Peugeot demonstrates ‘Grand Touring’, with a bit of a flourish
Despite sampling the 308SW in GT-line guise, only a couple of months ago, and not being particularly enamoured by the experience, Iain Robertson now samples the 308GT hatchback and finds significantly greater Focus.
The whole practice of Touring in the Grand style is an aspect for which we must thank some of our well-heeled ancestors. While the horseless carriage was a king in the ascendant, it was rail that ruled. The very idea of ‘sending on the luggage ahead’, were you even aware of it, is anathema to us today, provided as we are with personal modes of transport that are dependable, cosy, safe, practical and that can cover immense distances in a trice…traffic conditions notwithstanding, naturally.
While the original GT, or Grand Tourer, may have been an Edwardian, or Georgian, automotive affectation, it took Ford to reintroduce us to it and corrupt its definition, in many ways, with the Capri Mark One (the Mark Two variant, complete with ‘hockey-stick’ side strakes, was ‘the car you always promised yourself’) in the mid-1960s. The Mark One Cortina also enjoyed its claim to ‘sporting’ fame with its GT version…a poor man’s Lotus, for sure. However, Ford tagged its models of the day with the cubist logos to infer that a ‘warmed over’ model offered something special to the consumer.
With all the warmth of a rapidly cooling hot cross bun, it took Teutonic fuel injection to provide the sparkle and the ‘GTi’ was born, a model nomenclature that remains much-revered and very much a sign of progression in today’s automotive scene. Peugeot, subject of this page, is an exponent of the archetypal ‘GTi’. Yet, just as the Lotus-engined Cortina will have been the everyman-supercar of the sixties, it does appear that Peugeot wants to reissue the ‘GT’ tag, as something slightly more than just a trim level.
While appreciating ‘GT-line’, as a marketing money-spinner that possesses as much corporate merit as ‘SRi’ did for middle management, biscuit sales-johnnies of the 1980s, GT might still harbour moderate currency in a market sector not unknown for its niche-filling capacity. To put the latest 308GT to the cosh was something that I relished, as it would give me a good opportunity to berate the badging, which can be sometimes a tad too superficial.
Yet, Peugeot has played the GT tune for many years and it can recognise that it still has some purchase in the market. The jet-black 308GT you see here (a grim colour for photographic purposes) actually does fit the mould rather well. There is no need to send on the baggage; the car cruises most satisfyingly; and it is comfortable, reliable and fairly easy to live with. Job done!
Considering that its engine is another, appropriately ECU-modified version of the tried and trusted 1.6-litre THP unit, that it develops a moderate 202bhp (I know it will deliver a lot more) is still impressive. As a result, it allows a more enthusiastic driver to clock the 0-60mph sprint in a solid 7.2 seconds, before topping out at a trans-continental 146mph (mostly on the few remaining ‘unlimited’ autobahns that the ‘Greens’ have not managed to slam-dunk into 130kph hegemony). Fortunately, there are few penalties on the frugality front, although punching around town did mean an average fuel return of 34.5mpg (50.4mpg Official Combined), while its reported CO2 rating is 130g/km and it is in affordable Group 26E for insurance purposes.
However, the first big caveat resides around the ‘Sport’ button located just behind the gearlever. As you will note from the picture, I recommend that NO driver should ever engage with this blithering waste of electronica. Apart from the rather silly trio of bar-graphs that appear in between the left-hand speedometer and right-hand (reversed needle) rev-counter, the constant movement of which is mildly distracting, every flex of the right foot is accompanied by an electronic replication of engine intake and exhaust roar.
The problem for me is that it is not real and it is about as far removed from reality as any digital sound effect can be. It is just noisy and worthless. However, even though the throttle response is made more reactive by depressing it, this ‘Boy-Racer Sport’ button is just a pointless waste in a Grand Touring hatchback. Let’s face it, priced at £24,095 (reasonable, I guess), with £525’s worth of the blackest of black paint, £1,200 for the heated front, all-leather seats, £400 for the City Park Assist function (which does both parallel and bay parking) and £80 for the CD player, it is only members of the nation’s fast-ageing population that can afford a new 308GT and not too many of them are going to wish to ham it with the SFX, however it is sold to them.
You might note that I am truly fed up attempting to explain to all and sundry why I dislike the 308’s ‘wide-eyed’ instrument layout, therefore I shall sidestep it by stating that an anticlockwise rev-counter needle is wrong and that the dial should be on the left-side of the binnacle, swapping places with the speedometer. That said, the lack of pushbuttons and switches is a good place to be, although the tidgey steering wheel does promote fidgety handling and creates an uncomfortable driving position, especially for the taller occupant, which is a pity, when the hide-covered seats are actually among the better features of the 308GT.
They provide the cosseting that is essential to the 308 carrying its GT image. While the damper rates are somewhat stiffer than for the ‘cooking’ versions of the 308, the resultant ride quality is exceptionally resilient at higher speeds, although Peugeot has not quite managed to obtain the commensurate balance at lower speeds. In fact, town driving can be upset on give and take surfaces by the suspension’s quite harsh responses to imperfections, a factor that tends to be exacerbated by the too dense but also too diametrically compromised, small steering wheel rim.
Thanks to the meaty power delivery, which belies the engine’s small capacity, the GT can cover ground not only speedily but also with surprising ease, as long as major A and M-routes are chosen. Tackle the back-doubles and you will be in for heaps of ‘fun’…not all enjoyable. While the brakes are a tad over-servoed on initial depression of the pedal, they do provide assured stopping power, shaving off speed very quickly, when needed. Fortunately, body roll is well-controlled, which is also one of the trade-offs associated with ‘sportier’ suspension settings. As a potential ‘buyer’, you need to ask yourself, if greater comfort is more up your street, which could be where Peugeot’s application of the GT tag is more marketing-inferred than being true to the inferred image.
Yet, I do not wish to place a grey pall over this car. Peugeot targeted the VW Golf, when it created the latest 308, although I feel that it is far more a rival to Ford’s Focus, which is not such a bad thing. It is very spacious in the cabin and its boot is not only of good size but proportions too. Trust me, there is a lot to like and enjoy on the latest 308GT, as its build quality is sound, free of annoying rattles and it does present rather well. Interestingly, its heated front seats also feature a light massage function.
Conclusion: As one of the best looking mainstream hatches on the road, the 308GT certainly passes muster. Sitting on its 5-spoke Diamant alloy wheels and slightly lowered suspension, it offers buyers an engaging driver’s car that also allows it to live up to its Grand Touring designation. Given the choice, I prefer it to the otherwise good Ford Focus, mainly because it offers a more attractive design. It also possesses a liveable coherency to its interior detailing and delivers accessible punch in its performance envelope, justified by its top-of-the-shop model designation. Forgive it the little idiosyncrasies, because the Peugeot 308GT is a worthy Grand Tourer.