By Jesse Adams
Porto, Portugal - The current C-sized performance hatch playground is a hard-knock place where newcomers can’t just pop in to visit willy-nilly.
It’s a segment now occupied by some seriously potent cars, ready to tear into racetracks straight off showroom floors. Red seat stitching, fancy badges, and paltry power hikes just don’t cut it anymore against the likes of today’s finely honed Megane RSs, Focus STs, Astra OPCs and Golf GTIs.
After a fairly limp-wristed previous effort in 2010, Peugeot’s back with an all-new 308 GTi, and while it would’ve been quite easy to again take its existing 308 GT, turn up a bit of boost and throw in a set of lowering springs, the resulting model would likely have been disregarded as true competition for those aforementioned rivals.
This time, though, Peugeot means business, and the latest 308 GTi comes with a basket full of real-deal racing parts which wouldn’t be out of place on the starting grid of a genuine touring-car race. It’s again based on the five-door GT which sits one rung down on the 308 ladder, but an evolution of that car’s 1.6 turbo gets forged pistons from well-known racing brand Mahle lubricated and cooled by a clever bottom-up oil sprayer system, a bigger turbocharger boosting at 2.5 bar, strengthened conrods and crankshaft, and an electric water pump that runs even after the engine’s switched off. Output now sits at an overachieving 200kW and 330Nm, up from the GT’s 151 and 285. A less powerful and lower spec 184kW version of the GTi will also be available overseas, but probably won’t make it to our market.
MANUAL ‘BOX ONLY
The 308 GTi will for now be sold with a six-speed manual gearbox only, but this too has been beefed-up with internals hardened by a hi-tech carbonitride thermochemical process. Drive is to the front-wheels but traction out of corners is aided by a proper Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential with 35 percent lockup.
The GTi rides 11mm closer to the ground than the GT, on stiffer (non-adjustable) shocks and bushes all round. At the front there’s a 22mm thick hollow anti-roll bar, and at the back is a set of unique looking progressive springs with tight coils that nearly touch in their centres, but widen greatly at the tops and bottoms. The 200kW GTi which we’ll get in SA comes standard with red-painted four-pot brake callipers from Alcon, and 380mm front discs with interesting half-moon grooves around their circumference. Standard 19” wheels wrapped in grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres weigh 2kg less (each) than the 18 inchers on the normal GT model.
The GTi’s appearance has been sportified with an aggro body kit and dual tailpipes incorporated into the back bumper, and the inside features ubiquitous red stitching, alcantara/leather bucket seats and a chunky aluminium gear knob. You get the same minimalistic dash layout and high quality materials as all new 308 derivatives, with the same classy looking 9.7” central touchscreen display. Also the same is a hilariously small steering wheel, which designers say is better for ergonomics but still blocks the instrument cluster in my ideal seating position.
The 308 GTi will come in a range of six normal paint choices with either red or chrome grille surrounds (depending on colour scheme), but some buyers might choose to walk on the wild side with a new “Coupe Franche” diagonal two-tone red and black layout as pictured. This paint job will be available in limited numbers and will come at extra cost. You’ll have to trust me that it looks better in real life, but it’s still the definition of a love or hate design.
SHOULD ITS RIVALS BE SCARED?
Should the RS, ST, OPC and Golf GTI be worried? Yes, they should. I tested the 308 GTi on a 260km route around the Portuguese city of Porto and also on the short Braga racetrack, and its performance is really very good indeed. One section of road involved 40km of nonstop hairpin bends spliced together one after another without a single straight bit between them, and here the big brakes and Torsen diff came to the fore. The GTi was able to charge hard into each corner with impressively sharp and unwavering brake pedal feel, and then fiercely accelerate out without a drop of power lost to wheelspin.
Power is phenomenal for a relatively low capacity 1.6, with smooth boost from very low in the rev range all the way up to its 6 500rpm redline. At the track the hatch felt light, agile and accurate on turn in and the limited-slip front axle gripped extremely well under full throttle turn exits. At just a touch over 1 200kg, Peugeot says this 308 comes with the best power to weight ratio of any front-wheel drive hatch on the market, and 0-100km happens in a very believable 6 seconds flat according to factory claims.
Its odd steering wheel is a minor blotch on an impressively complete package; as is the lack of an automatic transmission, but Peugeot says one should become available in time for the 308 GTi’s facelift in a few years. Some purist customers might also sneer at its synthesised engine noise which increases in volume with Sport mode engaged, but it is much less intrusive than some speaker-fed cabins in other cars.
Peugeot South Africa expects the new 308 GTi to land locally in the second half of next year with pricing to be confirmed closer to the time.
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