IAIN ROBERTSON 

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While the 2-0 models have garnered all the attention, both good and bad, it is the 3-0 models that have missed the target, writes Iain Robertson, since the Peugeot 306 and 309GTis of a more glorious past.

 

A surprising number of consumer complaints about late Peugeot 307 and early 308 models arose over the past fifteen years, mostly, it would seem, in the electrical area. It highlights that a tester seldom experiences a vehicle’s integrity beyond a week-long intense sampling exercise. No matter how hard a test car might be driven, no matter what tasks it might be called upon to deal with, one week cannot hope to replicate three to five years’ worth of weathering and ownership.

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Yet, I have driven many Peugeot models over the years, some that have been loaned to me on 12-months/25,000-miles ‘long term’ test programmes. None has ever let me down, a factor that has led me to believe that I have either been exceptionally fortunate, or that Peugeot does not deserve the reputation that it seems to have earned. However, making sweeping statements is a privilege attached to driving and comparing new cars on an on-going basis.

 

One of those statements has been that Peugeot, for reasons best known to itself, considering that the company did rule the hot hatch scene with the 205 and other GTi models in period, lost its mojo. While the hot hatch sector amounts to only a small percentage, in real terms, alongside the sales of mainstream models, it remains a positive, halo-wearing element of a brand portfolio. Yet, the 208GTi, a recent recipient of a model makeover, does appear to be generating immensely positive reportage, verging nervously on the substantial plaudits received by the original 205GTi, which set a benchmark 30 years ago.

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However, the market has moved on. In fact, the next rung up the product ladder, epitomised by the likes of the Ford Focus ST, the VW Golf GTi, the Seat Leon Cupra and the Renaultsport Megane, is where consumer (and past 205GTi owners’) fascination has been refocused. Owners have grown-up and their expectations have changed, not radically, but enough to place Peugeot and other carmakers under different demands. To be in with a shout at success is a key priority.

 

Mind you, when Peugeot insists that a mere 1.6-litre petrol engine, even boosted by an ingenious engine management system and a chunky turbocharger, will suffice, the aeons-old American adage about ‘there ain’t no substitute for cubic capacity’ hoves into view. All of Peugeot’s rivals have a 2.0-litre starting-point for their hottest variants, because decently sized lungs are what make for a hefty shove in the back, which does make you wonder about where the French company is headed, with its high-performance rival, the 308GTi.

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If a 70mph motorway cruising fuel economy return of 42.5mpg is indicative of the benefits of a smaller engine size, a partial response is provided. Needless to say, extending the envelope on deserted country roads is another issue and the turbo plays its part in dropping that figure to well below 32mpg, with a mixed roads average of around 35mpg being the anticipated norm, all this contrasted against an Official Combined guide figure of 47.0mpg…for either version.

 

Oh. I forgot to mention that Peugeot is hammering home its projectile with not one but two power alternatives. The first develops 250bhp, while the second, thanks to remapping, knocks out a decent 270bhp. There are other differences but I shall come to them momentarily. All of this from the same 1.6-litre petrol lump. The actual on-road differences are more than just marginal, with the 250 smashing the 0-60mph benchmark acceleration in 5.9 seconds and the 270 shaving a further 0.2 seconds off that time. A standing kilometre takes an impressive 25.6 seconds (0.3 seconds quicker with the 270). Both share sparkling mid-range acceleration, as a result of 243lbs ft of torque available in the 250 from 1,900-4,000rpm and in the 270 to 5,500rpm, in any of the top three gear ratios of the fairly slick 6-speed manual transmission (there is neither automatic, nor automated, alternative gearboxes at this stage). The top speeds of either are restricted electronically to 155mph, while both are pegged at 139g/km CO2 (lowest in class) for Band E tax rating and £130 annual VED charges.

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Having put both examples of the car through their paces on the challenging Peak District roads of Derbyshire, I can tell you that any misgivings about the engine are soon tossed to the wind. The 270 does feel marginally the punchier of the pair. It is not by much but with slightly enhanced handling (courtesy of lighter 19-inch, rather than 18-inch diameter alloys and appropriately low-profile Michelin Sport tyres) allied to the broader torque spread, there is a sustained rush of excitement on tap that is so delightfully accessible that engaging with the 308GTi is not just an easy task but also an eminently enjoyable one.

 

Although the low-speed ride quality is a touch knobbly, the suspension picking up on every tiny nuance of the road surface, it is not as annoying as it is on the equivalent Renault, or even the Ford, which can grab the steering wheel on full-throttle, front-wheel-drive acceleration. However, there are no negative issues with the high-speed dynamics, as bumps are ironed out generously and the damper responses are instant. In fact, the innate balance of the 308GTi is so good that even early applications of the throttle away from bends result in little more than the aforementioned relentless surge of power, even in the wet, which ensures that cross-country mile-eating is one of this Peugeot’s most significant assets.

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While sports style seats, clad tastefully in hide and Alcantara, the suede-like material that helps to hug the driver’s and front passenger’s bottoms into their perches, are standard, the 270 gains from more heavily bolstered front buckets, with Peugeot Sport stitching in their upper edges. As mentioned, the 270 also features the one-inch larger ‘Carbone’ alloy wheels, as well as a Torsen limited-slip differential, which aids its handling and pointiness, when indulging in the car’s broad range of dynamic strengths. Renowned specialist, Alcon, provides 380mm front discs on the 270, complete with red enamelled, Peugeot Sport callipers. If you really want to go the whole hog, then you can indulge your personalisation fantasy in the company’s visually captivating ‘Coupe Franche’ two-tone paint finish, which adds £1,300 to the invoice. It is an amazing detail and surely the process too, as there is no tactile difference between the two paint finishes, which are in classier high gloss, as opposed to the ‘textured’ finish on the smaller 208GTi.

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Both models feature full LED headlamps, with auto-on/off, sequential front indicators and LED tail-lamps. As the most sporting of the current 308 line-up, the front and rear bumpers are more aggressively designed, with small gurney lips on the front and a deeper and more purposeful air diffuser on the rear, with two, large diameter exhausts emerging from the lower trim. Despite the power differential and the extra kit, the 270 is just £1,600 costlier than the 250, which is tagged at a market-competitive £26,555. Factor in the ‘Coupe Franche’ paintjob and you would have a very distinctive and beguilingly quick road car that could double readily as a track day entrant on weekends and holidays.

 

I shall admit to not being a fan of Peugeot’s current infatuation with a lower setting for its steering column and the teensy ‘PlayStation’ steering wheel, over which it is (apparently) easier to read the instrument dials. I still cannot quite come to terms with the reverse needle action of the right-hand placed rev-counter, or the left-hand speedometer, both of which are in complete opposition to every other car in the category. Thanks to a lower and sportier driving position, which is very comfortable by the way, apart from the dials, it presents a much better driving environment than any other 308 model. I also like the ‘touch screen’ in the centre of the dashboard, which has the effect of removing the majority of the ancillary switchgear, although the sat-nav, in typical PSA Group form, is lacking in any intuitiveness in operation whatsoever!

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Conclusion:   There are many aspects of the Peugeot 308 to admire, not least its space both within the cabin and in the roomy (class-leading) boot, and its overall styling, which is very attractive. The GTi designation whisks the model onto a significantly higher plane. Its handling, performance, comfort, roadholding, build quality and first-class lightness and subsequent agility set fresh standards in the hot hatchback sector. With its immensely satisfying but accessible eagerness it does make several of its rivals look quite sick. Away from the flashy paint job, it would serve as the ultimate ‘Q-car’ and thus make a most tempting business proposition, not least because its running costs are much lower than its competitors. I can forgive its silly cockpit design foibles, when everything else is taken into account. It is a worthy successor to the very best of Peugeot’s sporting efforts of the past and will succeed at taking the 308 into new territories.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).