The recipe for a hot hatch is a simple one. Take a generous portion of family hatchback, add a pinch of performance, stir in some entertaining handling, and leave to simmer. Peugeot has got form for serving up tasty examples and the 308 GTi is the latest in a line of cars to wear those three coveted letters.
This 2017 update is just a cosmetic one; there are no mechanical changes, which means that the GTi still produces 266bhp from a 1.6-litre engine. That’s more power per litre than a Lamborghini Huracan, mind, and means that it’ll dash from 0-62mph in just 6.0 seconds.
Most of the 308’s changes are on the outside: a black grille replaces chrome, larger air intakes and intricate LED lights give it increased aggression, while a slender bonnet and smoked rear lights are more subtle, and help make the 308 one of the more grown-up looking hot hatches. You can always opt for the two-tone paint if you want it to look a bit more attention-seeking. 19-inch alloy wheels wearing sticky Michelin Super Sport tyres finish the package.
The interior has a premium, uncluttered look. Its centre console features a large 9.7-inch touchscreen display compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirror Link.
You’ll find some hard plastics in amongst the neat red stitching and aluminium detailing, but overall the fit and finish of the cabin is good, and a particular highlight is the alcantara and leather sports seats that grip firmly even in more exuberant driving.
The steering wheel is unusually small, allowing designers to put the dials above the wheel. It’s a unique layout, but some drivers might find that it obscures the speedo.
Practicality is important in any hatchback and so the Peugeot 308 GTi’s 470-litre boot ticks that box. It has a wide opening and low load-lip that makes it easy to load bulky items, although the bigger Skoda Octavia vRS boasts a 590-litres and remains the most practical hot hatch. The 308’s rear bench seats three in respectable comfort, but other cars in this class do offer more legroom.
How does it drive?
This car’s performance figures more than qualify it for that hot hatch tag, but Peugeot has done more than simply make it fast. The 308 GTi sits 11mm lower than standard and its suspension has been altered from the standard 308’s. A differential is particularly important for powerful front wheel drive cars, as this helps to prevent it from washing wide through fast corners, and the 308 GTi makes good use of a Torsen differential to minimise understeer.
That unconventionally small steering wheel amplifies your inputs, meaning the GTi feels darty, but it doesn’t conceal the fact the steering is ultimately quite numb, and when paired with the high levels of grip, it really shows its performance credibility. At low speeds the light steering makes the GTi effortless to manoeuvre through the hubbub of city traffic.
Push the Sport button and it sharpens the throttle response, weights up the steering and turns the dials red. Yet even with that added drama, the Peugeot 308 GTi is enjoyable but its artificial-feeling steering doesn’t make it the most engaging performance hatchback out there.
Once past the faint turbo lag, the engine is a real treat as it pulls heartily all the way up to the red-line. The surge of acceleration will have you quickly changing through the gears of its 6 speed manual transmission, which is no chore, even though it isn’t the most precise shift - that honour stays with the Honda Civic Type R.
A synthesised exhaust note is funnelled into the cabin to enhance the sense of occasion, but the sound itself isn’t particularly tuneful. However, the real stars of the show are the large 380mm front disc brakes that provide reassuring stopping power.
Peugeot has put more of a focus on the everyday tasks the car will find itself doing. The ride is supple enough to soak up bumps without sending a shudder through the car, and there isn’t much in the way of external noise creeping into the cabin meaning it’ll be pleasant for the daily commute. Faster stretches of road are met with a sense of stability and reassurance from the car.
The Peugeot 308 GTI is a more measured approach to the hot hatch formula, and while updates applied to this car are small, they add an extra layer of polish.
Should I buy one?
I’d certainly shortlist it. With prices starting from £28,590 it’s directly in line with the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Like the Golf, the Peugeot 308 GTi champions comfort and practicality in equal measure to its performance, and while the Golf is the more satisfying driver’s car, the 308 is a touch more powerful and is better equipped as standard.
This delicate balance of practical performance is this car’s greatest asset. It might just make it the hot hatchback you want to live with every day of the week.