Want a family hatchback with a decent turn of speed, but don’t want to or can’t go the full hot-hatch route? Peugeot may have the answer with the new swift and luxurious 1.6 GT derivative of the acclaimed 308.
-Handsome looks and impressive interior quality
-Spirited performance and a rorty sound
-Firmer ride, but no track special
We’re not the only ones that have been impressed with Peugeot’s 308 thus far. It is, after all, the European Car of the Year, has scooped more awards in Switzerland and Italy, and, crucially, is a strong seller in European markets such as France and the Netherlands. But given the brand’s relatively small footprint in South Africa and the unfavourable exchange rate, it plays a very niche role here. Still, for customers looking for something different, with a full specification sheet and performance, the new 308 1.6 GT provides a tempting alternative.
The big news here is, of course, under the bonnet. The 308 GT is powered by a high-output 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine that pushes out a strong 151 kW and 285 Nm of torque. These outputs are very impressive for a small 1.6-litre engine, but keep in mind that for the same money, several 2.0-litre turbocharged rivals are on offer (from the likes of Renault and Volvo) that offer more torque. With a 0-100 kph time of 7.5 seconds, the Peugeot is certainly competitive in the performance stakes, though, and subjectively it even feels brisker than the benchmark sprint time suggests, with very good throttle response. Press the Sport button and it sounds even faster.
The advantage of going for a smaller engine is, theoretically at least, better fuel economy. Peugeot claims an excellent economy figure of 5.6L/100 km, which compares well with rivals from BMW (also a 1.6-litre in the 120i) and Volvo (V40 2.0-litre). In the real world our achieved consumption was pretty good, too, with a figure of below 7L/100km seemingly easily achievable.
The engine is mated with a six-speed manual gearbox. In typical French fashion, the throws are perhaps a bit on the long side for a car that carries the hallowed GT moniker, but at least it feels significantly more robust than in the past. The 308’s drivetrain is perhaps even more impressive on the open road, where it offers very good refinement and more than sufficient reserve power to overtake safely.
The less sports-oriented versions of the 308 have impressed thus far with their fine balance of ride comfort and composed dynamics. This GT version, however, features some changes to the suspension in an effort to give it a sportier persona.
Firstly, the GT rides lower, secondly, Peugeot has stiffened the springs and, lastly, changed the damper settings. The result? Well, the 308 GT is noticeably stiffer overall but retains decent composure around town. It does, however, create the perception that the car will be a real cracker in the handling department, but this is an expectation that the GT never quite fulfils. The steering is pleasantly accurate and weighted, even without having pressed the Sport button, so it’s a nice car to drive with enthusiasm, but just don’t expect it to be as electrifyingly engaging as a hot hatch. Firm suspension notwithstanding, there’s a tad too much bodyroll in the corners.
The 308’s cabin has been the topic of much debate. Like its smaller sibling, the 208, it offers a very small steering wheel and high-set instrumentation. Peugeot believes the resultant “steering-wheel-in-the-lap” driving position to be ergonomically superior – read our interview with Gilles Vidal, the designer, here. With prolonged exposure and, in general, they may have a point, especially with less performance-oriented vehicles and their owners.
Driving enthusiasts, however, tend to prefer to sit low down with the steering wheel higher, something which is not really possible in the 308 without obscuring the instrumentation. That said, by the time our one-week test had run its course, we were quite happy with the seating position, and enjoyed the small diameter steering wheel, too.
The facia itself is very modern and uncluttered, with almost all the controls having migrated to the neat full-colour touchscreen interface. Build quality is superb, with excellent fit and finish all-round and high-grade materials used throughout.
This GT model offers all the toys – cruise control, climate control, massaging seats and park distance control are just some of the features. To distinguish the GT from “lesser” 308s it gets racy Alcantara-upholstered seats with leather bolsters, red stitching, aluminium pedals and a chequered-flag motif background for the instrumentation. The previously mentioned Sport button not only weights up the steering wheel and changes the exhaust note, it also alters the instrumentation display to show things such as boost pressure and longitudinal acceleration.
The 308 is a relatively conservatively styled car, but handsome nonetheless and boasting some exquisite detailing. We particularly like the two-tone 18-inch wheels fitted to the GT model, and the LEDs, the gloss black trim, stylised exhaust outlets and lower ride height combine to make the 308 GT look rather striking. It turned plenty of heads.
Inside, the packaging is relatively straightforward. There’s no problem with space in front, but rear passengers will find legroom to be about average for this class. The boot, however, is very decently shaped and sized at 420L. Fold down those rear seats and total utility space is among the best in this class, too.
Conclusion and Summary
Seen in isolation the Peugeot 308 GT presses many of the right buttons. It looks very good, is loaded with features, offers strong performance and excellent economy. Plus, the build quality appears very solid, too. Its biggest problem, besides the historical brand image problem and small dealer footprint, is the price. The exchange rate is to blame, of course, but at the price the Peugeot sits precariously close to the BMW 120i 5-dr (a Cars Awards finalist) as well as a vehicle such as the Ford Focus ST1, which is a proper hot hatch.
Then again, if you are considering the Peugeot in the first place, it is probably indicative of a desire to stand out and buy something different… by choice. In that case the 308 GT competes not against the BMW and Ford, but probably the Renault Megane and Volvo V40. The Renault may have more power, but is bested elsewhere, so it’s a close call between the Volvo and Peugeot in almost every way. Design preference will be key.
Peugeot 308 1.6 GT Price in South Africa
The Peugeot 308 1,6 GT costs R369 900 and comes with a three-year/100 000 km warranty and five-year/100 000 km Maintenance plan.
Test Team Opinion
Thanks to exceptional build quality, the Peugeot 308 shows improvements from the brand. In the case of this GT version, the engine is lovely and it’s impressive to get that much power from something as small as a 1.6-litre. It’s good to drive too. My only gripe? The artificial engine noise coming from the speakers… -David Taylor
We Like: Engine refinement and performance, cabin quality, features
We don’t Like: Firmer ride… without a real handling benefit
Also consider: Volvo V40 T4 Momentum, Renault Megane 162kW Turbo GT