Peugeot 308 GTI and my true romance with hot hatches
As Franck mentioned in his article about the 2019 Golf R, it all began with the first Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Peugeot 205 GTI and the Renault 5 Turbo. You and I know that I would rather spend my time test driving V12 Ferraris, or track focused cars, but hot hatches are not half bad either.
You see, it’s not about the performance, or the styling, but rather what it represents. And to me, it represents the eternal youth, the first sporty car you get your hands on when you are 20: the best years of your life.
Sure, when you are 50, if you are lucky, you can buy a Ferrari or a Porsche, but will you drive it as you would have when you were 20? My very first experience with a “sporty” car, was with my VW Golf 5 GTI when I was 22. I was the happiest idiotic young adult on earth, I would go anywhere with it, drive it everyday, always foot to the floor. When I say always, I mean always; even in Paris. So yes, I may be 29, but I’m already nostalgic of that time when I was capable of driving a car like that. I broke front and rear axles, but I was happy. Anyway, straight to the Peugeot 308 GTI.
Guilty pleasure: styling made in Peugeot
Hmmm. At the delivery of the car, I received a blue car, but then it made a U-turn and became black. Wow, am I high? Two colors then? It has to be a huge sticker then. Nope, it’s paint. Surprisingly, I like it, it’s bold and fun. As I said in the Yaris GRMN article, a hot hatch should be styled silly, it should show what it is. You would not want anyone to think you are driving a diesel Peugeot 308, would you?
Anyway, even though I’m definitely not a huge fan of french cars, I have to say that Renault and Peugeot are really improving their styling lately. Not Citroen though, stop putting rubber patches everywhere to prevent from supermarket parking dents. I would rather have 10 dents than that rubber crap. Plus, I hate supermarket. I digress.
Yes, the Peugeot 308 GTI looks nice to me. The front is aggressive with those blacked out grills, the low part of the front bumper is painted red, respecting the historic color code of the holly GTI’s. Although, the lower grills look like plastic, which they are, but you can tell from 100 meters away. I like the lines too, there are not too many, just enough to keep a solid identity and still look agressive as it should, many are not able to do it correctly. The rear also looks nice with the two exhaust tips on each side of the fake diffuser, and the nicely shaped tail-lights.
The 19 inch wheels are not the best in my mind, but they are more than okay. The car is badged “GTI” in red on the front wheel arches and on the boot, a reminder that it will destroy you at the red light start in your Mini Cooper S. Overall, exterior wise, it looks quite nice and silly, as a hot hatch should.
On the inside, well, it’s still french, meaning plastic. But fair enough, the car is not about that, and it will show in the final price. I have to say, the interior design is a bit bold and not boring to look at, especially the dashboard, I would rather have that in plastic, than a german leather boring one. Okay maybe not.
The rev counter hand goes opposite (counter clock wise) to the speedo one, like in 2000’s Aston Matins. Bold again, I like the spirit. Some complain they are above the wheel, but I don’t, why not? The only thing that I disliked is they all turn red when in Sport, which makes everything hard to read. The seat design, well… I really disliked it. It is just overdone. Bold does not always work.
Is the 308 a proper GTI?
Well, what is a GTI? Again, Franck did the work for me already, but to sum it up: fast, fun, light, affordable and usable. We have to, so let’s put some specs here. It’s front wheel drive, 1.6L inline 4 turbo, manual 6-speed (yeah MA-NU-AL), makes 263hp at 6,000rpm and 340N.m at 2,100rpm.
All well, but here is the most important information about it, it weighs 1,200kg. Yes, it is 300kg lighter than the Megane RS Trophy. But mainly, 100kg heavier than the Alpine A110, with 5 doors and 5 seats. How is that even possible? The Alpine is known to be one of the most radical car about weight saving with its 1,100kg, but Peugeot did not do anything visible to reduce weight. Wizards.
Anyway, the result is pretty amazing, it is able to do 0-100km/h in 6 seconds, and can go up to 250km/h. So, fast: check, light: check. Let’s get to the interesting part.
An unexpected Peugeot 308 hooligan version
You read right. It is a hooligan against all expectation.
I had the car for 6 days, the first time I drove it, I was in the small town of Poissy (where the Peugeot factory is), and out of curiosity, I put my foot to the floor, no redline, just to see what it was capable of. And boy was it scary, the power is delivered so brutally at 2,500rpm, the torque steer is savage and everything goes too fast. But I was pretty sure it had to do with the fact that it was the very first time I put my foot down, and that the street was very narrow. I tried again the next day in a tunnel in Paris, same thing, very scary.
The second thing I noticed immediately, is that I disliked the gearbox. The first time I put it in first gear, it had this weird double click I often find in modern gearboxes, and the throw was long. But, I was so so wrong. We have this idea that a gearbox should be tight, accurate and short throw. The Peugeot 308 GTI proved it wrong. I was on the highway, and decided to try a redline (under speed limits of course, as always), and wow, the gearbox is so good. At high rpm, the gearbox is so capable, it does not double click anymore, quite the opposite, it becomes soft as warm butter. You never make any mistake with that long throw. But mainly, it is lightening fast. Like proper fast. I don’t think I have ever driven a manual that was that fast synchronizing gears. Great job again Peugeot.
The next Saturday, I had 400km to go, so naturally I chose to go with the Peugeot 308 GTI by country roads. Since the car was too fast for the city, I had a lot of expectations on small roads: it is supposed to be its playground.
Can a Peugeot 308 GTI rival the Megane RS Trophy Queen?
If you read my article about the Renault Megane RS Trophy, you must be impatient to know if the Peugeot compares.
Well, it’s not the same beast at all. While the Megane is very effective, thanks to its Cup chassis and 4Control, the Peugeot is much more fun orientated.
The road was a bit wet, and immediately you notice that as soon as you put your foot down, the ESP and the Torsen dif let you understeer your way towards the outside Colza plantation. Some find it scary, I find it funny. Anyway, you put the Sport mode on, and you immediately notice the very sporty sound coming out of the exhaust. Wait, no, it’s coming from the speakers. It’s not even a nice sound.
Here is my tutorial to know if the sound is coming from the speaker: put the sport mode on, cut the music, put your hear against the speaker and put your foot down. Of course, when you do that, your eyes are below the steering wheel, so, you decide weather you have guts or not. Anyway, I struggle finding logic in 2019 cars.
Back to the driving. If you have Instagram, go check our 308 GTI stories, a video can illustrate my words. So, the engine is still savage, but much more manageable on country roads, still hold the wheel tight. The gearbox is still amazing. After a while, I found myself going redline all the time, and shift foot to the floor. The only time it needs to shift, is the time the clutch pedal needs to come back to its highest position, amazing. I wonder what it would be like to shift without the clutch like on a dogring box. Very tempting but I did not do it.
The car feels properly light. The firm suspension and the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires do quite a good job. For once, I did not find the brake fluid boiling point, I have to say they are quite effective, probably because of the weight, but also, the road was wet and the grip limits were a lot lower. The chassis is communicative as well. I threw the car in a round-about on wet road, expected understeer, found oversteer. Fun and easy to manage. Although, now that I have tried it, I miss the 4 wheel steering. The 2,617mm wheelbase makes it stable at high speed, but it lacks a bit of the agility I found in the Megane. While the steering is quite accurate, it is not as much as it is in the Megane, and it is a less direct ratio too. It is definitely not as effective as the Megane then.
But wait, when did I become a performance geek? Never. I don’t care if a car performs or not, that’s good enough for marketing, but for me the driving experience makes the trick. And while the chassis is not as perfect as it is in the Renault, the engine is much more fun (even though it’s turbocharged), the gearbox is miles better and the car feels playful.
#FunToDrive Score: 82/100
2019 cars have this massive flaw of being able to do everything. Some do everything not that good, some do some things well and other things bad. As I said, Renault gives you an okay daily that you can take on track every week-end.
The Peugeot is quite the opposite in my mind. It is a better daily (although the suspension is firm), can do country roads greatly and do an okay job on the track (just assuming).
When I was 20, I should have preferred the Peugeot, because it’s more fun, more usable, and I never went to the track: let’s be realistic, the track is too expensive. The Peugeot is also 5,000€ less expensive at 39,000€. But I would have had the Megane because it was the faster car, the Nurbugring beast.
So which one would I take at 29? Tough choice. Can I have the Megane chassis, with the Peugeot gearbox (and weight) and the Toyota engine? Well, manufacturers, the one that will build this car will be definitely the king of the hot hacthback game.