WHEN the sun set on the thrilling 306 GTi-6 in 2001, some of Peugeot’s soul went with it. Without a Golf GTI rival, the lost decade that followed was a free kick for rivals and a kick between the legs for enthusiasts.
So any scepticism towards the 308 GTi is understandable, especially as it is down on capacity (1.6 versus 2.0 litres), up on price (10 percent above the equivalent Volkswagen) and lacking an auto option. But upsetting the establishment defines the best hot hatches and herein lays the (other) Lion brand’s greatest opportunity to roar once more.
Case in point: France’s GTi weighs 100kg less than Germany’s GTI. It’s even lighter than the little Polo GTI, by 29kg. So the 308’s 184kW 1.6-litre ‘250’ (for brake horsepower) boasts 152kW per tonne, while the 200kW ‘270’ version manages a mighty FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE 166kW/tonne, considerably better than the 123kW/tonne for the 162kW 2.0-litre Golf GTI.
Consequently, the 250 ($44,990, with standard LED headlights, sat-nav and reversing camera) is quick off the line, the acceleration building hastily as the revs soar towards the 7000rpm cut-out.
Furthermore, selecting Sport mode is like choosing the red pill, with the Peugeot’s performance – complete with amplified exhaust – stepping up a notch.
Spend an extra $5K for the 270 and you get noticeably more muscle, especially up top, while Sport really magnifies the sensation of speed and sound.
This GTi is feverishly fast, and from just 1.6 litres.
Yet it’s the dynamic delicacy – courtesy of the latest 308’s fine EMP2 architecture – that is outstanding, from precise, measured and tactile steering to the chassis’ control, which feels simultaneously planted and light-footed. Aided by the 270’s limited-slip diff and terrific brakes, it devours corners. Yet the suspension – lower, firmer, and stronger, but essentially the same MacPherson strut/torsionbeam set-up as in lesser 308s – can still ably soak up the rough stuff.
No adaptive dampers required, even on 235/35ZR19s. So the GTi’s athleticism does not come at the cost of comfort.
A slightly notchy gearshift mars the experience a little; it’s not terrible, but most rival ’boxes feel slicker. Pity, because the GTi’s classy interior matches the handsome exterior, from the quality cabin and elegant dash to the cosseting sports seats and generous standard spec.
However, that anti-clockwise tacho is just plain wrong.
Minor aberrations aside, the 308 GTi has the alacrity and grace to darken the Golf GTI’s days. It’s as if Peugeot needed all 15 years to recapture the spirit of the 306 GTi-6.
The GTi’s 1.6-litre engine features a twin-scroll turbo, a 9.2:1 compression ratio, forged aluminium pistons, and strengthened connecting rods.
Turning to the chassis, Peugeot Sport lowered the ride by 11mm, widened the tracks (+11mm front, +21mm rear) and fitted stiffer springs, recalibrated dampers, thicker anti-roll bars and stronger wishbones.
The 270 variant gains a mechanical LSD, 380mm front discs (+50mm) and 2kg-lighter 19-inch alloys.