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£29,660 when new
A new Peugeot hot hatch? Only just. The Peugeot 308 GTI 260 represents a tweak of name and spec sheet rather than a change of philosophy, those pesky new emissions regulations meaning 10bhp has been lopped from its total output. Nowt else has changed, though, and it seems as good a reason as any to reappraise what I reckon is one of the most underrated cars on sale. It may look classy and sensible in its all-black-everything spec, but this 308 GTI is a proper scamp. How so? It’s a hot hatch with a very senior spec. Its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine may just have been detuned, but it still produces 258bhp, and drives the front wheels through a proper mechanical limited-slip differential. When the car weighs a bafflingly light 1,315kg – a Hyundai i30N is over 100kg more – that means quite rabid acceleration.
Indeed, this dinky little turbo is one of the most exciting four-cylinder engines currently in a production car. Below 2,000rpm it does bugger all, and unless you’re willing to rev it, the 308 GTI feels a bit stodgy. But once its 251lb ft of torque comes in at 2,100rpm, all hell breaks loose and you soar quickly and aggressively to 7,000rpm, almost certainly giggling and probably grappling with torque steer, should the road be greasy or bumpy. Sounds a bit of a handful… It has the enjoyable feeling of being a wee bit overpowered. If the road’s anything but warm and dry, it’ll take some management in a way a VW Golf GTI never will. But I really like that. The Peugeot’s firm ride only exacerbates things, and driving it briskly on a tricky piece of road can be a wild and ragged ride. When you’re in the mood for it, though, little else thrills like the lightweight Peugeot. It really feels like the engineers went back to 309 and 306 GTIs of old to distil some of what made them so good into a newer, safer car. This one’s unlikely to catch you out at sensible speeds, though. What I’d love is more precision. For a car that eggs you on so much, it needs more feel in its steering and more communication from its front axle. Peugeot’s infamously dinky steering wheel doesn’t help, and the urgency of the system it operates makes the GTI feel nervous during your first few miles. The upside is a ludicrously small turning circle, making manoeuvring the 308 a doddle compared to rivals, cars like the Focus RS and i30N clogging up car parks with how many bites at an empty space they need. So it’ll be easy to live with? Surprisingly so, considering what a wild streak it has. The 308 breaks 35mpg without a sweat and you’ll likely top 40mpg if you’re being sensible. Those are crazy numbers in the hot hatch world, where high 20s is usually as good as you can hope for. It feels like a premium item, too. While operating the air con through a touchscreen isn’t ideal in practice, the decluttered dashboard lends it a classier feel than every one of its rivals, as does the Aston Martin-inspired anti-clockwise rev counter and perhaps the best bucket seat in its class. When every other hot hatch fits a wonderfully grappling seat too, that’s high praise indeed. Peugeot’s even has a massage function… The GTI sits quietly at 70mph streaming whatever you want to listen to via CarPlay. There’s loads of room and kids’ seats slot easily into the back. If you never passed 2,000rpm, it’d do a very good impression of a subtle, sensible hatchback. It sounds rather Jekyll and Hyde. It is, and that does alienate it from its rivals, all of which try to please everyone, all of the time. The Peugeot fights them hard at its extremes – easier to live with when you’re driving it calmly, more thrilling when the mood strikes you – but doesn’t offer a better all-round proposition. A Honda Civic Type R is astoundingly comfy given how much performance it offers, while the Hyundai i30N offers a good chunk of the 308 GTI’s fun at much lower commitment levels, with far more tactility to its controls. Find the opportunity to really push the Peugeot, though, and it can widen your eyes like few cars do at 30 grand. Images: Mark Riccioni
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