IAIN ROBERTSON 

Were you to take an indulgent trip back-in-time to the roots of ‘GTi’, highlights Iain Robertson, you would discover a world of minimalism, with a concerted sliver of performance engineering, both of which aspects are reflected in this hot Pug.

Since VW Group created the original GTi, it has transmogrified into a market segment of remarkable veracity. A lot of carmakers want to own their own personal slice of it. Naturally, it has matured and, in some areas, has become a comic-book version of that truth. Fortunately, most participants have stuck to the formula, while taking opportunities to move the game on.

Scanning the dashboard of the 308GTi reveals a respectful nod to the period of what might be regarded today as ‘poverty-spec’. Apart from a solitary twist volume control for the stereo system and the easy-to-spot emergency flasher and heated front and rear screen switches, the entire panel is semi-satisfyingly devoid of buttons. Having paid the near-£30k price tag for your Peugeot, you might fairly ponder over where they had gone, or whether they had even been nicked.

Fortunately, the in-built touch-screen is a pointer to the multi-tumbler, keyless security system, because it is largely useless to the average ‘twoccer’ (taken without owner’s consent), unlike the non-in-built systems we used to acquire for our GTis yonks ago that used to flash like premium beacons for the less trustworthy, magpie-like members of our society. It is effective as a touch-screen, as long as you are prepared to wait frustratingly for fingertip recognition time to operate the heating and ventilation system, the in-car entertainment, the Bluetoothed mobile-phone, the computer and sat-nav. A brief tap will not do it. While I prefer it to masses of buttons, it is apparent that we must await the arrival of the next-generation of 308s for speedier software.

Even the steering wheel cross-spokes are a tad thin on the switch front, which is also a relief. In fact, apart from dabbing the tip of the right-hand column stalk to change the information read-out between the style-led dials in the binnacle, and a small, inconsequential row of three buttons in the lower dash strip (interior security sensor switch-off, stability off and ‘stop:start’ off), that is your lot. Of course, there is an electronic parking brake switch, the engine on/off switch and an innocuous ‘Sport’ button, more on which in a moment, between the front seats, in the tail-end of the centre console, but apart from the stalks, there is little else to occupy your time but driving.

Harking back to the original GTi category of family hatchbacks, epitomised by the ubiquitous Golf and leant on slightly by the GTA/E/R/S-class of variants, a supportive driver’s seat, an empty dashboard, a sports steering-wheel (no airbag) and matching rev-counter and speedometer were all that was deemed essential. In some ways, the 308GTi is like that. However, its front sports seats are heavily-bolstered, I can only presume to accommodate modern-day, fast-food-fed posteriors, although they do cling onto your ribs and hips most securely, while also robbing room in the rear seat, when taller occupants are up-front. They also feature a massage function. Of course, the rear bench split-folds for extra boot space, if you require it, while the available luggage space (seats-up) is greater than that of a current Golf GTi.

Perhaps Peugeot has also observed that many of us have lost the ability to read stuff, which is a good reason to wake us up, with an analogue rev-counter dial that is placed on the right of the instrument panel (which is plain wrong) and reads anti-clockwise (which proves unsettling), while the speedometer is on the left (it should be on the right) but reads conventionally.

Placing a teensy steering-wheel between and below the dials is Peugeot’s solution to the age-old issue of ‘driver involvement’. It is a beautifully-styled item, flat-bottomed (in the racy idiom) complete with thick-rim, breathable hide wrapping, an attractive alloy fillet, the expected ‘GTi’ badge and the minimal cross-spoke controls (highlighted earlier). However, while it might meet the requirements of a home-based ‘gamer’, it graces the cockpit of the 308GTi. For drivers with longer limbs, the column cannot move upwards enough, thus enforcing a splayed-legs driving position not unlike sporty Italian cars of 25 years ago, while obscuring from vision the lower portion of the instruments. The glovebox is actually a small cube of less than half the width of the lid, the other half being occupied by the fuse-box, which works fine on left-hand-drive cars but not so agreeably on right-hookers. Fortunately, the door pockets and centre console provide additional oddment storage, which is not generous.

Powering this flying machine is another re-fettled version of the ubiquitous PSA Group 1.6-litre, twin-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine that provides motive potency in several of its models. Developing a wholesome 272bhp (170bhp per litre of displacement) makes it one of the punchiest small petrol-turbo units currently on-sale. It even pales the 158bhp/litre recorded by the 316bhp Honda Civic Type-R, although the Mercedes-Benz A45 still holds the production car record at 187.5bhp/litre (both Honda and Merc have 2.0-litre engines). It is a sweet enough unit, possessing enough on-tap grunt to be useful and accessible.

Modern vehicle architecture, safety and equipment levels mean that kerb-weights sky-rocket and, unlike the 832kgs of the original 1.6-litre Golf GTi, that of the Peugeot is around 1,205kgs. Mind you, it is not exactly a heavyweight, which means that it can despatch the benchmark 0-60mph in a mere 5.7s, which, put into perspective, makes the same increment of 7.1s in a Ferrari Dino seem sluggish. Its top speed is a cool 155mph (Dino: 146mph). Rest assured, the 308GTi is rapid and the ‘Developed by Peugeot Sport’ aspect (one with a great history attached) is confirmed. Emitting 138g/km CO2 equates to £205 for the first year’s road tax and £140 annually thereafter and its Official Combined fuel economy is given as 47.1mpg, although I struggled to attain much better than 41.7mpg, which is still a respectable figure.

However, stretch its potential and you discover quickly that upshifting early is an essential, because, when you hit the engine rev-limiter at 6,000rpm that coincides with the motor’s peak power, the ignition cut-out gives you a sudden rap on the knuckles. Short-shift, by changing-up at around 4,500rpm, and progress remains swift but smooth. As mentioned earlier, there is a ‘Sport’ button. To be frank, I do not like it. Yes, it makes the throttle response sharper but the ‘symposed’ sound effect of the engine’s intake roar and exhaust burble is so unreal that it can sound like the compressed notes of some of Kylie’s recorded pop songs. Its default position is ‘off’, which is a good place to leave it.

Aided by a moderately long wheelbase, the ride and handling characteristics of the 308GTi are firm, moderately well-controlled and broadly supportive. However, as with many cars of this type, poorly surfaced roads can upset the car’s natural balance and the wide tyres on 19.0-inch alloy wheels will ‘tramline’ to the point of distraction. Some of this is due to the Torsen limited-slip differential, which provides surgical accuracy on a smooth racetrack (or some motorways) but can tug occasionally at the helm, which can be as disturbing as some of the latest ‘lane-keep’ systems. Yet, the steering is quick to react and the turning-circle of just over 34 feet ensures decent around-town manoeuvrability.

Conclusion:    Peugeot’s 308GTi plays a very judicious game. It is technologically interesting and delivers to most expectations, while exceeding others. Although priced at £29,725, dealer discounts will soon reduce the price to a more acceptable level. In terms of ‘performance per Pound’, Peugeot’s 308GTi is virtually unbeatable.