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PARIS PARAMOUR

WORDS JAMES WHITBORN

A FAST íNí FURIOUS FACE-OFF

PARIS PARAMOUR

PEUGEOT 308 GT DIESEL

THE $43K GT diesel shares lots with the Mazda Ė cruise, hill-hold, keyless entry/start, blind-spot monitoring, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, sat-nav, dual-zone climate, auto wipers and lights Ė then adds front sensors, a bigger 9.7-inch colour multimedia touchscreen (7.0-inch in Astina), auto-park and massage front seats. 14/20 PUGíS GT oiler is auto-only (the petrol GT is manual-only).

With 400Nm from 2000rpm, the six-speed 308 charges hard, but with all 133kW arriving early (3750rpm), itís not especially sporty, despite electronic sound augmentation.

Acceleration to 100km/h is decent at 8.4sec, while 4.0L/100km combined-cycle economy is brilliant. 16/20 TWENTY percent stiffen-up over lesser variants is felt in flatter handling. The snout points quickly in response to the small-diameter wheel and thereís only a subtle sense of the relatively heavy engine blunting the 308ís enthusiasm. Steering not big on feel but dependably linear, and the front delivers a high grip threshold. 15/20 PEUGEOTíS floating instrument cluster polarises.

We reckon it works well, but depends on the proportions of the driver. Cabin is classy, well-built and offers terrific comfort with Alcantara/PVC seats, great ergonomics and good space. Cargo bay is more capacious at 435 litres, thanks in part to torsion-beam rear suspension. 17/20 REAR torsion-beam suspension that helps cargo bay packaging (and doesnít unduly affect handling) is nonetheless responsible for some bumpy-road niggles.

While the base 308 is an absorbent grand tourer, the GT, ironically, isnít as supple, riding on stiffer springs and 18-inch wheels. But itís commendably quiet inside. 15/20

77/100

HIROSHIMA HERO

MAZDA 3 XD ASTINA

ASTINAíS brilliant turbo-diesel and auto, and the return to a í90s nameplate, make for an interesting package. Itís pricey ($41K), but tops the 308 with rear cross-traffic alert, auto emergency braking, forward obstruction and lanedeparture systems, radar cruise control, powered glass roof, seat heaters and adaptive headlights. 15/20 ASTINA trumps 308 with 420Nm but is heavier, resulting in an identical sprint time. Economy is no match at 5.0L/100km, but the broad power band and throttle response are worth the bowser cost. Astina XD manual in a land of its own for driver-appeal and itís a weapon Ė seven-tenths faster to 100km/h than the auto. 17/20 AS WITH the 308, adding an oiler to the sprightly and entertaining 3 removes some of the sparkle; it feels a bit nose-heavy compared with the petrols. But the steering delivers feel once you lean on the nose, and the engineís low-rev torque brings a means of exploring the dynamic envelope that isnít available in an SP25. 15/20 RED-stitched leather and suede trim elevates cabin ambience above lesser 3s, while a high level of standard equipment makes it feel worth the money. Rear legroom is more generous but boot smaller at 308 litres. Multifunction commander control knob aids infotainment useability and head-up display is useful too. 16/20 MAZDAíS exhaust sound synthesiser is subtler than the Peugeotís, in step with the fact it doesnít spruik its warmhatch credentials as loudly. More engine noise mightíve helped mask the dull tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces.

While Mazdaís base 3 canít match a cooking 308 for ride and refinement, the XD is in the league of the GT. 15/20

78/100

POINTS SCORE

V PRICE & EQUIPMENT

20 POINTS

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY

20 POINTS

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY

20 POINTS

RIDE & REFINEMENT

20 POINTS 20 POINTS

STEERING & HANDLING

VERDICT

SMALL cars start around $20K, so you need powerful justification to spend double that. And, given that a good hot hatch Ė say, a Golf GTI Ė delivers its entertainment with few compromises, an identically priced warm hatch, on the surface at least, exists in no-manís land. Dig a bit deeper and the XD Astinaís effortless grunt, economy and a truly loaded level of standard equipment (with lots of advanced safety stuff) makes for an alluring package. The 308 GT diesel works with similar fundamentals, though itís not quite as richly equipped and perhaps removes more from the poise and polish of the excellent entry-level 308 than it deposits in torque and thrift.

Weíd buy a Golf GTI or, if picking from this pair, the Astina.