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Peugeot 308 GTi long-term review

By Chris Thompson, 16 Nov 2019 Reviews

2019 Peugeot 308 GTi long-term review Part 1 Introduction feature

We welcome a current-gen hot-hatch veteran

Introduction: Stepping into the Pug life

Do I have commitment issues? Am I too prone to fall into a state of infatuation? Is the Peugeot 308 GTi a good all-rounder hot hatch to live with? These are three questions which will hopefully be answered over the coming months as we welcome this little turbocharged French rocket into the MOTOR fold.

It’s not only my first long-termer, but it’s also the first time I’ve properly sat myself in a Pug 308 for a steer since I very briefly drove one to Sydney Dragway for the 2019 MOTOR Tyre Test. And I’m already enjoying it quite a lot. Maybe we’ll answer the infatuation question sooner rather than later.

But in my quest to remain impartial, I’ve scrutinised the work of Peugeot Sport to work out what I think I’m going to love and loathe by the end of the GTi’s stay. For a start, the fact that it’s a hot hatch with a relatively low kerb weight of 1205kg is a big tick in the ‘yes’ column, and its 200kW 1.6-litre four-pot is a nice pairing with the eager chassis, and it’s helped along by a fairly healthy 330Nm.

Speaking of punching above its weight, it has 166kW-per-tonne, which puts it ahead of pretty much everything else in its class, including the brawny 164kW-per-tonne Civic Type R. Even with that massive chunk of power from such a little engine, there’s not a massive amount of lag from the turbo, which means no mid-corner surprises. I hope.

Interestingly, after a few commutes and a photography session, the fuel tank still hasn’t required a refill. Maybe the 6.0L/100km claim isn’t far off? We’ll be keeping track of that.

Its price is also a little ahead of where it once was, though the Peugeot is ageing now. Introduced in early 2016, the 308 GTi has been updated once since, and with it there was a financial gain for buyers.

MOTOR feature: Biggest surprise of 2016 - 308 GTi

Picture: Two-tone body has already copped a “they didn’t finish painting it!"

What was once a $50K offering was given a $4000 price cut early last year, and cheaper has to be better. You also won’t make it more expensive by adding an auto transmission, because you can’t get one. Another tick from me.

What I might find myself frustrated with is the fact that the tacho is around the wrong way, sweeping from right to left. And that the whole thing turns red in Sport mode. I like the aggro vibe, but where did the redline go?

There’s also a ‘massage’ function for the front seats… though all it does is move the lumbar support in and out, as if a rear passenger were gently kneeing you in the back.

Those quirks aside, I think I’ll come to enjoy spending time in the elegant-yet-simple cabin, which feels to rival the likes of VW. But it’s also the scene of a divisive aspect of the car – the instrument cluster.

Aside from the backwards tacho, the most noticeable thing about the cluster and the wheel is that it’s designed so you look over the wheel rather than through it to see the dials. I might be the only one in the MOTOR crew who actually doesn’t mind it (Newman outright refuses to accept it), but we’ll see if that changes.

One thing I’m still coming to a decision on is the styling, in particular the paint. While it’s been executed immaculately, it seemed an odd way to achieve a two-tone body colour. Admittedly, it looks better than it does in red and black, but I think I’d rather the whole thing blue.

We’ll also see what can be made of the GTi’s dynamic ability, both on the road and on track, given the reputation it has garnered through heritage and its own praise over the years. We might also find a way to explore that heritage a little more closely.

BFYB 2018: 308 GTi 270 track drive

Picture: Odd driving position with low wheel and high instruments is divisive

During its stay in the MOTOR garage, we also want to find out if all the numbers Peugeot has littered its specs sheet with stack up. A bit of performance testing and lab analysis might be in order.

I’m hearing good things from everyone who’s driven a 308 GTi in anger, though it’s not clear whether that’s excitement, or an attempt to snag a drive later on.

As a fan of hot hatches in general, and of cars that keep kerb weight reasonably low, I’m looking forward to my time with the 308 GTi. Hopefully I still look forward to driving it in a couple of months’ time, lest those apparent commitment issues have me asking for other key fobs within the MOTOR garage.

A statement of a commitment with MOTOR long-term car reviews

2019 Peugeot 308 GTi Pros & Cons

Things we're falling for
1 - Power/weight!
2 - Thrifty drinking
3 - Tres chic interior

Things we're not fond of
1 - Backwards tacho
2 - Fake engine note
3 - Weird massages

Update 1: Time travel

Pug long-termer meets a long-lost ancestor

Picture: Our 308 GTi meets reader Dave’s GTi-6 to reminisce and compare the 1990s to the 2019 approach

Hot hatches. Born decades ago, from cost-effective European hatchbacks as a means to inject fun into a daily drive, and still to this day one of the cheapest ways to enjoy driving fast. It’s probable we’re in a hot-hatch golden age, given we have access to everything from a sweet and simple Suzuki Swift Sport right up to a supercar-hassling AMG A45 S.

French manufacturers have long championed the humble hot hatch, with Renault having created some of the best-ever front-drivers, but Peugeot’s own heritage is dotted with a couple of greats as well. Take the 205 GTi, for example, now fast becoming a sturdy investment and beloved by many.

Perhaps less well-known among Australians is another widely praised Pug, not as old or as diminutive as the 205, but still at the peak of its generation. I’m referring to the 306 GTi-6, the grandfather of the 308 I’m currently in custody of.

MOTOR comparison: 205 GTi v 208 GTi 30th Anniversary

With 123kW and an admirable 193Nm, the GTi-6 and its six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox (a big deal back then, hence the name) made it quite a handy thing for the late 1990s. Sure, 0-100km/h is pretty leisurely by modern standards, but get the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four up to its 6500rpm power peak and you’ll feel like you’re flying.

It’s for this reason that hot hatches have always been a favourite of yours truly – a usable car day-to-day that feels fun in every circumstance is all you really need. Who cares if you’re faster than everyone else when you’re driving a twisty mountain road? We suspect Peugeot’s engineers might, and that’s why these two cars are here today. Has function taken over from the focus on fun? Does EBM-83C still have the same playful nature as its forebears we so loved?

When our 306-owning reader Dave meets us, first impressions are good. Much like the 308, his GTi-6 isn’t visually raucous, nor does it sound like it’s looking for attention. It just adds a badge here and there, but most of the ‘hot’ in this hatch is under the hood.

Picture: With 200kW/330Nm versus 123kW/193Nm, there was no contest of speed. Plus, the 308 is admirably 7kg lighter than its forebear

A peek inside and, surprisingly, the GTi-6 is very much a straight-forward 1990s interior, albeit with racier seats. There’s no backwards tachometer, no strange column stalks or other French oddities of any kind. The seating position and interface all makes sense, refreshingly. It lacks the premium feel of the 308’s cabin, but it’s also two decades old. I could easily live with this day-to-day.

Taking off in our borrowed GTi-6, it’s clear the engine can make proper use of the power and torque it has, with even fourth gear able to create some hurry-up at low speeds. The immediacy of its naturally aspirated engine soon gives way to the accuracy of its steering as the 306’s front end follows commands like only the most obedient squad pupper could. But this Pug is no German Shepherd, and so in true French fashion a little transfer of weight to the front end allows the rear some wiggle room.

As the GTi-6 was graciously offered up for a test drive by a private owner, caution trumped my desire to truly see what the 20-year-old Frenchie had to offer in terms of chassis ability, but it’s clear the focus for this car was making a car that was easy to have fun with. It doesn’t need to be travelling at break-neck speed to put a smile on the face of whoever sits in the driver’s seat, or the passenger seat. 

It should be noted that its 1214kg kerb weight, two decades on, is actually higher than the 308’s 1205kg. This makes the 308 part of a very exclusive club of cars that is lighter than its ancestor. The 306 doesn’t feel all that heavy, but at the risk of sounding like the ‘6’ isn’t a blast, I wonder what it would be like with 100kg shaved off. And maybe that’s what some modern hatches need – a focus on fun rather than numbers.

Picture: Newer car is clearly more impressive, but the old girl still displays what made hot hatches so alluring in the first place

The 308 is far more impressive on paper than the 306 GTi-6, but does it provide the same feeling of connection with the car and excitement? It’s hard to say yes, despite the GTi being a rather lively thing by 2019 standards. There’s no doubt a lap of a fast racetrack in the 308 would result in a display of automotive capability well beyond that of the 306, but would it feel as special? That might best be a question left until I’ve actually had a steer of the Pug on track.

In any case, the 308 GTi still has ties to its historic DNA, even though it has a different approach. It’s not as ‘raw’ as its predecessors (what modern car is?), but it takes the simplistic approach to driving in a similar fashion. No AWD, no cabin full of buttons, no drift mode, and no extroverted styling.

The only things Peugeot’s engineers decided to add were a front diff, which is a welcome decision, and a Sport mode that sharpens up engine response. It could do without the fake engine noise pumped into the cabin, though.

That aside, the 308 does actually still hold onto its heritage, it’s just that the world has moved on from the way cars used to feel. For a car built in the age of bigger and heavier compact cars, the 308 is still a haven for old-school simplicity. 

2019 Peugeot 308 GTi Pros & Cons

The 308 was better at...
1 - Acceleration
2 - Turning circles
3 - The premium feel

But the 306 had better...
1 - Atmo response
2 - Steering feel
3 - Nostalgia

Update 2: On Higher Ground

Our French hatch feels at home on an alpine road

FOR THE LAST three years, Victoria’s ‘snow season’ has been officially extended by the state’s various alpine resorts due to good conditions. Great news if you want to toboggan down the muddy remnants of some melting snow, but it’s not the best for those who have planned a drive. Especially along, say, the Great Alpine Road.

Did you know you need to have snow chains ready to use even if there hasn’t been snow on the road since the actual end of winter? Thankfully for yours truly, the morning of my mountain run over Hotham just happened to be the very day after ‘snow season’ ended. On October 7, the Great Alpine Road was decidedly snow-free, which provided a nice clear 200km stretch of blacktop for me to get to know ‘my’ Pug.

Setting off before sunrise was the first stage in my plan to encounter as little traffic as possible, in tandem with undertaking the drive on a weekday. It worked, thankfully.

MOTOR feature: Taking on the Great Alpine Road in a Ferrari

Picture: Roads up Mt Hotham include plenty of steep rock walls... and equally steep cliff drop-offs

In the dark morning, the Peugeot’s induction noise as the cold alpine air rushed in immediately became a little addictive, a habit that hasn’t yet worn off. With that noise comes the rush of power supplied by the 1.6-litre four and its big turbo, pulling hard under full load. Little exhaust pops even accompany sharp lift-offs.

Aside from watching each side of the road for wildlife attempting to run interference, the way the Pug’s cold front tyres interacted with the bitumen was the focus, with the frequency of wheel slips becoming rarer as the 235mm Pilot Super Sports began to find some warmth and grip. On the road, even a slightly damp one like this, the Michelins are sticky enough to hold strong, but let slip just often enough to make traction predictable.

Memories of driving the ferocious HSV GTS-R W1 up this very road during PCOTY 2018 began to surface, though in hindsight handling a 1205kg hot hatch on proper road tyres seems more sensible than a supercharged sedan on cold semi-slicks.

Using the GTi’s substantial brakes (380mm front discs) or just a sharp lift-off seemed a handy addendum to my initial steering inputs, a little adjustment after the fact, and especially useful for unexpected tightening turns that appeared numerous times along the route.

The GTi’s light steering made things much more manageable for getting into the groove of each twist, though there isn’t as much ‘feel’ as I’d like. I’m glad it’s not artificially heavy, but it forces you to be a little reactive with inputs rather than proactive. This could come down to my brief time in its predecessor, the brilliantly communicative 306 GTi-6, last month.

Steering feel (and that backwards tacho) aside, there’s not much that irks me about the Pug’s ergonomics, given the car’s apparently divisive driving position. I’ve decided I quite like the low wheel and high dash, which prevent hands and arms from blocking dials, as well as allowing a more relaxed posture on long stints.

It was only after I had peaked Hotham and carried on down the other side I realised I hadn’t used Sport mode, something I sometimes forget exists in the GTi. It doesn’t change much aside from remapping the throttle to provide more eager reactions to your inputs – there are no adaptive dampers or adjustable steering feel in the 308.

Oh, and the whole binnacle turns red; who needs a redline? After holding the button for a moment, I remembered why I rarely switch it on day-to-day. The fictional engine note it produces inside the cabin is almost comical, and the sharpening of the throttle it provides isn’t worth the seemingly Jetsons-inspired sound in my view. For the road, the GTi is more than fast enough in its standard mode.

Shortly after a particularly engaging section of this wonderful road, where it twins the turns of the Tambo River, is the town of Bruthen, which marked the end of the most exciting part of my journey. Here I found myself grinning, and felt maybe I’d been a bit harsh to the GTi last month. This is a proper hot hatch after all. 

2019 Peugeot 308 GTi Pros & Cons

We say "Heck yes" to...
1 - Power and pace
2 - Nimble chassis
3 - Comfy road tripping

...but these could be better
1 - Throttle lag
2 - Steering feel
3 - Sport mode sound

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