What is it?
The Peugeot 308 GTi is the performance version of the brand’s family hatchback.
Potent small-capacity engine, limited-slip differential, quality interior
The Peugeot 308 GTi may be overlooked for a visual appearance rather too close to the standard 308 that it is based on. But this conceals a strong mechanical specification that combines a powerful if more economical smaller-capacity engine with a significantly uprated chassis.
The 308 GTi is as potent as better-known rivals while not so extreme as to be an uncomfortable everyday car. It is also great fun to drive, and any hot hatch enthusiast should try it out.
UK motorists may be having the green message forced on them ever more heavily these days, but plenty still desire a proper hot hatch – a car with performance and handling to excite when one takes the wheel.
As a result, Volkswagen still sells plenty of the Golf GTI that created the hot hatch market, Ford finds a market for equally potent versions of its Focus under the RS badge, and both now face competition from impressive newcomers such as the Hyundai i30 N.
Also very much fighting for a slice of this market is a car easily overlooked but perhaps unworthy of being ignored – the Peugeot 308 GTi. Or to give this car its full and tortuous moniker, the 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport.
One possible reason the Peugeot doesn’t excite that much is its visual appearance – basically, it doesn’t look all that special. Yes, it is dropped lower to the ground by a single centimetre compared to a typical 308, furnished with bolder alloy wheels of 19 inches in diameter, and given ‘more aggressive design elements’ front and rear. But it still appears too close to a stock 308.
That visual appearance, by the way, is aided by six exterior paint options, but the two-tone ‘Coupe Franche’ variant is a mis-step in our opinion. Emphasising the sportiness by painting the rear in a contrasting black to the main colour (either blue or red), with a sharp separation line down the rear doors that ignores the car’s natural contours, is a bit odd…
Buying and owning a Peugeot 308 GTi
So as that incredibly long official name suggests, the 308 GTi has been ‘breathed upon’ by the French brand’s motorsport department.
In fact, it’s the fourth Peugeot model to receive such treatment, its most recent predecessor being the 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport. That car had the task of maintaining a famous line – the Peugeot 205 GTi was as much responsible for creating the hot hatch market as its Volkswagen rival. With no such heritage to worry about, the Peugeot Sport treatment to the 308 is less radical.
Initially offered in two formats, the 308 GTi is now only available with a 270hp engine, the 250hp version having been dropped. As such, it lines up alongside the most powerful variants of the Golf GTI and Hyundai i30 N.
With an on-road price of £29,050, the Peugeot also sits where one would expect it to in the hot hatch market. One can buy a Golf GTI for less than £28,000 but that is with only 220hp, whereas the Clubsport variant with 265hp, much closer to the Peugeot, pushes the price over £31K.
The Hyundai i30 N is a more serious contender, however. Much praised by road testers, us included, it costs only £28K in its most potent (though not quite as fast as the Peugeot) 275hp version.
Even hot hatches usually also have to serve as everyday cars, especially those based on family hatches rather than superminis. And the 308 GTi is only available as a five-door hatch variant, not in the extended SW format nor as a three-door model.
The GTi is regarded as a range-topper in the Peugeot line-up and so comes with a hefty garnish of equipment. However, while the 308 scored from Euro NCAP when tested back in 2013, driver aids such lane-keeping assistance require spending on the options list.
Surprisingly autonomous emergency braking, an option on other 308s, is not offered on the GTi. One does get Peugeot’s Connect system, however, which automatically alerts emergency services to the car’s position if the airbags are activated, and can be operated manually too.
Inside the Peugeot 308 GTi
The 308 GTi scores with the general quality of its interior, which feels more upmarket than rivals. The standard-fit sports seats are comfortable while the leather and Alcantara, contrasting stitching and aluminium detailing all add to the effect.
The dash layout will divide drivers. The speed and rev counter dials, vital to performance motorists, are placed high in a pod atop the dashboard, so in theory much closer to the driver’s eye line. However, they are combined with a small-diameter, sporty steering wheel, which creates an issue in that to see the dials adequately, one has to set the wheel lower than usual, which some owners may find very odd and slightly uncomfortable.
Neat detail touches include the chequered background on the pod display, and the red centring mark at the top of the leather steering wheel – all reminders that this is a hot hatch.
The centre console is dominated by the ten-inch touchscreen. This controls just about everything, from navigation to smartphone compatibility (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and, crucially, the climate control. While this makes for a smooth, buttonless centre console design, navigating screens can be a bit of a pain, especially on the move.
At just over 4.2 metres long, this is one of the smallest cars in its market. But despite this, it’s generally roomy inside for front-seat occupants – those in the back may find space a little tight, however.
In terms of boot space the, Peugeot wins hands down – 470 litres is around 90 more than both the Golf and Hyundai. It’s not a totally user-friendly space, however, with a high loading lip and odd-shaped sides.
Driving the Peugeot 308 GTi
The meat of any performance hatch is its powertrain. Initially, the 308 GTi may not excite with its turbo 1.6-litre petrol engine compared to the 2.0-litre versions of its rivals. But this unit, first seen in the 208 GTi, is impressive.
Peugeot Sport has worked on the internals to make this engine just as powerful as those rivals. This and the car’s compact dimensions will see the 308 GTi hit 62mph from a standing start ahead – achieving it in six seconds, which is plenty fast enough for most.
The engine is combined with a six-speed manual gearbox (there is no auto option), while other upgrades over the standard 308 models include a limited-slip differential, larger vented brakes, and a ‘Driver Sport’ pack. Operated from the cockpit, this pack sharpens the response of the engine and gearbox, while also changing the dash graphics from white to a more potent red and ensuring more of the engine note from the twin exhaust reaches the cabin.
It is on the road where the 308 GTi comes into its own. While ticking the boxes for performance, it also scores in terms of its fun factor too.
In everyday use the powertrain is well behaved, the ride firm but not overly so. Tackle a challenging route of bends and the car comes alive, though one needs to keep the revs high to get the best out of it. Traction out of corners is particularly impressive, the limited slip differential playing its part here.
Despite the fun factor, the 308 GTi is quoted with both fuel economy and emissions levels significantly better than its rivals – an advantage of that smaller capacity engine.
Back when this reporter started out on a modified car magazine many years ago, we would have referred to the 308 GTi as a ‘street sleeper’. From the outside it doesn’t look that impressive, but it makes up for this where it really matters – on the road.
The 308 GTi is a very good hot hatch – one that is not so outlandish as to be unsuitable as an everyday car, but also with enough performance, handling and grin factor to please the most enthusiastic of drivers.
|Make & model||Peugeot 308 GTi||Volkswagen Golf GTI||Hyundai i30 N|
|Specification||GTi by Peugeot Sport||GTI Clubsport 40||N Performance|
|Engine||1.6-litre petrol||2.0-litre petrol||2.0-litre petrol|
|Power||272 hp||265 hp||275 hp|
|Torque||330 Nm||350 Nm||378 Nm|
|0-62mph||6.0 seconds||6.3 seconds||6.1 seconds|
|Top speed||155 mph||155 mph||155 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||47.1 mpg*||40.4 mpg*||39.8 mpg*|
|CO2 emissions||139 g/km*||162 g/km*||163 g/km*|
|Euro NCAP rating||5 stars (2013)||5 stars (2012)||5 stars (2017)|
|TCE rating||7.4 / 10||not yet tested||8.6 / 10|
* = NEDC rating