Peugeot 308 GT

Return-to-form hatch gets warm, not hot

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IN THE context of Peugeot’s return to loping ride quality and long-haul comfort with the 308, ‘GT’ seems like the right badge for a warm variant. This, stresses the French variant. This, stresses the French manufacturer, is not a GTI.

However, the problem with making that distinction is that today’s highest profile GTI – the Golf – has built a legion of devotees by delivering its cornercarving ability with comfort. The ‘I’ is irrelevant (it originally stood for ‘injection’); the Volkswagen is a grand tourer.

By the same broad modern definition that allows a hot hatch to be a GT (‘grand tourer’ once called for two doors and two seats), the base 308 is already halfway there. It rides well, but needs some speed.

The GT’s high-output 1.6-litre turbo-petrol and, to a lesser degree, the 133kW 2.0-litre turbo-diesel duly elevate outputs into the warm hatch realm.

The 1200kg six-speed manual petrol version is light, and with 151kW and 285Nm, feels bang on Peugeot’s 7.5sec 0-100km/h claim.

The venerable PSA 1.6 turbo is effective, if not exactly effusive.

The 308’s excellent cabin noise suppression means the GT demands – and receives – a sound-augmentation system that plays through the cabin speakers.

The rortiness is synthetic, and without it (when Sport mode isn’t engaged), the GT is all too quiet.

The diesel version’s backing track sounds like a metallicky three-pot, or even an oilburning bent-eight, and it feels heavier on its front tyres. With 400Nm underfoot, visceral thrills ultimately give way to effortlessness. The oiler’s sixspeed auto has the smarts (mostly), but not a true manual mode, despite a DIY shifter plane.

Stiffening of the pseudo-strut front and torsion-beam rear suspensions is small (10 percent petrol and 20 percent diesel), but with the upsize to 18-inch wheels and tyres, and a slightly lower ride height, the GT inevitably trades some of the mainstream 308’s long-travel absorbency to deliver heightened cornering zeal.

It sits flat, turns in quickly via a small, sculpted steering wheel and is possessed of palpable balance and cohesion, with only the odd mid-corner bump prompting a squiggle from the rear to ruffle its composure.

Peugeot is right, then. The 308 GT isn’t a GTI because it’s not as much fun as Volkswagen’s benchmark hot hatch. It largely rides like a GT should, but, perhaps unavoidably, it doesn’t do so with the comfort or polish of the more softly sprung, smallertyred 308 variants.

That’s a quality that, given how long it took the brand to re-embrace, we’re reluctant to lose.

JAMES WHITBOURN

Button hole

SIMILAR to any all-rounder these days, the 308 GT can’t do it with just one set of calibrations. The ubiquitous centre console Sport button brings weightier steering and a sharper accelerator map (and gearbox calibration in the automatic diesel), as well as synthetic engine noise and red instrument illumination, but no Audi-style ‘Individual’ mode that might let you have, say, the drivetrain tweaks on their own.