2016 Peugeot 308 GTi Review

The new 2016 Peugeot 308 GTi may look somewhat sedate on the outside but rest assured, this thing is serious…

To quote Celine Dion, "This is getting serious." Not too long ago, if someone told you about a car with a turbocharged engine running 2.5 bar (or more than 36 psi) of boost pressure, that also featured forged aluminium pistons, strengthened connecting rods, a heat-treated aluminium block, a reinforced and shot-blasted gearbox and a limited-slip differential, you would've – rightfully so – assumed the car in question was an out-and-out race car.

Well, brace yourself, hot-hatch fans, because the five-door, five-seat Peugeot 308 GTi has arrived, and it’ll make you think twice.

The latest model to wear the hallowed GTi badge (that’s a lower case ‘i’, to be clear), the new Peugeot 308 GTi is the third model in succession to be developed in conjunction with the marque’s motorsport division, Peugeot Sport – following on from the RCZ R and 208 GTi.

Due to launch locally in early 2016, the Peugeot 308 GTi will be available in two varieties: an 'entry-level' 250 specification and the full-house 270. And rounding the sweeping left-hand Turn Two of the 3.0-kilometre Braga circuit north of Porto in Portugal at the car’s international launch, it's clear that the latter at least, the 270, is the real deal.

Having spent the day before out driving the spiciest new 308 GTi on public Portuguese roads, today is what we came here for: the track.

If you dare jump into the comfortable and supportive yet well bucketed red-stitched leather and Alcantara Peugeot Sport driver’s seat, be sure before you close that door, because while the new Pug may look a little tame to the uninitiated, it’s anything but.

Set to take the fight to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, and Renault Megane RS265, on paper, the front-wheel-drive, six-speed MCM R manual-only 308 GTi has the goods.

And while the aforementioned turbocharged four-cylinder trio all lay claim to between 162kW and 195kW of power from 2.0 litres of capacity, the French GTi comes to the party with a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder producing up to 200kW – 184kW in 250 guise.

A reworked version of the same Euro 6-compliant 1.6 THP engine (with stop-start) found in the RCZ R and 208 GTi, the engine spits out 330Nm between 1900-5000rpm and, with assistance from a Torsen limited-slip differential, helps the new GTi hit 100km/h in a claimed 6.0 seconds. Without the trick diff, the 250 climbs to 6.2sec.

Plenty brisk for a ‘family hatch’, the 308 270’s sprint time matches that of the two-door-only Megane RS265 and betters that of the Golf GTI (6.5sec), six-speed DSG-only Golf GTI Performance (6.4) and Ford Focus ST (6.5sec). The GTi’s impressive 6.0 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel consumption claim is also top of the pile.

Subtle by design, keen eyes will spot the GTi’s black radiator grille, full LED headlights and LED indicators and lower lip detail strip (red on Magnetic Blue, Nera Black, Artense Grey, Hurricane Grey and White cars and chrome on those finished in the new Ultimate Red hue). A gloss-black rear diffuser houses twin chrome exhaust pipes, while obligatory ‘GTi’ badging adorns the front guards and rear tailgate.

If you want to go the other way, you can ensure your 308 GTi stands out by opting for the two-tone ‘Coupe Franche’ exterior – a design exclusive to the 270 and seen previously on the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary – with its contrasting Ultimate Red front end and Nera Black rear.

The 270 also wears 19-inch ‘Carbone’ lightweight alloy wheels (which are 2kg lighter than the 18s on the current 308 flagship, the 308 GT), with 250 versions coming standard with 18-inch ‘Diamant’ alloy wheels.

Further securing the 270’s place atop the 308 performance tree, its rims are encased in hugely grippy 235/35 Michelin Super Sport tyres, the same rubber as graces the BMW M3 sedan and M4 Coupe. The 250 ‘makes do’ with 225/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres – an exceptional tyre found as standard on the entertaining Kia Pro_cee’d GT.

Harder to pick up is the performance Pug’s 11mm lower ride height, torsion-beam rear axle, 21mm semi-hollow anti-roll bar, aluminium wishbones, increased negative camber, stiffer rear wishbone, springs, shocks and bushings, and wider track (1570mm front, 1554mm rear).

Helping the 1205kg 308 GTi stop are mildly drool-worthy front brakes, comprising four-piston Peugeot Sport-stamped Alcon calipers and 380mm ventilated discs mounted on aluminium hubs.

The high-quality interior of the standard 308 range has been consistently praised since the model went on sale in Australia in late 2014, and things in the new GTi remain largely impressive.

Solid fit and finish is topped off by performance nods including red-stitching on the dash, doors, gear lever boot and floor mats, aluminium ‘GTi Peugeot Sport’ sill plates, aluminium pedals, and an aluminium foot rest and gear knob.

Seemingly loved and hated equally, the Peugeot’s compact 351mm flat-bottom steering wheel is also graced with the red-stitching treatment as well as a top-centre red strip. Again, frustrating some while pleasing others, the standard 308’s flush-mounted 9.7-inch multifunction colour touchscreen likewise carries over into the GTi.

A firmly bolstered rear bench mimics the trim of the front pews while providing good comfort, head and legroom. As in the normal 308, there are no rear air vents, but a 435-litre boot is a win.

Regardless of which variant you choose, both the 250 and 270 get Peugeot’s ‘Driver Sport Pack’.

Engaged via ‘Sport’ button located behind the gear lever and next to the engine start/stop button and electronic handbrake, the racier mode changes the driver’s instruments from white to red backlighting, brings up bar graphs for power, torque and boost and sharpens throttle mapping. It also “enhances the engine’s throaty growl” by pumping a refined version of the engine’s real sound into the cabin via the car’s speakers.

But while it remained off for the majority of our 260km-plus road drive from Gove to Vale de Cambra, once on track at Braga, it’s all systems go.

On the road, though, barring quite a bit of road and wind noise – particularly at highway speeds of 90km/h and above – the Peugeot 308 GTi impresses.

Delivering strong pickup from low down in the rev range, as well as ample hustle once the rpm climb, the turbo 1.6-litre engine is fun and flexible.

All the controls are well weighted, from the throw of the gearbox to the feel of the clutch and steering.

Tuned specifically to work with the Torsen front differential, the 308 GTi’s power steering is on the lighter side but still feels very much attached to the front wheels, with good feedback translated back to the driver.

Relying on a fixed/non-variable suspension setup, the GTi’s firmer suspension can get a bit busy and fidgety over poorer quality roads and will be put to the test here in Australia. However, that said, based on our brief time in the car on a mix of Portuguese roads and a race track, the ride presents a very reasonable compromise between on-road, everyday comfort and outright on-track performance. Speaking of which…

Getting only a handful of laps in a new car around a circuit you’ve never seen before is always a challenge, but, even in the short time allotted, the 270 makes it clear: it’s genuine and it’s for real.

Combining good grip and good turn in with a mostly flat chassis and controllable and predictable handling, the Peugeot 308 GTi inspires confidence and oozes motorsport smarts and know-how. If you are feeling bold, though, the Pug’s stability control system – revised with ‘sportier programing’ – can be completely switched off.

Even on the circuit, there’s loads of punch from the engine, all the way to its 6500rpm rev limit. Lap after lap too, the gearbox and those monster brakes stay solid. Our tip though, save ‘Sport’ mode for impressing your friends and family on the street as, frankly, the real engine sounds far better than the oddly synthesised note filtered through the stereo.

The 2016 Peugeot 308 GTi may a look a little tame from the outside, but, in full-tilt 270 guise, it’s a genuinely cracking little thing and there’s no denying how much work Peugeot Sport has put into it.

Expected to cost around $45,000 for the 250 to $55,000 for the 270, the 308 GTi will start between the Golf GTI ($40,990) and Golf GTI Performance ($46,490) and likely be not far off the likes of the Golf R ($52,740) and Megane RS275 Trophy ($52,990).

Final pricing and local specification will be confirmed closer to next year’s launch, but with the current flagship model, the Peugeot 308 GT, starting at $41,990 for the petrol and $42,990 for the diesel, the five-model 308 line-up could see some revisions.

It’s more than 30 years since the GTi name shot to recognition via the venerable 205 GTi. And apart from signalling Peugeot’s renewed and continued pride in what those three letters represent, the Peugeot 308 GTi is the biggest signal yet that the next-generation Renault Megane RS better be good… This is serious.

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Peugeot 308 GTi images by David Zalstein.