£27,735 - £29,335 Price range
The Peugeot 308 GTi is the hot hatch version of the French firm’s small family car. It counts the Ford Focus ST and SEAT Leon Cupra amongst its rivals, but it’s the Volkswagen Golf GTI that’s really in its sights. In five-door form (standard in the 308) the VW costs the same as the Peugeot, but is quite a bit slower.
Buyers get two versions of 308 GTi to choose from, with either 250 or 270hp. We drove the latter, which adds to the 250’s specification, with a limited slip differential (LSD), more powerful brakes, bigger 19-inch alloy wheels (the 250’s are 18-inches in size) and a pair of sports seats.
Potential Golf buyers certainly won’t be put off by the 270’s looks. It’s a subtle design, styling changes being limited to revised front and rear bumpers, suspension that is lowered by 11mm and a pair of fat exhaust pipes. If you want to stand out there’s also the option to spec the ‘Coupe Franche’ paint job, with an Ultimate Red/Pearlescent Nera Black finish.
Go for the GTi 270 and you get comfortable figure-hugging Alcantara leather sports seats that hint at how accomplished it is in corners. Aside from those, 250 and 270 models share additions such as aluminium pedals, unique kick plates and lots of red stitching but, as with the outside, the look is by no means shouty.
Keeping things simple is the 9.7-inch colour touchscreen that means there are remarkably few conventional buttons to navigate. Sadly, though, the display itself isn’t the most intuitive to use and the sat-nav can be tricky to follow. As a result a VW Golf is easier to live with and also edges things in terms of perceived quality.
Peugeot 308 GTi passenger space
As with all of its rivals, there is plenty of space for adults in the front along with big door bins, a large centre cubby underneath the armrest and a tray, complete with USB plug, for your smartphone behind the gearstick. Space in the back isn’t so good – six-foot adults will feel packed in tight if they’re sitting behind someone of a similar size and there’s noticeably less kneeroom than in a Golf GTI.
Peugeot 308 GTi boot space
Open the boot and it’s clear where the rear passenger space has been lost: the 470-litre load bay is huge – 90 litres bigger than you’ll get in the VW – and maximum boot space sits at a healthy 1,309 litres, compared to the 1,270 litres offered in the Golf GTI.
The top-of-the-range GTi 270 comes with a range of options that make it a better choice for committed drivers than the basic 250.
It’s the standard limited-slip differential (LSD) that stands out and it is an excellent match for the car’s quick (if a little numb-feeling) steering. A clever devise, the LSD can send power to whichever of the front wheels has the most grip and in practice allows you to get on the accelerator pedal earlier in corners, safe in the knowledge that the car won’t run wide (called understeer).
That’s something the suspension setup certainly encourages. It’s got enough compliance to remain comfortable most of the time, on the Portuguese roads we drove on at least, while no matter how quickly you corner – and some of our time included track sessions – there is very little body roll. The brakes, meanwhile, felt powerful despite repeated hard stops.
While the 1.6-litre engine’s 270hp grabs headlines – it gets so much from so little – the unit is equally impressive for the low down torque it delivers.
Maximum pulling power arrives from just 1,900rpm, with one of our motoring press colleagues claiming to have moved the car off from a standstill in sixth – not something we would recommend if you value your clutch. More importantly, it means the car feels eager (without the need to constantly change gear) even if it’s not quite as flexible as a Golf GTI
It is, however, significantly quicker than the VW. In raw numbers the GTi 270 gets from 0-62mph in just six seconds (half a second quicker than the German machine), while bragging rights down the pub are concreted by the Peugeot’s limited top speed of 155mph – 2mph quicker than a Golf GTI.
Given the stats, it’s a shame that the Peugeot isn’t a little more pleasing on the ear. From the outside its exhaust has a likeable burble and even pops during full-bore gearchanges, but precious little of that noise makes its way into the cabin.
Running costs are impressive though, and despite having a 50hp power advantage over a Golf GTI, the 270 nearly matches it for fuel economy (47.1mpg versus 47 respectively) and costs exactly the same to tax at £130 every year.
The PR team at Peugeot were keen to tell us that their GTi was built to beat its namesake from Volkswagen and in many ways it does. It’s not only faster than the Golf – even if you spec VW’s £995 Performance Pack – but is also a good deal more focussed, and if you’re a family man or women that enjoys their driving that could well be enough to swing it.
But it can’t match the Golf’s breadth of talents that cover everything, from its classy looks to its well-built and intuitive interior. Things such as these make the Golf feel special even in the mundane cycle of daily life and are doubtless the reason it’s proven such a success story with UK buyers.