CHRISTMAS came early for me last year when Peugeot granted me a quick track blast in its 308 GTi 270 at Sydney Motorsport Park, impressing enough to squeeze into my highlights of 2015.
No on-road evaluation was possible at the time, but that's been remedied after living with one for a week of hot hatch entertainment. It was a stellar performer on the track, but also proved a reasonable enough thing to live with day to day.
Yes it costs 50 grand - no small fee for a Pug hatch - but the 308 GTi is a performance equal of other $50k+ vehicles, mixing it with the Renault Megane RS275, VW Golf R and incoming Ford Focus RS. Nice little group, that.
The 308 GTi 270's figures are such: a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine good for 200kW (or 270bhp, hence the name), 330Nm from just 1900rpm and a 0-100kmh time of 6.0-seconds.
A six-speed manual is your only transmission option - ideal in my eyes as using three pedals and a stick is basically the point of hot hatches, but I appreciate a chunk of the buying market will reject the car for a lack of automatic gearbox. Their loss.
Summarising my track experience, the GTi 270 combines that eager engine with a Torsen limited-slip diff and super grippy 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The result is wonderfully assured turn-in and grip, oodles of feedback and just the right amount of power so you don't get into trouble too quickly. Plus, I found it a reasonably easy thing to drive fast without fear, something sports cars higher up the food chain often can't promise.
While 308 GTi 270 owners would need a track to fully exploit the Peugeot's talents, seeking out a few twisty roads also delivers thrills. There's a Sport button you see, and it's rather transforming - plus the dash dials turn red when you press it, which raises a smile.
The exhaust burbles that bit louder, throttle response is sharpened (even though there's still the inevitable lag of a turbo car) and it genuinely flies. Get this thing past 3500rpm and it's a party of sound and laugh-out-loud speed. Need to stop in a hurry? Thankfully the mighty brakes match the performance, and should survive the demands of a track day I'd suspect.
Exit Sport mode and it (almost) passes as an everyday proposition. Suspension is necessarily firm, but when I avoided the really poor roads it behaved much like any normal hatch: it was very easy to live with.
The five doors and decent sized boot (these cars are much larger than smaller hot hatches like the 208 GTi and Ford Fiesta ST) meant I could cart the two kids and their stuff around with ease.
Rear leg room isn't great, the firm ride did grate a bit during highway use and being stuck in Brisbane traffic - clutch pedal, jerky ride, poor road surface - was a chore at times.
And while I'm grumbling, as nice as the metal manual gear shift knob is, after leaving the car in the sun it was too hot to hold. I practically branded the shift gate pattern on my left palm one afternoon...not so good.
But the cabin is such that it reminds you you're in a very special car. Sculpted sports seats in leather and Alcantara with red stitching feel very racy, there's a seat massage function to remedy some of that stiff ride, and the small and slim flat-bottomed steering wheel is joyously racy.
It's the sort of hot hatch that would be an ideal second car for the thrill-seeking enthusiast, but after a week in the saddle I convinced myself (and nearly my wife) that it could be an everyday family machine.
It wouldn't be perfect to live with all the time, but those weekends in the country or occasional race track visits would be ample compensation and more.
Vani Naidoo drives the 308 GTi 250
NOW if you prefer to march to your own drummer but are unlikely to make track days a regular occurrence, then the Peugeot 308 GTi 250 may be the machine for you. Like its GTi 270 big brother, it too benefits from the talents of the Peugeot Sport team to add a spark to your daily commute or weekend jaunts.
Both models share the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine but with different tunes; the 250 falling a bit short on power (184kW) but standing firm on grunt (300Nm).
Crucially, the 250 model misses out on the Torsen limited-slip differential, lighter wheels and noticeably bigger brakes: features that combine to give the GTi 270 more track day potential. But of course, the 250 still manages to offer up a rewarding driving experience.
The engine may be smaller than that offered by hot hatch rivals but you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference as it is super responsive, will overtake quickly and works well with a great chassis set-up and a silky smooth gearbox (manual thankfully). Pity about the lack of a sonorous growl though, the pumped-in rumble bearing sadly closer to a pussycat than the king of the jungle.
The GTi 250 may not have the nous of the 270 but it will not shy away from corners, leaning in and surging through with finesse, the handy torque meaning you barely need to downshift even when the going is tight.
I find the 308 GTi's exterior is more subtle aggression than in-your-face sportiness, while the cabin is a blend of raciness with a definite feel of quality and excellent finish.
Equipment levels are decent, too, with good connectivity, navigation and safety levels. I'd say at this price point you'd expect a few more toys for your buck though.
Let's not pretend that the 308 GTi 250 is as raw a hot hatch as the 270. It is not. But it looks good, offers something a bit different from the norm, is at least $5000 cheaper ($44,990) and provides enough driving excitement to keep you interested.
Model: Peugeot 308 GTi 270.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive hot hatch.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 200kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 330Nm @ 1900rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Performance 0-100kmh: 6.0-seconds.
Bottom line: $49,990 (before on-roads).
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