It’s a new-ish Peugeot hot hatchback. Don’t mention the you-know-what.
For a while Peugeot was a peddler of lumpen turdery like the old 3008. Then they came up with the 208 GTi, which was excellent. And the current 308, which is actually quite good too. Now there’s this which seems to combine those two things and is therefore a promising idea. You can have it with a mad, two tone paint scheme where most of the car is red, except for a diagonal slice of black that takes up the rear quarter. It’s not even a wrap. They paint a car red, then take it into a special facility at the factory, mask the front, spray the back black and lacquer over the lot. It’s a £625 option which this press demonstrator doesn’t have. Probably for the best. I quite like it in photos but it might be a bit attention seeking in real life. Also, it reminds me of a strawberry dipped in chocolate and I think it’d make me feel hungry. This demo car is a discreet grey and looks fine. On a short drive home, it feels better than fine. Some cars, even on brief acquaintance, give you a sense of goodness deep within, and this is one of them. It’s promising. Very promising.
Like other 308s, the GTi has a minimalist interior and that strangely small steering wheel which you look over, rather than through, to see the instruments. It means you set the wheel a little lower than you might normally. Personally, I don’t find this a problem. Other people might, especially if they’re very fat. I don’t mind the interior of this car. My wife, on the other hand, says it’s ‘lame’. Further questioning as we drive along this morning unearths the assertion that it’s ‘just too boy-sy, after which she points at all the red stitching and the red insert on the side of the gearlever and the GTi badge on the steering wheel and I realize that she has a point. It is a bit like being inside a 1980s washbag. You wouldn’t be surprised to find a massive bottle of Blue Stratos in the boot. But, since I’m a boy, I still quite like it. The 308’s interior. And quite possibly the smell of Blue Stratos.
I have to drive from London to North Yorkshire. I like weirdness and roundabouts and the chance to pass at least one porno warehouse so naturally I take the A1. The 308 has that pleasant sense of pulling, puppyish urgency you get in good hot hatchbacks, as if the engine is trying to burst out of the car, but it’s not overwhelming. This means it can still cruise quietly and comfortably. The seats are good, it sits solidly at speed, even the ride is decent, being firm but not crashy, suggesting time and money well spent on the damping. The engine feels hearty and strong, even though it’s just a 1.6 four. This car is the 266 horsepower version. There was a 247 horsepower model but it turns out 80 percent of buyers wanted the maximum grunt model and the weedier one has been deleted.
After the slog up the A1, I get to turn off and dash across the moors past Fylingdales where there used to be massive balls and now there’s just a scary obelisk that might be cooking our brains. It’s a tremendous road, and the 308 turns out to be a tremendous car in which to drive it. That engine is a fantastic thing, giving proper amounts of pull from low down yet, unusually for a modern turbocharged number, appearing to enjoy revs and giving you good reason to wring it out if you fancy it. Or, more specifically, if you fancy going really rather quickly. You can short shift and drive it on the torque or you can thrash the crap out of it just because that sort of thing is fun. It’s a marvelous thing, and it sits in a marvelous chassis, one of those great hot hatch set-ups that flows with the turbulence of an interesting road, soaking up shitty surfaces and diving into bends in a sprightly manner that can be adjusted by what you do with any or all of the major controls. It has a Torsen limited slip diff which can result in some magical cornering shenanigans as it clings on to an extraordinary degree and fires itself out of the other side, grabbing physics firmly by the neck and telling it to keep its mouth shut. But it can also lead to some lively moments when you mash the throttle in the run up to an easy overtaking move and find yourself darting towards the right hand verge as the tyres accidentally discover to an unfortunate bit of camber. But you learn to look out for this and work around it. On the downside, the steering is a bit dead and electric assistance-y and that tiny wheel sometimes makes it difficult to carry out subtle adjustments during fast, sweeping corners. So not perfect, but then perfect things are rarely very likeable. And on a brisk romp across North Yorkshire, the 308 turns out to be very likeable indeed.
I have no need of the 308 today so it sits in a car park, almost certainly attracting no attention whatsoever. I like the underplayed outside of this car. There’s a red stripe around the bottom of the air intake, some 19-inch alloys, and a pair of pipes at the back, but it’s all subtle stuff. One of my colleagues has arrived in a Focus RS which sits looking pumped and fighty, like the kind of car that would attract the attention of a friend by shouting GEEZAAAH! across the pub. I am in my 40s so I prefer the Peugeot approach.
Still working. Still no need to drive the GTi today. Still, can I have a prize for so far writing almost 1000 words about a sporty Peugeot without once mentioning the bloody 205 GTi. Oh. Shit. Sorry.
Right, Yorkshire back to London. Go, go, go. Another fast, fun drive across the moors, another reminder of all that is good about this car, including the sheer joy of using an old fashioned manual gearbox of decent weight and action. The GTi has a sport button which makes the throttle more sensitive, the exhaust more noisy, and the instruments more red. You can pretty much drive the car in this mode all the time, even cruising back down the A1. Always the mark of a well sorted car, rather than one that just turns things heavy and silly and shouty for the sake of making morons believe they’re in a sports car.
Sitting at a junction behind another car this morning I discover something horrifying about this Peugeot. The front indicators do that irritating sequential trace-a-line-then-off thing made fashionable by Audi. It’s a tedious gimmick which further investigation reveals to be something they fit only to sporty 308s for some reason. But really there’s no need for such wankery.
The 308 GTi is going away and this is a shame because I like it a lot. It’s genuinely excellent to drive and handles exciting roads in a fast, flowing and fun way yet manages to avoid being noisy and exhausting when you don’t want to dick around. At the moment, everyone is making a fuss about the Ford Focus RS and that’s fair enough, but it does mean the more subtle 308 could be overlooked. Which is a shame, because it’s actually a bit of a gem.
The car talked about here is a Peugeot 308 GTi 270 by Peugeot Sport. It has a 1.6-litre, four cylinder turbocharged engine making 266 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 6 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. It costs £29,335.