Peugeot 308 GTi (2016) First Drive

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We headed to Portugal to put Peugeot’s attempt at a grown-up hot hatch to the test. Is it a worthy rival to the perennial market favourite, the Volkswagen Golf GTI?

Highlights -1.6-litre turbocharged engine with 200 kW and 330 Nm -Track-biased brakes and Torsen limited slip differential -All the tech and features you’d expect from a modern hatchback -Ride quality is very good as a daily driver

Let’s be honest with our petrolhead caps. We all associate the GTI brand with the boys from Wolfsburg, Germany who build the Golf GTI. Thanks to a great balance of comfort and performance, we think the GTI is simply terrific. Other pretenders to the hot hatch throne range from the track-focused Renault Megane RS and the wild-child Ford Focus ST.

The bottom line is that all three of the above cars are excellent and with their 2.0-litre turbo engines, pack a formidable punch. Peugeot, along with Peugeot Sport, wants a piece of this market. The 208 GTi is not a bad little performer, but what if you want something to tackle the bigger boys? The answer is here in the shape of the Peugeot 308 GTi and first impressions are impressive.

Peugeot's 308 GTI is not a bad-looking car at all thanks to the combination of twin exhausts, bold 19-inch alloys and red trim, but if you want to really stand out, then opt for the red and black two-tone combination. It really is striking and turned heads wherever we went.

That Motor!

The secret to the Peugeot’s performance prowess is the engine. Unlike its competition which all pack 2.0-litre motors, this 308 GTi comes with a 1.6-litre turbo delivering 200 kW and 330 Nm. Tech such as forged pistons, a turbo boosting at 2.5 bar, sports exhaust and high-performance injectors all play their part in getting this performance without compromising on reliability. With 200 kW, the Peugeot 308 outguns the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen Golf GTI comfortably, and it's fractionally down on power compared to the Renault Megane 275 Trophy.

Ride, Drive and Handling

We had the opportunity to drive the Peugeot 308 GTi in Portugal, which offer roads of great quality. First up was a public road drive through rural Porto. These tight urban roads gave us plenty of feedback and we came away pleasantly surprised with the ride and drive quality, especially as the vehicle is fitted with 19-inch alloys and low-profile rubber. For a hot hatch, the 308 GTi offers the most comfortable ride we’ve experienced in a long time. The power delivery in normal mode is decent too and the spread of torque means you have access to acceleration anywhere in the rev range, and there’s no need to reach for the gears.

Speaking of gears, the Peugeot 308 GTi makes do with a six-speed manual transmission. Solid and weighty, this transmission offers great shifts albeit with a hands-on action. It’s most satisfying nailing those changes. Power is sent to the front wheels and there's a Torsen limited-slip differential which sharpens up the handling and steering.

Track Time

When a performance car is launched, motor manufacturers usually schedule in some track time where the car can be really put through its paces in a safe environment. The Vasco Sameiro circuit in Braga, Portugal is a twisty little layout and it really suits hot hatches. On long sections the abundance of torque means you're not continually reaching for the gear-stick and the brakes are really potent - slowing the car down really rapidly.

The addition of the limited-slip differential means handling is sharp and it does a reasonable job of countering understeer. Naturally if you push hard, the laws of physics still apply and the car will start to lose front-end grip. All in all though, we think the handling is very good and we'd love to put the track king RenaultSport up against its fellow Frenchman.

The figures make for interesting reading. Due to its relatively low weight and power, 0-100kph is hit in just 6 seconds and it'll cover a standing kilometre in 25.3 seconds. The more interesting number is economy and efficiency related. How does 6L/100km grab you? Emissions of just 139g/km are also mighty impressive.

Conclusion and Summary

As it stands, the Peugeot 308 GTi is due to hit South Africa sometime in 2016. According to a Peugeot SA representative, the homologation vehicle has yet to arrive and a full business case study will need to be undertaken. As good as the Peugeot 308 GTi is, a few factors for South African success must be taken into consideration.

Firstly, the Rand/Euro exchange rate. Peugeot is one of those manufacturers whose products are affected by foreign currency fluctuations. If the Rand declines, Peugeot will have to put its prices up. Secondly, our fuel quality will be called into question. This highly tuned engine will require the good stuff and our 93 is potentially not up to scratch.

Finally the pricing. For this car to sell, it will need to be priced competitively and be a realistic rival to the Golf GTI/Megane RS/ Focus ST brigade. If Peugeot can bring this car in as is for around the R450k mark, then it'll be spot on. This Peugeot is doing many things right and we’re looking forward to more from the Peugeot Sport division.