Friday, November 20, 2009

Peugeot 308 GT writeup by Nigel Burton

Peugeot 308 GT
6:26pm Tuesday 12th May 2009

By Nigel Burton »

THE FRENCH have always been a cultured lot. Whether it be a nice glass of wine, a new posh perfume or a masterpiece hanging in the Louvre , they love the finer things in life.

So maybe it’s no surprise Peugeot’s hot-hatchbacks have grown more and more laid back over the last 20 years or so. Unfortunately, they’ve also become more languid.

But is that such a bad thing? Do we really want to go back to the 205 Gti with its noisy engine, tailhappy handling and tissue-thin bodywork? I doubt it.

The 308 GT is not a rival to the Renault Megane 225 nor even the Golf Gti, but it would be wrong to dismiss it as a ‘luke warm hatch’, rather than a truly hot one.

It has the same blown 1.6-litre engine you’d otherwise find in a Mini Cooper S (co-developed with input from BMW), lowered suspension, stiffer springs and smart five-spoke alloy wheels shod with hefty 225/40 R18 tyres. That’s still a rather tasty package.

Interestingly, the visual changes don’t go anywhere like as far. Principally, the GT is distinguished from lesser 308s by its tailgate spoiler, a few tweaks to the shark-like nose and a couple of bits of racy trim scattered about the comfortable cabin.

As far as facelifts go, that is more of a nip ’n tuck than full surgical reconstruction.

Peugeot’s stealthy approach to hot-hatchery means you can hustle this French fancy rather faster down your favour piece of black top than, say, an Impreza WRX without fear of attracting the attention of the local gendarmes.

So you’ll probably end up having as much – if not more – fun than a full-on performance hatchback because the 308 is a car in which you can enjoy yourself without the attitude that goes with so many hot-hatchbacks these days.

If only the exhaust note hadn’t suffered the same way. I like to enjoy my sporty cars with a suitable accompanying soundtrack, the 308’s exhaust note sounds anodyne, the same pootling around town at idle as it is revving out in second.

Not that the powerplant needs to be revved hard, thanks to plenty of torque from low down and a handy 195 ft/lb overboost facility that really gets the 308 moving.

The standing start figures are fairly standard but once you are moving the Peugeot feels like a handy tool and I was never once left wishing for a bit more punch.

One common criticism of most Peugeots of fairly recent vintage has been the switch to electric steering pumps. The powered assistance lacks feel – a vital requirement for a car with sporting intentions. On the GT Peugeot’s engineers have switched back to a traditional hydraulic arrangement (albeit with an ‘on demand’ electric pump as back-up).

As a result the GT feels good – the front end is ‘pointy’ with lots of grip from the tyres and a fine feel for the road surface.

Keen drivers will approve.

I was surprised by the excellent ride, too. The suspension may have been stiffened – there’s appreciably less body roll than with a standard 308 – but the damping rates have been carefully selected so as not to rattle your fillings. The GT is a car I could drive a long way without feeling uncomfortable in.

The most powerful engine in the line-up also comes with Peugeot’s smooth-changing, six-speed gearbox which is infinitely preferable to the standard five-ratio box with its slightly ill-defined change quality.

Otherwise the GT is standard 308 – a roomy, mid-sized family hatch with a decent boot and low(ish) running costs.

There are some nice toys, too, including slivers of fake aluminium trim and a smattering of leather on the seats. Mind you, I couldn’t work out how to turn the premium audio system off – pressing the power button just seemed to mute the sound.

So what if the 308 lacks the raw appeal of a 205 Gti? In the real world it is faster, cheaper to run, has more cabin space and won’t fall to bits when the warranty runs out. In fact, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

Fears over global warming are making the brutality of oldstyle hot hatchbacks social suicide these days. Drive an Impreza turbo or a Lancer Evo and it’s hard not to feel as though you’re enjoying the last of a dying breed. Cars of the future will go fast without looking fast. The old notion of the iron fist in the silk glove has never been more relevant.

So maybe it’s about time someone took some of the juvenile delinquent out of the hot-hatch formula.

If it is, trust the French to add some savoire faire to the recipe.

Price: £20,795
Engine: 1,589cc turbocharged 16-valve fourcylinder petrol
Max power: 175bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max torque: 190lb/ft@ 1,500rpm
Max speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 37.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 180 g/km
Equipment: Alloy wheels, electric windows, CD/RDS radio, climate control, front, passenger and side airbags, cruise control, electric mirrors, leather trim.

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