Peugeot turns the heat up on its 308 small hatch, then turns the torch on its competitor set
It is definitely not a hot-hatch, the Peugeot 308 GT. By missing the ‘i’ on the end of its badge, the French small car promises to trade a bit of fast for a bit of flash.
Identically priced to that perennial hot-hatch favourite, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Peugeot 308 GT trades a fraction of focus on performance and handling, and gives you back luxury you don’t get in its German rival.
With 151kW of power and 285Nm of torque, the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder in the 308 GT is down on outputs (by 11kW/65Nm) compared with a Golf GTI, and the six-speed manual-only model’s 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.5 seconds makes it a full second slower.
If you want an automatic transmission, you’ll have to choose the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel that produces a muscly 131kW and 400Nm, but accelerates to the same freeway speed benchmark in 8.4 seconds. The upside is combined cycle fuel consumption of just 4.0 litres per 100 kilometres compared with a still-excellent 5.6L/100km for the petrol manual.
In either case you get 18-inch alloy wheels and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres on the outside of what is a pretty handsome exterior – and one that definitely isn’t common.
Especially finished in the Magentic Blue colour unique to the 308 GT, the small Peugeot stands out. We love the full LED headlights matched by LED indicators that start from the inside and trickle towards the outside when illuminating.
The inside of every Peugeot 308 is beautifully finished and classy, but the GT goes a step further with leather and Alcantara seat trim, a nuggety sports finish on the tiny-sized steering wheel, and red illumination on the huge 9.7-inch colour touchscreen.
In addition to the LED headlights and leather/Alcantara trim that aren’t standard on a Golf GTI, other exclusives include keyless auto entry, massaging front seats, automatic reverse parking, active cruise control, automatic collision alert and brake and blind-spot monitor – although the latter three features are optional on the Volkswagen for just $1500.
Read full price and specifications for the Peugeot 308 GT here.
So the question is this: can the 308 GT hit a sports-luxury sweet spot?
Nestle into the chubby sports seats and the 308 GT immediately feels just right. Anecdotally, not as many people have a problem with the tiny wheel and high-set instruments as they do in the company’s smaller 208 GTi, possibly because you sit a bit lower and the dashboard is taller in the bigger Peugeot.
But it wouldn’t be a French car without at least one ergonomic quirk – the gearshift lever in the manual sprouts out too high.
The 308 GT petrol manual seems light, and that’s because it is. At 1200kg it weighs 9kg less than a base model Golf 90TSI, yet that doesn’t mean Peugeot has skimped on sound insulation, for example. Except for a bit of coarse chip road roar from the tyres, the GT is as quiet as every 308 in the range.
Considering the low weight, and outputs from the engine that are virtually identical to the previous-generation Golf GTI that was heavier, the 308 GT should feel faster. But the engine is slightly slow to rev off the bottom end until it gets into its boosty mid-range, and the problem seems exacerbated by a sizeable gap between first and second gear.
The top of second and into third gear is the 308 GT’s friend. Here it feels genuinely brisk, and if you press the ‘Sport’ button all the dashboard dials glow red and a louder, “amplified” engine note fills the cabin – and we say amplified because it’s pushed into the cabin via the speakers.
Still, it sounds great and goes hard, yet even the bumpiest roads the Albury-Wodonga region could throw at it failed to disrupt this car’s fleet-footed nature and poise. As we criss-crossed the New South Wales-Victoria border, quickly, in comfort and control, it became apparent that this Peugeot fulfills its GT role beautifully.
The problem with all this, of course, is the Golf GTI with its three-mode adjustable suspension does the GT role brilliantly too, while performing the hot-hatch role as well.
In the corners the 308 GT is competent but mild fun. There is plenty of grip, and later on a racetrack proves the harder you push it with stability control off, the more you can indulge in the fundamentally solid chassis balance.
On the road the Michelins are just too sticky to encourage involvement, and we know this because lesser 308 grades on less grippy tyres are more willing to move their rear around slightly to help the nose point.
The downside there is overly intrusive stability control – yet the 308 GT’s sport mode relaxes the parameters enough so you can keep it on the throttle hard coming out of corners without too much interference.
So the 308 GT is brisk, composed and grippy, but as Peugeot acknowledges it is not meant to be compared with a Golf GTI when it comes to dynamics.
Peugeot cites a lower ride height (by 7mm front/10mm rear) and suspension firmer by 10 to 20 per cent compared with the regular 308 grades. Swapping into the diesel, it would appear that heavier version has the tighter damping.
The 308 GT diesel jiggles and shakes more on country roads than the petrol, though its handling remains similar.
The six-speed automatic is quicker to respond than regular 308 GT grades, and teamed with the 400Nm powerhouse of a diesel engine, the surge of acceleration is addictive. The 2.0-litre is also very smooth and cultured, though in this instance the sport mode’s fake induction note pumped through the speakers is best left off – it tries to make the diesel sound like a burly petrol at low revs, but is obviously fake.
The trip computer was showing high-6s (L/100km) throughout the day of country road testing, so in many cases the economical, loping diesel auto complements rather than competes with the faster, lighter petrol manual.
Then you consider the 308’s massive boot (at 430 litres), its roomy back seat (sadly without rear-seat air vents), its intuitive touchscreen controls (with internet apps connectivity and easy Bluetooth sync and navigation input) and pretty styling and interior class, and realise this Peugeot has clear charms compared with its Volkswagen almost-rival.
Unfortunately that competitor also has a greater breadth of ability, simply because it’s faster and more involving dynamically, yet just as comfortable and easy to drive day to day. But the 308 GT being available as a diesel at around the same price as a Mazda 3 XD Astina would almost certainly have the edge for feeling of expense.
The best thing about the Peugeot 308 GT is that you now have a fun, frisky French alternative to those stalwart, common German and Japanese price-point rivals. Bring on the model with an ‘i’ on the end of its badge, we say…