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Peugeot 308 GTi: meeting a close rival

This week's update: We put the 308 GTi up against one of its closest rivals, the SEAT Leon Cupra 300. Can the Spanish contender put up a decent fight against our long-termer?


Peugeot 308 GTi 270: The story so far...

1. Welcome 2. Options available 3. vs Hyundai i30 N Performance
4. Five things I miss about my GTi
5. Making a comeback 6. Sport Mode
7. Long-distance comfort 8. vs SEAT Leon Cupra

Update 1: Welcome

My previous long-term Citroen C3 resembled a similar ethos in life to me, but I never gelled with its relaxed character as much as I thought I would. Maybe opposites attract, or perhaps when it comes to cars, I seek something a bit more exciting.

With that in mind, we headed off in a different direction this time. One of the contenders in our 'cheap, fast cars' group test has now joined the fleet - but can we live with it? Not only have we gone up in size to a larger Peugeot 308, we’ve also added a bit of heat into the mix with the GTi model.

First impressions

Compared with the 2016 Ford Focus ST I used to own, I can safely say the Peugeot rides better on 19-inch wheels. The 308 suspension setup is firm, but feels far more fluid and less annoying than my Ford; with the absence of small bumps constantly being sent into the cabin.

The GTi range is simpler too, with only one model and engine to choose from with only a handful of options available. The previous, lower-powered GTi 250 was taken off sale when the 308 range was updated in 2017 and, to be frank, it was good riddance.

While the 250 felt a bit lost in the range, not knowing what it was meant to be, this flagship 270 and its limited-slip differential gives the French hot-hatch a much more definitive character.

So much so, it ended up winning out of the three front-wheel drive hatches in the ‘cheap, fast cars 2018’ group test.

We’ll delve into the options we’ve chosen in the next update but, for now, the most obvious one you can see is the Coupe Franche option: a two-tone paint finish combining Magnetic Blue up front and Nera Black at the rear.

It’s definitely a love-hate choice but I’m quite a fan. It’s still quite subtle in this colour scheme and far less contrasting as some would expect, especially having described it to them.

Off to a good start then?

With a resounding ‘yes’.

Its 1.6-litre engine might be relatively small against its 2.0-litre rivals, but the 270hp it produces is definitely up there among the best.

The 308 GTi may not be perfect – for starters, my previous Focus ST sounded far better and I prefer the muscular power delivery of the 2.0-litre engine - but for now, I’m struggling to understand why I haven’t seen more of these on the road.

Mileage: 756

Fuel economy: 30.3 mpg


Update 2: What options can you get on the 308 GTi?

...and which ones have we got?


The two-tone paintwork on the 308 has certainly been a talking point lately; attracting attention when the GTi is parked up. In the darker winter months, it largely went by unnoticed but the brighter days in spring have led to an increased number of pedestrians giving our long-termer a second glance.

The Coupe Franche option allows you to have the rear of the car finished in black metallic paint, combined with Ultimate Red or Magnetic Blue up front.

The looks have certainly divided opinion – some like how unique it makes the 308 look and that it’s not too garish, while some simply can’t fathom why the colour transition happens halfway back on the rear passenger doors.

What’s most bizarre though, is that my perception of what a typical 308 should look like has now completely changed; seeing one in a single paint colour just seems really odd to my eyes, let alone being a bit plain. Funny that.

You can find the full list of standard features in the 308 review, but this GTi 270 model sits at the top of the 308 range with the most comprehensive level of equipment fitted.

As mentioned in our previous report, the 308 GTi range consists of only one model and engine to choose from, with a handful of options available – so choosing one is nice and simple.

What options are there on our 308 GTi 270?

The fitted options on our 308 comprise of:

  • Coupe Franche blue/black paint: £775
  • Denon Premium hifi system: £460

With eight speakers, a subwoofer and an amplifier, the 500-watt hifi system is appreciably powerful. Previous experience in the Focus ST and its upgraded Sony sound system would indicate that the subwoofer in the 308 isn’t quite the powerhouse in delivering head-pounding levels of bass, though.

That’s good news if you find that annoying anyway but more so because the interior plastics in the 308 haven’t started to buzz yet under duress because of it.

Anything other options available?

The other options available extend to a CD player, park assist with blindspot monitoring and a Safety Pack – consisting of: autonomous emergency braking, speed limit recognition and lane-keeping assist.

If you want a panoramic roof you will have to forgo the two-tone Coupe Franche option.

Other than that, there isn't really anything left to add onto the 308. It's quite a statement when all I can wish for is some luggage hooks in the boot to stop shopping from rolling around...

Mileage: 1,277

Fuel economy: 31.8mpg


Update 3: Having to go cold turkey...

It’s safe to say I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in our GTi long-termer. The pick of the front-wheel drive hatches in ‘cheap, fast cars 2018’ is proving to be a lot of fun; encouraging me to go out for a drive just for the hell of it - whether it's straight after work or at the weekend.

The quick steering and limited-slip differential makes for a car that offers plenty of traction and quick reactions on twisty, country roads. It’s one aspect that I love the Peugeot for, although not everyone in the team necessarily agrees.

On certain surfaces, the 308 GTi can feel a little nervous, twitching from side to side on uneven roads. On the contrary, the steering on every other car I’ve been in ever since feels a little slow to respond in comparison. The latest example being the Hyundai i30 N Performance.

While the newcomer from Korea is a perfectly capable machine, I did find myself wishing for the quicker steering of my 308 the entire time. The Hyundai just felt a bit more mature for my liking and the lack of traction in the rain proved slightly frustrating; especially when I spent most of my time driving in sodden Manchester. Perhaps a revisit in drier conditions is in order…

The Hyundai did have a much louder exhaust though, with a distinct note and plenty of crackles – all of which could be switched off if the mood didn’t suit. The only time the Peugeot makes itself heard is when starting up on a cold day.

Adaptive dampers are standard on the i30 N Performance too, which could firm up or soften the suspension at the press of a button. The slightly bouncy ride on my 308 GTi, on the other hand, is worth taking note. The smooth roads we drive our long-termer on might play into our hands a little bit, so if you are considering a 308 GTi and spend the majority of your time on motorways and not on country lanes, its appeal may wane on you.

It’s pretty much the same scenario I found when I had the outgoing Ford Fiesta ST. You could happily recommend one in a heartbeat until you realised the person buying it wasn’t really experiencing it in the same enthusiastic way…

In that respect, a Hyundai I30 N Performance, VW Golf GTI or a SEAT Leon Cupra 300 would be more forgiving and perhaps better-suited for daily use. All three of these rivals come with heated seats too for the winter, as opposed to our Peugeot's massaging front chairs. The latter two will be facing the 308 soon.

In the meantime though, I’ve had to go cold turkey on driving my long-termer as we’ve had an unfortunate encounter with a Red-legged Partridge running out onto the road. With quite a sizeable hole in the front grille, it's back to Peugeot for the next few weeks…

Mileage: 1,843

Fuel economy: 31.5mpg


Update 4: Five things I miss about the 308 GTi

While my long-termer is off to have its nose repaired, we’ve had a more typical 308 hatchback in as a substitute. I’ve been treated to the flagship 308 over the past few months, so it’s always good to see how capable the standard version of any car is – you get to find out what difference all the additional upgrades make on top of it.

The model in question is an Allure 1.5 BlueHDi 130, but while the 308 hatchback is generally a pretty good all-rounder, there's definitely a number of things I miss in the absence of the GTi.

1. I can’t read the centre touchscreen thanks to the panoramic roof

Ignorance is bliss on the things you find annoying, but sometimes you have to acknowledge the reliance you may have on them. The case in point here is the centre touchscreen for the media system. It’s a faff to use when it comes to the simple task of altering the temperature, but the fact I can’t read it at all with the sunblind open is even worse.

I may as well switch it off and yet I can’t…because it controls everything.

2. I miss the quick steering

Like the smaller 208, a small steering wheel is standard on all models of the 308 as part of the brand’s i-Cockpit layout. Unlike the smaller 208, it doesn’t have such a noticeable effect in making a humdrum hatchback feel more agile over its rivals. The standard car is set-up for comfort anyway and isn’t distinctly sharper than a Ford Focus.

The livlier reactions of the GTi really do make manoeuvres far more effortless on the move (although not so much at low speeds, with that large turning circle). That said, there is less of a need to make minor adjustments when cruising down country lanes, so this Allure model is a bit more relaxing.

3. I miss having the ability to overtake effortlessly

The 1.5-litre diesel here is a new addition to the range, replacing a slightly larger 1.6-litre with 120hp. It’s smooth and quiet, but just not as sprightly as I would expect for an engine developing 130hp. The 1.2-litre petrol developing the same power feels more muscular.

Having become used to the abundance of power and quick-revving engine in the GTi, overtaking manoeuvres require a bit more planning.

4. I keep looking for a start button that isn’t there

Minor detail, but I’m a creature of habit. And instead of getting in and putting the key into the ignition barrel, I’m instead throwing it into the cupholder and pressing on a bit of plastic trim where the start button is missing.

Quick starting procedures for when I’m in a hurry have gone out the window, but at least it’s an entertaining spectacle for passengers to watch as I look stumped by a simple process. Perhaps I should be more punctual.

5. It’s not two-tone Coupe-Franche

Seeing a single-coloured 308 requires a second glance nowadays as it just looks plain bizarre to me. The rear of the car is the weakest part of its design: the square windows remind me of a third-generation Volkswagen Golf from the 1990s, so covering a slightly dated look with a dark colour, like our GTi in Coupe Franche, was no loss to me anyway.

A 308 GTi without the Coupe-Franche option looks bare and almost unfinished in comparison – although this Cumulus Grey spotted at Peugeot Festival looked quite smart

Has the standard hatch proven to be a good basis for the 308 GTi?

The standard 308 proves to be a decent all-round hatch offering a slightly leftfield interior layout.

Despite the absence of figure-hugging sports seats, the standard items up front are still good. They’re better than those in an outgoing Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra, offering a decent shape and better support; even if the high-set rotary adjuster for the lumbar support is awkwardly positioned.

The suspension set-up errs towards the Ford Focus in that it comes with a slightly firmer ride than a SEAT Leon or Volkswagen Golf, but offers a little more fun too.

The now-defunct GTi 250 has proved that a hotted-up performance version of the 308 hasn’t always worked, but with our GTi 270, it can’t come back quick enough. The way it drives may be the ideal distraction from the awkward touchscreen, too.


Update 5: Making a comeback

After what felt like a long couple of weeks away to have its nose repaired, I’m glad to report we’re reunited with our long-term 308 GTi.

Sometimes you don’t miss what you have until it’s gone, and even though our two-tone hatchback had only spent a brief amount of time away from us, the process of handing the keys over felt far too premature.

To avoid that horrible retrospective feeling of not using our 308 GTi enough, we decided to get ourselves booked in at PSCUK’s Peugeot Festival in its absence. This would definitely make the most of the car’s return when it got back to us.

Located at Prescott Speed Hill Climb, this annual festival brings together a plethora of all-things Peugeot; regardless of age, size and condition. There were concours examples here, special editions you may never had known existed and rare concepts making a cameo on display.

While this year’s festival celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Peugeot 405 and the 20th anniversary of the 306 Rallye, it was also the perfect opportunity to see the fresh new 508.

What a time to get back behind the wheel

Located right beside the static displays was a hill-run, allowing owners to bring their Peugeot along and experience the circuit in a non-competitive manner. There is no requirement to bring a helmet and no one measures your time, so you can just buy a ticket, join the queue and head on up at your own pace.

For us, it was the perfect opportunity to hop back in to our long termer and make up for some lost time behind the wheel. The hill-run isn’t a particularly long circuit – which is great for shorter queueing times – but still consists of a few challenging turns, including a 180-degree right-hand turn, followed by a tight left-handed hairpin and a terrifying, fenceless, sweeping right hand bend.

The 308 lapped it up with aplomb. The tight right-hand bend (named Ettore’s), had been the only time I’d managed to get our 308 GTi to understeer in dry conditions - where the front of the car fails to turn and washes wide – although I did find that second gear wasn’t quite long enough to stay in on the lead up to the left-handed ‘pardon’ hairpin.

Otherwise the brakes were strong, the steering was sharp and there was plenty of grip. The biggest test was more of my own self restraint; trying not to get carried away and immediately joining the back of the queue again for another attempt.

What a rush. Welcome back 308 GTi, you’ve been missed.

Mileage: 2,300

Fuel economy: 30.7mpg


Update 6: Sport Mode – the original motion picture soundtrack of the 308 GTi

When it comes to looking at modern-day cars, it’s not difficult to find one with a Sport button fitted. It’s a feature that’s become so common in the past few years, it’s almost become a fashionable item to have.

Depending on the car you’ve bought, pressing this button alters a range of characteristics in the cars behaviour, ranging from the sharpness of the steering, the throttle response, how soon the automatic gearbox changes gear, how firm the suspension is, right down to the sound it makes from the exhaust or stereo speaker system.

In our long-termer, this button alters the throttle response, changes the lighting of the dials to red and pipes artificial engine sound into the cabin through the stereo speakers. The centre trip computer display also shows power, torque and turbo boost outputs.

While I welcome the throttle response, the other two alterations I’m less fond of. So much so, I hardly ever use Sport mode. Funny that.  

The red dials might be a visual indicator of what mode you’re in, but you completely lose the ability to know where the 308 GTi’s maximum rev limit is.

When it comes to the engine sound piping through the speakers, I’m unconvinced. It’s so digital it resembles a racing game from the late '90s.

While I personally disagree with the principle of artificial sound being used, some manufacturers have made a better job of it. My Ford Focus ST was one of the most convincing examples of making a monotone four-cylinder engine sound great. I understand that all the additional sound-deadening in cars will filter out all the noises we’d want to hear, as well as the ones we don’t - but when it’s digitised, it’s like false advertising to me. In some ways, it reminds me of wedging a drinks can in between your bicycle wheel and frame to try make a mechanical noise…

There is a positive upside to this though, in the absence of a parpy exhaust, I won’t be bothering any of my neighbours first thing in the morning. This makes for a subtle way to attack your favourite country road.

Mileage: 2,777

Fuel economy: 31.2mpg


Update 7: Massaging seats and trapped fingers – the long-distance comfort of a 308 GTi

Our two-toned hatchback has been racking up the motorway miles, so our recent attention has turned to its long-distance comfort.

The age-old argument about what makes a good hot hatch will always involve the topic of how much they should compromise on everyday comfort. While some members of the Parkers team prefer their hot hatch to not bounce them around on firm suspension I, for one, find it makes for a more involving and exciting driving experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the more hardcore Ford Focus RS will be wearisome after a long journey, but for the smile it puts on my face in return, I’d be more than happy to live with it.

Put me in something at the other end of the comfort spectrum – such as a VW Golf GTI - and I’ll find it a bit dull. I’m not taking anything away from how polished the Golf is, but the quieter and more refined driving experience makes me feel somewhat detached. It’s as if you’ve gone to a live concert and someone’s turned the microphone down.

In our long-term 308 GTi, the ride is firm but there’s plenty of suspension travel to absorb larger bumps and it never feels harsh. As mentioned previously, my 2015 Focus ST with optional 19-inch wheels had a far more annoying low-speed ride that never settled, and the drive wasn’t quite entertaining enough to make up for it.

The sports seats have been some of the most comfortable ones experienced in my long-termer history, thanks to its side bolsters that hold you in place, firm padding that stops you from sinking into them - even after a couple of hours - and a decent level of lumbar support when set to ‘maximum’.

You can adjust the lumbar and side bolstering with two of the buttons mounted onto the side of the seat base but the third button unleashes its ace card: the massage function.

There are two intensity settings but they effectively feel like they inflate and deflate the bolsters. As much as I appreciate having this to alleviate any stress, I’m slightly conflicted by this function. I’m not entirely sure it’s the first thing that springs to mind when I’m in a sporty hatch and, for the most part, I find the absence of heated seats more of an oddity – especially when it’s massaging my rain-sodden clothing into my back.

The centre cubby lid can slide forward to cover up the cupholder and act as an armest. It’s also height adjustable with its spring-loaded mechanism that hinges upwards. The only thing is, it can cause the latch for the lid itself to break free and trap your fingers instead, making long journeys a bizarre mix of pleasure and pain in here.

How economical is the Peugeot 308 GTi?

Having an engine relatively smaller than its rivals has shown its benefits too – achieving just above 35mpg on motorway runs.

You’re as cold as ice…

It’s not been trouble-free, though. The climate control decided to stop working recently and deprive me of any heat. Sitting in a traffic jam in what felt like a fridge certainly made the journey less enjoyable and switching the whole car on and off didn’t seem to rectify it. After parking up for an hour or so, normal service resumed.

Mileage: 3,259

Fuel economy: 30.9mpg


Update 8: Meeting a close rival

We’ve had one of the 308 GTi’s closest rivals in to test at Parkers and it seemed the perfect opportunity to compare the two side-by-side.

Another blue hot hatch: SEAT Leon Cupra 300

Yes, the SEAT Leon. I’ve always admired these for their aesthetics ever since the original launched back in 2000. They’ve always managed to stand out in the crowd of VW group offerings, with the previous second-generation model being a particular favourite thanks to its rounded, compact proportions – even if the sloping front did somewhat resemble an MPV.

SEAT Leon Cupra R 2010

This current generation is the most dynamically capable version yet. We were big fans of the four-wheel drive Leon ST Cupra estate we ran as a long-termer, which proved to be an effective all-weather machine. It also proved itself to be huge fun in the snow in Austria.

This time though, we’re looking at the two-wheel drive hatch. With a similar cash price as our 308 GTi, this Leon Cupra 300 has the slick, quick-shifting DSG automatic gearbox fitted as well and, combined with an extra 30hp over our 308’s 270hp, results in a brisk 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds.

I certainly prefer the shape and the looks of the Leon to the 308, with its slightly more aggressive and edgy styling, not to mention the cabin’s better ergonomics.

SEAT Leon Cupra 300, dash

Like our 308, the Leon also comes equipped with a limited-slip differential up front to deliver its power onto the road effectively, while a parpy sports exhaust system makes itself heard from inside the cabin and out.

How does the Leon Cupra compare to the 308 GTi on the road though?

In theory, the Leon Cupra 300 should edge our long-termer, right? Not quite. The Leon Cupra 300 certainly gets off to a good start as soon as you press the Start button. While the exhaust on our long-termer only makes itself heard on a cold start, the Leon’s sports exhaust remains loud all the time and never lets you forget that you’re in a performance hatch.

SEAT Leon Cupra 300, rear exhausts

On the move, the DSG gearbox will undoubtedly shift gears faster than I will ever be able to on any given day, but I’m missing that extra level of involvement. It’s certainly effective, but no more engaging.

The steering may have more artificial weighting to it but it feels slower to respond, while the electronically-controlled limited-slip differential also seems to be less effective - it showed so little sign of reigning in the power on twisty roads we ended up wondering if it was having a week off work. In contrast, the traction control light flashed away like a strobe light when the roads straightened up.

SEAT Leon Cupra 300 wheel

This is where the Leon starts to fall. This car is by no means wayward, or uncouth in manner, but the need to tighten up its lack of traction is quite apparent; made all the more obvious when the roads become wet. If you have a hatred for the particular brand of tyre fitted to this car, you’ll have no issue torturing these with a spirited drive.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag with the Leon Cupra 300. Choose it for the looks, louder exhaust and, if you have to, its automatic gearbox. The ideal solution would be to combine the looks of the Leon and placing it on top of the 308’s chassis.

SEAT Leon Cupra 300, blue, side

The Leon Cupra R would be close to being the ideal compromise with its tweaked steering, suspension and sticky tyres– but that’s sadly irrelevant with only 24 having come to the UK.

Things have changed somewhat since the summer too, with the more stringent WLTP regulations reducing the Cupra range to be DSG-only. The power has also dipped to 290hp, with a Cupra 290 badge to match, while our long-termer has taken a similar hit down to 260hp for the same reasons.

For now, the Leon puts up a convincing fight but I’m not going to miss this one anytime soon.

The next round is going to be tougher: the Golf GTi.

Long-term test: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
Mileage
4,957
Real-world economy
31.5mpg, 67% of official
Official economy
47.1mpg
Joined Parkers
16 April 2018

By Lawrence Cheung