While it’s always been Peugeot’s inability to produce a proper successor to the 205 GTI that’s caught all the attention (although arguably it’s now done that with the 208 GTI Anniversary), the thing that’s always irked me is the lack of 306 GTI-6 follow-up. Up until recently, I’d argued that it was the last heroic hot hatch Peugeot built. The 307 never spawned a hot variant, and although the previous generation 308 did have a GTI model, it was so pathetic Peugeot dropped the ‘i’ from the name in Britain and sold it as the ‘GT’.
This time though, it looks as though Peugeot has done things properly. On the new 308 GTI there’s a wider front and rear track, lower, stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and a lot more power. The base ‘250’ car kicks out 247bhp and 243lb ft of torque from its 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot, but if you do things properly and bag the 270, you’ve 267bhp to play with. Oh, and you get an even bigger set of brakes - 380mm discs with four-piston callipers up front - bigger wheels, sports seats, and a Torsen limited-slip differential thrown in. Not bad considering it’s only £1600 more at £28,445.
Naturally, the one we tested was the most powerful 270 version, and from the off, it’s rather impressive. It’s a handsome thing - even if I’m not so sure about the two-tone, £1400 ‘Coupe Franche’ finish of our test car - and everything about it has a well-built, substantial feel about it. The doors and boot all feel reassuringly hefty, the interior is solid, and yet the whole lot weighs a thoroughly reasonable 1280kg.
The good news continues once you start poking it with a stick. The dinky little 1.6-litre lump is enormously punchy from 2500rpm all the way up to the 6000rpm redline, even if it doesn’t make a particularly inspiring noise. It’s pokey enough to get you from 0-62mph in six seconds dead, on to a top speed of 155mph.
I’m a fan of the chassis, too. There’s no fancy adaptive suspension to fiddle with here, just well-judged damping, spring rates and stiffness. It’s one of the more comfortable cars in the class, and yet it possesses properly tidy body control, allowing for just enough give to get into a nice flow without resulting in a floppy mess. Up front the Torsen diff allows for good traction, although it’s much easier to push the 308 into understeer territory than something like a Seat Leon Cupra.
It all feels nicely frantic and boisterous - this is a bloody quick point-to-point car that goes about its business in an exciting, slightly lairy manner as it scrabbles for grip on corner exits. All sounds jolly good so far, and that’s before we get to the subject of the brakes, which are mighty strong, and the standard equipment list, which is respectably long. You even get massage seats. Fancy.
Unfortunately though, there’s a problem. And it’s a biggie: the steering. I’m not just talking about the usual modern car complaint of a slight lack of feedback, either. It’s particularly numb, and is so light and inconsistent (it’s very quick just off centre and slower thereafter), that your confidence in the fine chassis is drastically sapped. It doesn’t help that the wheel is so damn small, and that the Torsen diff is a bit grabby and torque steer-inducing. All this comes together to make a nervous-feeling front end.
Because this is rather a big deal, it means the more forgivable faults become particularly annoying. For instance, I don’t like the decluttering ethos which has relegated the heater controls to the not-terribly-responsive touchscreen, and while we’re on the subject of the infotainment system, I find it baffling that the navigation won’t let you enter postcodes.
Then we have the annoying noises to contend with. The augmented engine sound that’s piped through the speakers during sport mode (this mode also turns the dials red, so you can’t see the redline) makes the car sound like a frigging spaceship. And on that theme, the noise it makes if you open the door when you don’t have the parking brake on makes it sound as though the Starship Enterprise is under attack. I’ve thought about it long and hard, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a warning sound on a car that’s quite so aggravating. Still, at least that means it does its job…
The trouble is, this little corner of the market is so fiercely contested that any major flaw just won’t fly. We’re in a world where the aforementioned Leon Cupra is now arguably third best or lower behind the mighty Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R, after all. And while Peugeot seems to be gunning more for Golf GTI buyers, the VW would tempt me away, particularly with the Performance Pack and its sensational VAQ differential fitted.
It’s a shame as the good bits here are very good, and this is the closest Peugeot has ever come to making a true 306 GTI-6 successor. What the 308 GTI is then, is a step in the right direction, but a missed opportunity.