There’s more choice than ever in the hot hatchback class – alongside this new Peugeot 308 GTi, Renaultsport’s Megane 275 Trophy has been released, Honda massaged 306bhp out of the new Civic Type R and Ford will break new ground with the 345bhpFocus RS later next year.
So, while the 266bhp Pug may look down on paper compared to the 300bhp-plus hatches elsewhere, don’t count it out just yet. The French manufacturer has a long and illustrious history of producing fast and fun hot hatchbacks and the new 308 GTi is no exception.
Developed by the same team responsible for the sweet 208 GTi and rapid RCZ R, Peugeot Sport has dropped in the same 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine you’ll find in both the 308 GTi’s stablemates. Here it develops 266bhp and 330Nm of torque, which is sent through the front-wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. There is no slick-shifting dual-clutch automatic available in the Peugeot – unlike in its VW Group rivals like the SEAT Leon Cupra.
While the GTi may be down on power over the Ford Focus STMountune and the Honda Civic Type R, it is considerably lighter than both – that counts for a lot when you don’t pack as big a punch. It tips the scales at only 1,205kg, almost 180kg lighter than the Civic and over 230kg lighter than the portly Focus.
The suspension on the GTi has been lowered by 11mm and the springs and dampers stiffened, while sticky rubber now wraps new 19-inch alloy wheels. Add in the limited-slip differential and it amounts to a very agile and responsive hot hatch.
Our test car is the pricier of the two Gti variants on offer, with a 247bhp version being £1,600 cheaper. That model comes without the front differential, larger and lighter wheels and figure-hugging bucket seats.
But this more potent version is worth the extra outlay as it’s the limited-slip differential that really lets you get the best out of the GTi. The small steering wheel – which can restrict your view of the dials – begins to make sense, making the 308 feel light on its feet and more responsive to inputs.
The steering is quick, but the feeling is rather numb which can leave you guessing as to how much grip there actually is. But thanks to the diff and sticky tyres, grip is one thing the 308 isn’t short of. Even in wet and slippery conditions you can really lean on the front axle which will see the front wheels dig into the tarmac with unrelenting bite.
Mash the accelerator mid corner and the diff shuffles power to where it can best be deployed and the 308 spits you out at the other end – 0-62mph is over in just 6 seconds. However, the gearbox is a bit of letdown as the throw is too long and feels limp.
It’s very fast and very well resolved but the 308 goes about its business without much drama, which is kind of the point of a hot hatch – the Focus ST feels more erratic and alive on the road.
Ease off and the GTi begins to show its softer side, which is perhaps reflected in its more understated and inoffensive looks. While notably firmer than the standard model, the GTi has a lovely suppleness to its ride quality, allowing it to shrug off the worst of a battered British b-road. It’s probably the best-riding hot hatch this side of a VW Golf R.
Elsewhere, the 308 retains the 470-litre boot form the standard model but rear-passenger space isn’t as generous as you’ll find in some rivals, namely the Golf. The GTi treatment hasn’t transformed the 308’s cabin, but you do get a set of rather supportive and comfortable bucket seats and some decorative red stitching. A reversing camera, climate and cruise control as well as navigation are all standard features, too.