For keen drivers who want a full-sized small car but can’t stretch to a full-tilt hot hatch, Hyundai and Peugeot offer ‘warm’ hatches for less than $40,000. We find out whether the i30 N Line Premium or 308 GT is the pick.
Peugeot remains most famous for its GTi badge among keen drivers. Here, though, we see the return of the GT letters to its 308 small-car range.
Introduced on the latest-generation 308 in early 2015 with both petrol and diesel options, the former engine was dropped in 2016 before the 308 GT disappeared altogether.
Now it’s back to once again sit under the (excellent) full-fruit 308 GTi – aiming to appeal to buyers looking for a sporty hatchback but with a lower intensity and, probably most importantly, a lower price tag.
In this warm-hatch arena, Hyundai made a move to capitalise on the critical success of its i30 N hot hatch when, for MY19, it replaced the i30 SR variant with the i30 N Line.
The Hyundai i30 N Line and Peugeot 308 GT both feature sporty bodykits as well as 1.6-litre turbocharged engines to elevate them above regular i30 and 308 models in terms of design and performance.
Pricing and features
The Peugeot 308 GT was released in a batch of 140 units with a list price of $39,990, which saves six grand over the GTi and undercuts the previous petrol GT by $2000, while also increasing value by inserting an eight-speed auto in place of the former six-speed manual.
That’s pricey considering you could have proper hot hatches such as a Subaru WRX or even Hyundai’s i30 N (albeit manual only) for just $500 extra.
That makes a current $36,990 drive-away price for the GT especially important when compared with the i30 N Line Premium’s pricing and features.
Set to run until at least the end of 2019, the GT deal turns an RRP deficit of $5000 to the $34,990 Hyundai i30 N Line Premium we have here on test into a near-$2K advantage with on-road costs factored in.
The i30 N Line is well equipped even before the extras of the Premium are taken into account.
Rain-sensing wipers, keyless start, dual-zone climate control, navigation (with live traffic updates), wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, digital radio, leather-appointed sports seats, 18-inch wheels, fatigue monitoring, adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist are all part of the mix.
Then there’s plenty of kit to justify the $5500 climb from N Line to N Line Premium: 10-way electric adjustment, ventilation and heating for the front seats; Infinity audio system; panoramic sunroof; LED headlights; expanded version of Hyundai’s AutoLink telematics app; auto-dimming rear-view mirror; and front sensors adding to those at the rear.
LED headlights and sensors aside, those are also extra features the 308 GT can’t match.
In the French hatch’s favour are even sportier seats with a heavy use of Alcantara, a bigger touchscreen (9.7 inches), auto high beam, and blind-zone monitoring that the N Line loses from cheaper i30s as its rear bumper design precludes the requisite sensors.
Hyundai is offering a seven-year warranty on the i30 N Line Premium until the end of 2019, above its standard five years that is matched by Peugeot.
Peugeot doesn’t help Europe’s reputation for maintenance costs compared with Korean and Japanese car makers, though.
Hyundai charges just $807 for the first three years of servicing, whereas Peugeot asks $1964 in total for three annual check-ups. The gap widens over five years: $1385 for the i30 overall versus a scary $3354 total cost for the 308.
The only caveat for the Hyundai is that its intervals are limited to 10,000km, whereas Peugeot’s are double that.
When the 308 debuted in 2014, its interior courted favourable comparison with the benchmark Volkswagen Golf. And five years on, the Peugeot’s stylishly minimalist cabin has aged very nicely indeed – and continues to successfully straddle the mainstream-luxury divide just like its German rival.
If its level of plastics quality isn’t quite as high as the Golf’s, it’s more consistent throughout. A soft-touch material, for example, is used for the upper parts of both the front and rear door cards, whereas the Golf cuts costs at the back. Some would argue the French car’s dash looks more visually interesting, too.
Some of the execution, such as the centre console’s hidden cupholder, is a bit off, and the Bang & Olufsen look to the CD slot and volume control knob is slightly spoiled by the harsh texture of the surrounding plastic.
The GT adds embellishments with plump sports seats that are properly sporty with their bolstered embrace and an abundance of red stitching. You sit low in a way befitting the car’s badge, though the tiny steering wheel that forms part of Peugeot’s ‘i-Cockpit’ layout continues to be polarising.
Most drivers will find they need to place the steering wheel lower than normal to ensure they can see the instrument panel, and even then are likely to find themselves peering over the wheel at times.
Then again, would the 308 be a proper French car if it didn’t have some ergonomic anomaly?
It’s difficult to find anything erroneously positioned in the Hyundai i30, while the thickly rimmed but normally sized N Line steering wheel guarantees a perfect view of the dials and central digital info panel.
As with its rival (and the SR it replaced), the i30 N Line employs a healthy dose of red stitching (and red seatbelts) for sporty effect. N badges are also found on the steering wheel and gear lever (which both look better than the versions used in the SR).
There isn’t the same aura of quality and style in the Hyundai, though, with cheaper plastics more obvious and red air vent surrounds look like overapplied lipstick.
The N Line seats aren’t as purposefully supportive as the 308 GT’s front pews, either, though they’re comfortable – and more accommodating for those with wider hips/torsos – while offering easier adjustment that’s electric rather than manual.
Heating and cooling functions for the front seats will also be welcomed in winter and summer, respectively.
Hyundai provides ventilation for the rear cabin unlike Peugeot, and the 92mm-longer i30 is clearly the more generous for rear leg room.
The 308’s rear quarters aren’t exactly cramped, but let’s say tall occupants behind tall occupants wouldn’t be an ideal arrangement. It’s a shame Peugeot Australia doesn’t import the 308 GT Touring wagon as an option, which offers extra cabin and boot space.
The Peugeot is better at squeezing in three across its rear bench, while it alone offers a USB port in the back.
The plus side of the Peugeot’s packaging is a 435L boot with a good length and decent depth. Good access, too, thanks to a wide aperture. The 60/40 split-fold rear seats feature a ski port, though there’s a stepped floor when they’re collapsed.
There’s above-average space in the i30’s 395L boot, too, which exclusively here adds in a luggage net and 12-volt socket. There’s no step when the rear seats drop, though the cargo floor isn’t entirely flat.
Both cars opt for temporary spare wheels.
On the road
Before we consider performance, there’s an interesting note about the 308 GT’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder. Also available in the 508 GT sedan/wagon, it’s the first petrol engine available in Australia to feature soot-busting particulate filter technology that’s been on diesel engines for ages.
Peugeot has found a way of installing such a device while coping with Australia’s average fuel quality. The GT just requires 95RON as a minimum.
There’s more to like about the small-capacity turbo engine beyond cleaner emissions. It’s a satisfyingly smooth and progressive performer that also sounds rorty as revs climb. We don’t mind that the engine note is enhanced via the speakers.
With outputs of 165kW and 285Nm, the 308 GT’s engine naturally avoids stepping on the toes of the higher-tune version of the motor in the GTi (200kW/330Nm).
In turn, the GT predictably lacks the hotter hatch’s urgent poke, and the auto’s calibration doesn’t help throttle response in the Normal setting of three driving modes that also include Eco and Sport.
Sport injects more life into the engine when it’s time for a sportier drive, while also prompting more urgent downshifts from the eight-speed auto. Better still is to press the M (manual) button on the gear lever and combine Sport mode with the paddle-shift levers.
Drivers don’t have full control, as the GT still upshifts automatically near the 6000rpm redline. The unintended bonus here is that, with the paddles positioned on the steering column rather than wheel, it’s easy to find yourself flicking fingers at air when trying to upshift out of a corner. So, you begrudgingly appreciate the auto upshifts.
Eco/Normal/Sport settings are mirrored by the i30 N Line. The Hyundai’s 265Nm peak torque is slightly lower, yet it chimes in 250rpm earlier at 1500rpm and runs out to 4500rpm. Peak power is 150kW at 6000rpm.
And with a turbo that feels like it’s spinning up earlier, the i30’s engine actually feels the stronger and more responsive of the two.
The 1.6-litre four isn’t a particularly sporty engine, though. It lacks an inspiring sound and even becomes intrusive above 5000rpm, so it doesn’t encourage the driver to rev it out like the similar-format engine in the GT.
The seven-speed dual-clutch auto better fits the bill for sporty driving, with relatively snappy changes for a warm hatch. The Hyundai’s gearbox can just be stuttery around town, whereas the Peugeot’s torque converter eight-speeder is consistently smooth.
Official fuel consumption claims are close, with the 308 GT's 6.9L/100km claim a smidge ahead of the i30 N Line's 7.1L/100km. The Peugeot, as mentioned earlier, just needs premium unleaded, whereas the Hyundai is happy with regular.
We don’t think it’s unfair to suggest Hyundai’s marketing decision to switch branding from SR to N Line brings greater expectations: a hope it has grabbed some particles from the magic dust the company’s performance division sprinkled over the i30 to create the superb N hot hatch.
Or perhaps we’re asking too much, as there are some disappointments with the N Line’s dynamic experience.
The steering is the main culprit, with both kickback and rattle on typical Aussie country roads, and a vague on-centre feel that makes it more challenging for a driver to place the Hyundai accurately. There’s also some mild torque steer.
Not for the first time on a Hyundai with variable steering, we found the weighting more natural in Normal rather than Sport.
The brakes are fine at pulling the i30 up from speed, but the pedal feel is wooden – making it harder to modulate foot pressure. It’s something you also notice in everyday driving.
Body control is respectable, and the steering feels alert off centre, but ultimately the gap between the handling traits of the N Line and N models is much wider than the $5500 price difference.
When the 308 GT originally launched, its chassis performance boded well for the then upcoming GTi. And now returning to the GT, its terrific balance again comes to the fore.
The Peugeot’s front and rear axles – some mild back-end skip over mid-corner bumps aside – operate in greater harmony than the Hyundai’s.
The GT brings a confidence-inspiring neutrality through corners, while its greater directional agility emphasises its 136kg advantage over the 1344kg N Line.
Such a weight difference would partly explain why the Peugeot never feels like it is working its tyres compared with the i30, despite the cars sharing identical 225/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sports.
The 308 GT’s damping is also more effective at clamping down on bigger bumps, whereas the N Line’s front end can take a moment longer to settle.
A bit of extra heft wouldn’t hurt the Peugeot’s steering, though while it doesn’t feel quite as responsive as the i30’s initially, it’s sufficiently direct and rewardingly precise. The small-diameter wheel also feels more naturally sized in the context of sporty driving.
The 308 GT’s brakes are not only bigger – 330mm front brake discs versus 305mm discs – but they also provide much better modulation.
Something both cars do well is provide a suspension set-up that is easy to deal with on a daily basis, despite their sportier tunes compared with regular i30s and 308s.
While both the N Line and GT ride with noticeably more firmness than lower-spec variants, neither crash over potholes nor fidget excessively. The Peugeot just isolates its occupants a touch more, and more quietly. The i30’s rear suspension can be occasionally clunky.
It’s a surprise considering the Hyundai employs a theoretically more advanced multi-link suspension versus the Peugeot’s more basic torsion beam set-up.
While the N Line falls short of being the complete warm hatch, it has plenty of qualities for buyers who simply want an i30 with lots of good kit, sporty looks and a torquey engine.
It has the more practical interior here in terms of space and storage, and value remains a key virtue for the Hyundai hatchback when considering price, equipment and running costs.
If you love driving, though, try to find the extra $5500 for the i30 N whether you have to beg, borrow or steal. (We just can’t condone the third option!)
Peugeot’s 308 GT costs more to maintain and fuel, and it’s expensive to buy without the current drive-away deal (which is reflected in our relatively low Value for Money rating for the car).
But there’s more of an X-factor to the French five-door. Its interior looks more premium, while importantly – in the context of two sporty hatches – its (more refined) engine is more enjoyable to exploit, and the GT shares more dynamic DNA with the GTi than the N Line does with the N.