Peugeot's 308 GTi gets the same styling and tech updates as the rest of the 308 range. We take it out of its comfort zone, onto the race track, to test its mettle.
In the metal
Can I just make it clear, right from the top, that I love, adore, and covet the black and blue 'Coupe Franche' paintwork of the updated Peugeot 308 GTi? I know, I know - it won't be to everyone's taste, and it might be a killer for resale value, but sitting in the pit lane of the Ascari race track in Spain, simmering gently under the Iberian sun, it looks utterly brilliant, and much nicer than the also-available red-and-black scheme.
To be honest, the 308 in GTi form looks pretty stunning in any colour. The regular car is handsome enough, and in GTi form it now comes with a matte-black radiator grille, a re-profiled bonnet, a deeper front bumper with even more gaping air intakes and a chunky rear diffuser with hilariously aggressive fat-boy twin exhausts.
Inside, there's a new touchscreen, which now includes such nice tech items as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 3D connected satnav system by TomTom. The rest is more or less unchanged, which on the good side means that build quality is very good and the front seats are fantastic, but sadly there's no home here for the 3008 SUV's all-digital dials, nor its row of 'hot key' rocker switches that make navigating the infotainment system that much easier.
Underneath, the 308 GTi is the same as before - Peugeot says that it was perfect as it was, so the 270hp 1.6-litre THP engine, the suspension and steering are unchanged.
On public roads, we would have given the Peugeot 308 GTi an easy four stars here, but kept to the confines of the Ascari track, it felt a touch out of its comfort zone.
Comfort is actually the key here. On the road, the 308 GTi has an enviable mix of good body control, light-but-accurate steering and relatively gentle suspension rates that make it one of the better hot hatches to drive as your daily motor. Certainly, it's a little softer and less aggressive than, say, the Ford Focus ST, which is to its benefit. On the road.
On track, that softness, that slight lack of feedback from the steering and the occasional vagueness of the six-speed manual gearbox (there's no auto or dual-clutch version) means that the 308 GTi doesn't take long to feel just a little too soft for track work. Really, on a track as fast and flowing as this, you need something with bigger fangs, such as a Honda Civic Type R, or Ford Focus RS, although the Peugeot would definitely be my choice for the drive home from the track. Track work is also very hard on the oily bits and by the end of a hot day of testing, a few of the cars had worn tyres, moaning differentials and smelly clutches. The brakes, 380mm front discs developed, as is the rest of the suspension and steering, by Peugeot Sport, remained tireless however.
That front diff, provided by Torsen, definitely helps put the 308's prodigious power down when you need it, but get your cornering line wrong and understeer and the grass verge await. Well, they did for me. Ahem. While the steering is a touch too light, and really too short on feel for this kind of track day malarkey, the 308 GTi does feel rather wonderfully agile. Hammer those front brakes and hoick the GTi into a corner and, as long as you've not overcooked the front tyres, it turns in with aggression and poise, and if you've got things really right the rear end will slip gently into a brief slide. It will understeer if you've over-done it though, which is probably for the best.
The engine is brilliant. A decade old now, the 1.6 THP is still one of the best powerplants in its class, with plenty of poke, and yet surprisingly low CO2 emissions. In Sport mode, aided by some artificial engine noise piped in through the speakers, it's also entertainingly gruff and hard-edged in its exhaust note. As long as you get your braking point right and hook the diff up properly, it's exceptionally quick on the way out of a corner.
On public roads, the 308 GTi is fantastic - smooth, fast, and entertaining. Here on the track, though, it just doesn't feel entirely at home, a fact magnified by Peugeot parking its rally car ancestors, a Group B 205 T16, a 307 WRC and a 306 MAXI, outside.
What you get for your money
There is a 'mild' 250hp 308 GTi available for €37,175 and that's pretty good value for a car with such potent performance. This 270hp model does cost an extra €3,000, but it's worth it as you get the extra 20hp (25hp more than the hottest Golf GTi), the differential and the Peugeot Sport suspension. You also get the new touchscreen, those excellent bucket seats, part-leather trim, split-zone climate and all of the connectivity services. It's not cheap, but by hot hatch standards it's good value, and its relative rarity on Irish roads means that it will stand out more.
While there are no changes here beyond the aesthetic, the Peugeot 308 GTi has been pleasantly updated. It definitely looks sharper now and it's still really, really good to drive, albeit better on normal roads than on a race track. If you don't buy it with Coupe Franche paint, you're doing GTi wrong.