HOT HATCHES. Born decades ago, from cost-effective European hatchbacks as a means to inject fun into a daily drive, and still to this day one of the cheapest ways to enjoy driving fast. Itís probable weíre in a hot-hatch golden age, given we have access to everything from a sweet and simple Suzuki Swift Sport right up to a supercar-hassling AMG A45 S.
French manufacturers have long championed the humble hot hatch, with Renault having created some of the best-ever front-drivers, but Peugeotís own heritage is dotted with a couple of greats as well. Take the 205 GTi, for example, now fast becoming a sturdy investment and beloved by many.
Perhaps less well-known among Australians is another widely praised Pug, not as old or as diminutive as the 205, but still at the peak of its generation. Iím referring to the 306 GTi-6, the grandfather of the 308 Iím currently in custody of. With 123kW and an admirable 193Nm, the GTi-6 and its six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox (a big deal back then, hence the name) made it quite a handy thing for the late 1990s. Sure, 0-100km/h is pretty leisurely by modern standards, but get the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four up to its 6500rpm power peak and youíll feel like youíre flying.
Itís for this reason that hot hatches have always been a favourite of yours truly Ė a usable car day-to-day that feels fun in every circumstance is all you really need. Who cares if youíre faster than everyone else when youíre driving a twisty mountain road? We suspect Peugeotís engineers might, and thatís why these two cars are here today. Has function taken over from the focus on fun? Does EBM-83C still have the same playful nature as its forebears we so loved?
When our 306-owning reader Dave (more about his car in our Ownerís Ride section, p25) meets us, first impressions are good. Much like the 308, his GTi-6 isnít visually raucous, nor does it sound like itís looking for attention. It just adds a badge here and there, but most of the Ďhotí in this hatch is under the hood. A peek inside and, surprisingly, the GTi-6 is very much a straight-forward 1990s interior, albeit with racier seats. Thereís no backwards tachometer, no strange column stalks
Taking off in our borrowed GTi-6, itís clear the engine can make proper use of the power and torque it has, with even fourth gear able to create some hurry-up at low speeds. The immediacy of its naturally aspirated engine soon gives way to the accuracy of its steering as the 306ís front end follows commands like only the most obedient squad pupper could. But this Pug is no German Shepherd, and so in true French fashion a little transfer of weight to the front end allows the rear some wiggle room.
As the GTi-6 was graciously offered up for a test drive by a private owner, caution trumped my desire to truly see what the 20-year-old Frenchie had to offer in terms of chassis ability, but itís clear the focus for this car was making a car that was easy to have fun with. It doesnít need to be travelling at breakneck speed to put a smile on the face of whoever sits in the driverís seat, or the passenger seat.
It should be noted that its 1214kg kerb weight, two decades on, is actually higher than the 308ís 1205kg. This makes the 308 part of a very exclusive club of cars that is lighter than its ancestor. The 306 doesnít feel all that heavy, but at the risk of sounding like the Ď6í isnít a blast, I wonder what it would be like with 100kg shaved off. And maybe thatís what some modern hatches need Ė a focus on fun rather than numbers.
The 308 is far more impressive on paper than the 306 GTi-6, but does it provide the same feeling of connection with the car and excitement? Itís hard to say yes, despite the GTi being a rather lively thing by 2019 standards.
Thereís no doubt a lap of a fast racetrack in the 308 would result in a display of automotive capability well beyond that of the 306, but would it feel as special? That might best be a question left until Iíve actually had a steer of the Pug on track.
In any case, the 308 GTi still has ties to its historic DNA, even though it has a different approach. Itís not as Ďrawí as its predecessors (what modern car is?), but it takes the simplistic approach to driving in a similar fashion. No AWD, no cabin full of buttons, no drift mode, and no extroverted styling. The only things Peugeotís engineers decided to add were a front diff, which is a welcome decision, and a Sport mode that sharpens up engine response. It could do without the fake engine noise pumped into the cabin, though.
That aside, the 308 does actually still hold onto its heritage, itís just that the world has moved on from the way cars used to feel. For a car built in the age of bigger and heavier compact cars, the 308 is still a haven for old-school simplicity.
MAYBE SOME MODERN HATCHES NEED TO FOCUS ON FUN RATHER THAN NUMBERS
2. Turning circles
3. The premium feel
1. Atmo response
2. Steering feel