The new Peugeot 308 GTi I borrowed last week had a unique ability to put its owner in a quandary.
The front three-fifths of the body were painted red. The rear fifth – from the middle of the rear doors just in front of the handles – was black.
Neil Lyndon drives the Peugeot 308Gti Coupe Franche edition.
At first sight, this arrangement looked like an oversight – as if the black bit at the back had been painted with a primer that somebody had forgotten to cover with red.
But no: that’s the way the makers had intended this car to appear to the world (calling the design Coupe Franche and asking an extra £1300 from the customer for the privilege of driving around in a car that looks half-finished). And, once you’d persuaded your unconscious that the world hadn’t spun out of its orbit, the pattern exerted a definite charm. After all, you weren’t going to see anything else on the road exactly like it.
The unique problem arose, however, when you left this car in a crowded carpark and then went back to try to find it. Depending on whether you had parked the car nose-in or had reversed into the space, you had to ask yourself “Am I looking for a red car or a black one?”. The only way to settle the question was that last resort for the senile who have lost their bearings – an aimless waving in the air of the remote keyfob and a prayerful click in the hope that indicators or headlights might give you a clue.
What is the point of this paint-job? Clearly, it is to distinguish the 308 GTi from the run-of-the-mill C-segment hatchback which doesn’t offer much of a treat for the eye of the beholder.
Whether or not you think le rouge et le noir actually pulls off that the trick is a matter of personal taste. What does, emphatically, do the job of separating this car from its competitors, however, are some fairly startling powers.
The turbocharged engine in this car is only 1.6 litre but it puts out 272 bhp at 6000 rpm. Developed by Peugeot Sport, this is the same powerplant as in the 208 GTi and RCZ R; and a right rip-roarer it remains. Acceleration from 0-60 mph takes under six seconds and top speed is given as 155 mph. We’ll have to take the manufacturer’s word for that latter figure. However, we are here to confirm that if you slam your right foot down on the throttle pedal of the 308 GTi, the resultant pull from the 330 Nm of torque flooding through the front-wheel drive will, despite the benign influence of a limited slip differential, almost wrench the steering wheel out of your hands. In the wet, the R19 Michelin Pilot Supersport tyres scrabble frenziedly for grip.
This is not a complaint or a criticism. The excitement is all perfectly manageable. The torque steer effect simply adds a performance dimension to a car which, otherwise, might be in danger of being deemed a bit lacking in driver engagements. The ride is so benign that it is almost comatose. The steering is fractionally too slow and marginally lacking in sufficient feel to match the turmoil on the front axle; and the throw on the lever for the six-speed manual gearbox is too long for snappy shifts
Apart from its powers, the single most impressive feature of the 308 GTi is loadspace (but that’s the same as a standard 308, of course). We used this car as a two-seater, with the rear seat folded to carry the family’s luggage on holiday. Despite the fact that my family packs for a couple of weeks away as if every one of them is Madonna setting out on a three-month tour of the world, the Peugeot swallowed their bags and cases like a whale devouring krill. Folding the rear seat is probably the best thing you can with it because, when it is raised, leg space is sufficient only for those who have suffered amputations at the knee. Or children.
I loved the supportive, comfortable sports seats in this car but was less enamoured of the dashboard display. It has been commendable of Peugeot to clear out the clutter of switches and buttons that litter so many contemporary cars and to create a cleaner, simpler fascia. But the arrangement of controls around the 9.7” multifunction touchscreen is so fiddly and confusing that my wife was unable to enter an address at all into the satnav and – what have we come to? – had to buy a map.
It’s also highly desirable to have digital read-outs of data such as speed in the centre of the instrument display but not so nifty if they are completely concealed behind the steering wheel – as they were when the wheel was at the rake and reach settings I prefer.
At £28455, the Peugeot 308 GTi is closely comparable in price with the VW Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST; but it probably needs to be significantly cheaper to have a realistic chance of competing with those enormously desirable competitors.
308GTi by Peugeot Sport THP270 Coupe Franche – On the road £28455 0-62mph 6.0 sec Top speed 155mph Combined Fuel Economy 47.1mpg CO2 emissions 139g/km Engine 4 cyl, 1598cc Power 272hp@6000rpm Torque 330Nm@1900rpm Gearbox 6-speed Manual
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