightly more sonorous exhaust system. End result, the same, small family hatchback that now goes like hell, is able to slingshot around corners and goes onto become one of the most accomplished rally cars the sport has ever seen. And the three random letters, GTI of course!


The concept is more or less down to Volkswagen with their MkI Golf GTI, a boxy little German hatchback that achieved iconic status more or less within weeks of its appearance. But whilst VW can more or less claim to be the first, it was Peugeot with their 205GTI that went on to set the benchmark back in 1984. Powered initially by a 1.6 litre engine followed by a slightly more potent 1.9 litre, the ultimate incarnation was the all conquering 205T16, this mid-engined rally car eclipsing all before it.


Like all cars of this type each update saw Peugeot’s compact GTI gain in weight and girth all the while sacrificing performance and more disappointingly handling. In other words Peugeot’s 200 series GTI’s became stodgy and uninteresting, their target audience posers who just wanted the badge and the looks. Reference to the real GTI did manage to make something of a comeback in the form of the 106 Rallye but that was about it. For years, Peugeot more or less gave up, churning out some of the dullest cars on the road.


Move forward to 2016 and the French manufacturer has finally got a grip of what’s needed. So enter the Peugeot Sport 308GTI 270, a family hatchback that is now worthy of those three little letters and add the Coupe Franche colour scheme, 270hp and 19” Carbone alloys and you now have a compact Peugeot that not only looks incredibly distinctive but has the performance and attitude to go with it.


Like most GTI variants the Sport 308GTI 270 looks exactly like the more commonplace four-door 308 on which it’s based. Yes, you can get a more conventional colour scheme and save yourself £1,300 in the process but come on, you’ll buy this car because you want to stand out as much as it does. The unusual aspect of the two colours is that it’s not the top and bottom that are different it’s that the front two thirds of the car are Ultimate Red, the rear third Nera black, black window surrounds and heavily tinted glass adding to the 308’s brooding potential. I promise you that whilst it looks strange at first, for whatever reason it will very quickly grow on you.


The model specific ‘checkered flag’ grille complete with the oversized lion emblem, deep side skirts and twin chrome tailpipes take on an even more aggressive appearance when combined with the car’s 11mm lower ride height and ultra-low profile 235/35R19 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Detailed with 380mm Peugeot Sport vented carbon discs and red, four piston brake calipers sat just behind each wheel’s spokes, whilst most owners might never need to call upon the brake’s full potential, they are more than capable of hauling this 155mph car to a rapid and controllable halt.


Inside the Peugeot Sport theme continues all based around the

i-Cockpit, this simple concept creating one of the most logical steering wheel and instrument layouts on any range of vehicles. A small, thick, nappa leather rimmed sports, three turns lock to lock steering wheel complete with a red insert at twelve o’clock sits just ahead of the high set instrumentation binnacle, the red illuminated rev counter and speedo symmetrically opposed. Like all new Peugeots, most functions are now controlled via the centrally located touch screen that also houses the satnav and infotainment systems along with all aspects of the car’s climate settings.


A matched pair of leather and alcantara bolstered racing style seats provides accommodation for both driver and front passenger with a more conventional rear bench for up to three more passengers. And whilst cargo space isn’t paramount on a car such as the GTI, the rear is still capable of swallowing 501 litres of luggage with the rear seats still upright, more than doubling with them folded.


But it’s beneath the bonnet that the GTI stores its most useful piece of equipment, the 1,598cc, transversely mounted 4-cylinder S&S engine from where the 270 part of the GTI’s name comes from. Delivering 330Nm of torque, in conjunction with the horsepower, a 6-second 0-62 and a top speed of 155mph you will have to learn how to tame the car’s performance. However, even with the ‘Sport’ or hooligan setting engaged you can still expect an average of 40.3mpg or a factory specified 47mpg on a steady run equating to well over four hundred sensibly driven miles per 53 litre tank of unleaded. Boasting all sorts of performance generating features such as double oil sprayed pistons, racing derived con rods and a racing spec manifold, the end result is an engine that under normal circumstances is docile and compliant to drive. Provoke it and the change is schizophrenic.


Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission controlled via a polished aluminium with red inserts shift knob, changes, like the rest of the GTI’s controls are precise and light. Under everyday driving conditions the GTI remains as unassuming as the more conventional 308, requiring no more input from the driver than its diesel equivalent. But depress the switch and hit the throttle and the true nature of the GTI instantly comes to life.


Straights become far shorter, corners far more entertaining and overtaking a matter of a few fleeting seconds. Up front are what Peugeot call their pseudo MacPherson strut suspension whilst a twist beam with a semi-hollow anti-roll bar and aluminium wishbones take care of the rear. Spring stiffness has been increased whilst the entire suspension has been precisely tuned to cope with the increase in the car’s power. Remarkably, the ride quality remains conventional in feel only harsh cornering indicative of the improved suspension. Do however beware, irrespective of the GTI 270’s Torsen limited-slip differential, corner hard and understeer makes itself known whilst hitting the throttle hard especially in lower gears and the old hot hatch trait of torque steer appears in enormous quantities.


Tramping sideways with as much enthusiasm as it surges forwards usually to the right whilst you can physically sense the pain being inflicted on the front tyres. If you’re looking for a fast hatchback that requires little of its driver either don’t plant the 270’s accelerator hard or buy one of the more mundane 308’s. However, if you still appreciate what a genuinely powerful, old-style GTI feels and drives like, this strikingly atypical Peugeot recreates every aspect.


With the Coupe Franche two-tone colour scheme the 308 GTI 270 will cost you what is actually a quite reasonable £28,890 or £27,590 with more conventional paint. Irrespective of the colour the 308 GTI once embodies the core ethos of this type of car, practical daily, family transport, an ability to carry five people in comfort, plenty of luggage space and reasonably economical. But besides delivering people and luggage to where they need to be, Peugeot’s new 308 GTI 270 also delivers raw, almost untamed performance and enjoyment in ever increasing amounts, the halcyon days of the old 205 making a most welcome comeback.



By; Mark Stone



308 Gti Road Test