Sunday, September 27, 2009

Peugeot 308 GT car Review by Ben Pulman


The Peugeot 308 GT THP 175 is only a warm hatch, according to Peugeot. The pre-launch press conference was all about managing our expectations, telling us that the GT was meant to be dynamic but also allow you to cover 1000 miles without getting a bad back.

But Peugeot needn’t had worried, because this 308 is really rather good, thanks mostly to a slick new six-speed gearbox and a 1.6-litre turbo engine shared with the Mini Cooper S.

What makes the Peugeot 308 GT THP 175 stand out from all the other 308s?
All the typical go-faster goodies are present and correct. That means uprated dampers, 35 percent stiffer springs, and suspension lowered by 10mm. Peugeot claims that this has dropped the GT’s centre off gravity by 10mm.

On the outside you get a RC Z concept-inspired front bumper, a rear spoiler that apparently produces downforce, a ‘diffuser’ and 18-inch wheels. In white, and in three-door form it looks very good indeed. In red and with five doors (like our pictures) it’s smart but not quite there, especially as the stylish red rear lights no longer stand out.

Inside you get an aluminium gearknob and pedals, plus a new steering wheel.

Does it all work?
Yes, but with a but. There are a few issues with the 308 GT, so let’s get them out of the way first. In co-developing the 1.6-litre engine with BMW, Peugeot’s engineers seem to have taken a leaf out of the Bavarian’s M Division and fallen in love with thick steering wheels. The wheel is also a little too wide. If only the company has stuck with the standard steering wheel for the 308, as that’s pretty good already.

The aluminium pedals are also too far apart and the accelerator too high for any sort of heel ‘n’ toe action. But the 308 GT has a turbocharged engine so keeping it at 6000rpm isn’t the key to making good progress.

Tell me about this engine then?

We know (and love) this turbocharged 1.6-litre from ourlong-term Mini Cooper S. In the 308 it has 175bhp, and 180lb ft from 1600-4500rpm. And it loves to rev. On the same launch CAR drove a 150bhp version of the 1.6 and it felt strained, reluctant to rev towards the red line, and it was boomy at the top end.

In 175 form it’s so much better, and so smooth that you end up hitting the rev limiter often. There’s no torque curve as such, just a plateau, and you forget there’s just 1598cc under the bonnet. It can be pelted along nicely, but occasionally the 1371kg kerbweight – 166kg more than a Cooper S – made overtaking on the short straights of our Sardinian test route a little tricky.

But the new six-speed gearbox is a joy to use. It’s slick but still has enough mechanical feel so you’re not fluffing changes. Congrats to Peugeot because it’s a pretty damn good drivetrain.

And through the corners and over the bumps?

The smooth roads of Sardinia ensured a smooth ride, despite the firm-ish suspension. The 308 will need a proper drive of Britain’s unique undulations before we can say for sure, but initial impressions are of a well tied-down hatch.

It’s equally good into the corners. There’s lots of grip from the 18-inch wheels - and very little of the torque steer that can afflict our long-term Mini. The ESP is unobtrusive and when it does cut in it does so gently. Turn it off and you can feel the car slide a little more through the bends but it never becomes unruly.

CAR also snuck a drive a 308 GT shod with 17-inch wheels. This car – which won’t be coming to the UK – had a slightly better ride and marginally sharper turn-in that UK-spec cars, but the differences are minuscule. For the warm hatch customer that will buy the car the larger wheels, that make the 308 look better, are more than acceptable.

Verdict

The 308 GT isn’t a full-on hot hatch, and it was never designed to be. It’s a big car, over two metres wide with the wing mirrors out (as they should be) and that rather large glass roof is standard. The interior quality is very good, and it’s quiet. Kit levels include decent bi-xenon lights, dual zone air-con and many more bits and pieces.

Along a twisting road it might be left behind by a Mini Cooper S but the Peugeot is a bigger and heavier car, and more of a rival to our long-term VW Golf GT TSI. The Peugeot's gearbox is nicer to use and the engine more characterful. But while many might be prepared to spend £18.5k on a Golf, we’re not sure too many will spend that much on a Peugeot. 


The 308 GT is good enough that we won’t make any jokes about it being tepid - but ultimately we prefer hot, and not warm. Oh, and a basic Ford Focus ST is £18,250. Makes you think...



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