- Introduction: Stepping into the Pug life
- Update 1: Time travel
- Update 2: On Higher Ground
- Update 3: Quart De Mile
- Update 4: Puppy Playtime
- Update 5: Au Revoir Mon Ami
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Update 3: Quart De Mile
Putting the Pug’s performance claims to the test
THIS IS THE first time I’ve ever tested a car for performance times at the strip, and it turns out starting with a heavily turbocharged front-wheel driver isn’t the most straightforward way to ease into it.
Pretty much every long-termer MOTOR has goes through the performance test wringer – generally in the form of a trip to the Heathcote Park drag strip – as part of a posse of other cars in need of a few runs down the blacktop.
With us this time were an Alpina B5 Touring, Scott Newman’s Abarth long-termer, and, uh, a Nissan GT-R Nismo. So not only was I completely unsure if I’d be able to hit the Pug’s 6.0 second 0-100km/h claim, I was having to watch a car capable of running near three.
While lining up the 308 and giving the fronts a little chirp, I took a moment to settle and followed my colleagues’ advice to hang the revs at different points on a few runs to see what gave the smoothest, fastest take-off.
Attempt one, 2300rpm, a gentle ease-off, and the Pug launched. Up into second and then third just before 100km/h resulted in ‘6.4’ popping up on the screen of our VBOX. After the run, I discovered 90km/h had arrived in 5.5sec and that, if I’d been a little smarter and held second, I might have had the chance to nail my first-ever run down the strip.
Alas, the next few runs were frustrating, with traction out of my at-times clumsy grasp and the front tyres quickly becoming rather warm. Plenty of high sixes and even a few sevens suggested I might not top my first attempt, so after Newman tried it and ran a couple of mid-six runs, I was about ready to admit defeat. Besides, Scott had also run some mid-14sec ETs for the quarter-mile, which felt about right for the Pug.
His 14.45sec run at 163.23km/h ended up being the best of the day for the 308, but I wanted just two more cracks before the crew abandoned Heathcote to escape the approaching rainclouds. Wet strip equals slow times.
Now, I’m not saying watching Newman’s efforts turned me into an expert when it comes to launching a 200kW front-driver, but I reckon it helped. On what felt like my billionth time down the Heathcote strip, a ‘6.2’.
I was happy not only to have bested my first launch, but also to have gotten the Pug within a couple of tenths of its factory claim as an amateur. Maybe my few months driving the hot hatch regularly had given me enough time to get properly in sync with its controls, something my colleagues aren’t.
That time turned out to be 6.24 once we plugged the data logger in back at MOTOR HQ, one of many, many sets of data (some rather dismal) from my many, many attempts.
In the end, the limited-slip differential was probably the biggest assistance in getting close to Peugeot’s claim, as the Michelin Pilot Super Sports don’t exactly seem to love a hard launch, though they’re still great tyres and plenty of fun on the road.
But the 308’s visit to Heathcote wasn’t just to see how fast it could launch and travel 400 metres. Though I was happy knowing a 6.0sec sprint to the tonne was probably possible in ideal conditions and that a low-14 quarter wasn’t unreasonable, the all-important 80-120km/h burst needed a test for real-world overtaking ability. And finding out if the Pug could handle a proper press on the middle pedal was on the cards too.
In third gear, the GTi consistently nails the ‘overtake’ up to 120km/h in the mid-threes, with 3.59sec being the best we recorded. Starting in third gives more initial poke, and starting in fourth leaves the revs too low for that burst of speed. By the time the 308 has hit 120km/h, it’s covered 100 metres.
Finally, the stoppers. At a claimed 1205kg and with huge 380mm front discs with four-pot calipers, I had high hopes the Pug would stop on a dime. It turns out it can, as long as you’ve got one of those 36-metre-wide dimes.
Looking back at some relatively recent data revealed my 35.99m braking distance (from 100km/h to a complete stop) might not be the best for a lightweight hot hatch with big brakes, with heavier Golf GTIs and Focus RSs stopping in less than 35m at Bang For Your Bucks last year. The 308 GTi stopped in 34.99 at that event. And in a hot hatch test later in 2018, Newman matched my 35.99m exactly, and the i30 N, Megane RS and Civic Type R all outbraked it.
It might just be the tyres, but the braking underperformance has me (and others) thinking the 308 might have a few more kegs on it than claimed.
There are a couple of months left with the 308 GTi. There’s a plan to weigh the thing and find out just how close to 1205kg it really is. I also hope to pop it on a dyno to see just what that 1.6-litre unit is doing, not that I doubt its 200kW. Plus, there’s still a track test to come.
2019 Peugeot 308 GTi Pros & Cons
This is the fun stuff...
1 - Nearing 6sec to 100km/h
2 - Learning to launch
3 - Mid-range punch
This stuff is less fun...
1 - Spinning tyres
2 - Lacklustre braking
3 - GT-R was faster...
Update 4: Puppy Playtime
Our Pug gets a chance to ditch the leash... and the ESC
The 308 GTi is one of those cars that I’m always told “comes alive on the track”, so the question most often asked of me for the past few months has been based around how much track time I’ve had with it. Finally, I can answer with something other than “none yet”.
A day marked with some very Victorian weather (grey skies and drizzle) saw myself, some fellow MOTORists and a gang of merry folk from sister magazine Street Machine all descend on the Bryant Park Hillclimb track, also known as Haunted Hills. Once DC, Cordony and I had finished watching the SM lads completely thrash an old engine-swapped Barina and their stocker ‘nugget’ mid-2000s Renault Clio, it was our turn to take to the track. Cordony was there to test a few hot hatches, which meant my GTi was in good company.
Though not as sharp or capable as the likes of the Civic Type R or Megane Trophy, the 308 quickly proved itself an absolute joy, the slightly damp track providing sufficient challenges and varying corners for me to really get to know its chassis. And that was before ESC was given the flick.
If you’ve never seen Haunted Hills, it’s essentially a tight, smooth track built into the side of a hill, with plenty of camber changes and enough elevation variance to make you consider altitude sickness pills. It’s perfect for a lightweight front-driver with an abundance of power, especially if you want to find out just how playful it can be. Very, as it turns out.
With ESC on, the Pug’s rear follows the front obediently, with little leans and the occasional slip followed by a flashing TC light on the dash being the only indications that something far more fun lies beneath a thick layer of electronic safety measures. The Torsen differential between the front wheels helps pull it through corners with ease, and though it was still a little wet the Michelin Pilot Super Sports grip enough to properly launch out of a tight bend.
But I didn’t bring the Peugeot to the track to drive it with ESC on all day.
Once the ominous (or promising) little orange car with tyre marks lights up on the dash, the fun really begins. Traction through the front wheels becomes a little harder to manage, but conversely allows properly brisk acceleration when grip is on your side.
But what if you don’t want grip?
The rear has you covered. The tail of the 308 turns out to be an absolute party animal with ESC out of the picture, and it changes the driving characteristic of the car so much. While I’d like to see a ‘halfway point’ between ESC on and off to make mountain driving a little more lively, that could also be a dangerous suggestion.
Now back to the GTi’s… well, back. The slides it produces are almost comical, but if you stay on the ball it shouldn’t be enough to get out of hand. Tap the brakes and feel the movement. Looking back at the notes I wrote after the first few laps on track reveals I at one point had written “bloody hilarious fun”. If you have a 308 GTi and haven’t taken it to a track, you’re simply doing it wrong.
The secret to all this fun is not just the 200kW lurking inside the turbocharged 1.6, but also the 308’s low kerb weight – 1205kg is the number Peugeot claims, but surely that can’t be right. So, using a weighbridge (perhaps not an exact science, but we’ve got variables covered – we’ll get to that), I checked the GTi’s weight on the way back into Melbourne.
It turns out that, with me in the car and a couple of bags of items, 1360kg is the real-world figure. We can take 88kg off that for me and my belongings, and note that the 308 only had a quarter tank of fuel.
Kerb weights are intended to include a full tank of fuel, so let’s estimate that 53 litres of fuel would weigh approximately 40kg (a litre of petrol weighs about 750 grams). At a quarter tank, that’s 10kg, so we can add the 30kg difference back to the weight for a full tank. Essentially without me, my gear and with a full tank, the 308 GTi weighs 1302kg.
So Peugeot’s claim is about 100kg off, but remember the other hatches I said were around on the day? A Civic Type R is claimed to weigh 1393kg, and the Megane Trophy 1419kg. If they are as optimistic as the GTi’s, it has them beat by a couple of hundred kilos.
Finding out the GTi was heavier than the claim wasn’t a huge surprise, and it definitely didn’t cast a shadow over an otherwise excellent day of exploring the GTi’s breadth of ability.
But the end of the day did bring with it a little sadness. Because the drive back to Melbourne would be my last long stint in the GTi. Next month I have to hand back the keys to EBM-83C, and I really don’t want to.
2019 Peugeot 308 GTi Pros & Cons
Things that are great...
1 - ESC off
2 - Oversteer
3 - Gorgeous chassis
...things that are less great
1 - Extra 100kg
2 - Rainy track days
3 - Going home...
Update 5: Au Revoir Mon Ami
The GTi’s time at MOTOR has come to an end. Here’s the wrap
About 5982km of GTi driving ago, I began my introduction to this series of updates with a few questions. Do I have commitment issues? Am I prone to infatuation? Is the Peugeot 308 GTi a good all-rounder to live with?
Over the last few months I’ve decided the answer to all of these questions boils down to ‘yes’. But would I recommend the 308 GTi to someone looking to actually buy a hot hatch?
Well, not immediately, because the Volkswagen Golf GTI exists, and now there are so many options that it really needs to be narrowed down. You’ve got to be looking for something different, and the right kind of different, to be able to consider the 308 GTi a daily driver. It’s hugely underrated, or at the very least flies under the radar, but it’s also not for everyone.
Of the four full-time writers at MOTOR, I was the only one who seemed to really gel with the GTi’s unique characteristics. Sure, you could call some of these characteristics ‘flaws’ as my colleagues did with the seating position and the instrument cluster’s height, but that just proves my point.
I like the seating position – having my arms lower and being able to see the speedo over the wheel didn’t bother me at all – and I even liked the GTi’s odd 40/60 split paint job. Still, there’s no denying the backwards tacho is weird. It’s just incorrect.
The Pug has proven itself a keen performer on the road, on track and at the strip, meeting or exceeding expectations on all three stages. Sure, it’s not as capable as the likes of the Civic Type R, but it’s also several thousand dollars cheaper, and in some ways more fun. It’s incredibly involving with ESC turned off, and even has enough playfulness to make you laugh hysterically just driving a winding mountain road. Plus, it was easy enough for me to extract a reasonable 0-100km/h and quarter-mile time without having so much as launched a car down a strip before.
We did discover, however, that its 200kW wasn’t dragging a mere 1205kg as promised, but more like 1302kg. This wasn’t a huge surprise, as we know claimed kerb weights are often quite lean, but the equivalent of having a bulky bloke constantly in the passenger seat isn’t ideal. Yet the 308 still feels nimble, and even its real kerb weight is clear of its rivals. I imagine their real weights also vary from what the spec sheets say.
There were also plans to put the Pug on a dyno, but they fell through, meaning we’re left with the 200kW figure supplied by Peugeot. It’s a figure we believe though, given the GTi’s strong performance at Heathcote, and the fact it’s powerful enough to overcome the normally plentiful grip supplied by a pair of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres on the front wheels.
It also turned out to be a little thirstier than Peugeot’s claim, by 2.85L/100km, but it’s rare to come across a sporty car that gets driven in a manner to meet its supposed fuel efficiency rating.
A couple of missed numbers aside, there were only ever minor concerns from myself with the way the Pug presented as a daily offering. The infotainment interface made operating the A/C a little annoying, and its media player would place odd silences between songs – annoying if you’re trying to listen to a seamless album. Its reversing camera feed also lagged slightly behind real-time, sometimes by what seemed like an entire second. No mishaps resulted from this, thankfully.
So, should you buy a 308 GTi?
If you’re the sort of person who can justify differing tastes with phrases like “I know it’s not the best, but it’s the one I like” then absolutely. If you’re prone to infatuation, you might just find yourself falling a little in love with the Frenchie. But if you buy one, at least you get to keep it.
2019 Peugeot 308 GTi Pros & Cons
The very best bits
1 - Speed and power
2 - Funky style
3 - Joyous chassis
Not the best bits
1 - Interface quirks
2 - Fake sound
3 - Saying goodbye...
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