The latest in a long line of Peugeot Sport hot hatches takes on Seat's latest Cupra contender
3 September 2017

Rampant axle tramp, slack body control, an engine that wilts at the top end and seats that give no meaningful support.

Lots of today’s hot hatches are so well executed they feel more like upright sports cars than repurposed hatchbacks, but – evidently – not all of them. 

The Seat Leon Cupra 300 and Peugeot 308 GTi 270 both play supporting roles in the hot hatch sector, while the likes of the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R hog all the limelight. The Cupra brand is now well established in its own right, though, and the recently rejuvenated Peugeot Sport sub- division has been given licence to build focused, high-specification performance cars rather than the lazily engineered warm hatchbacks that the French marque had found itself producing. 

Audi RS3 vs Mercedes-AMG A45

Volkswagen Golf R vs Ford Focus RS

BMW M140i vs Honda Civic Type R

No matter how many times you’ve driven the 308 GTi in the past, it always takes time to adapt to its unusually small steering wheel. That’s a shame, because it means the first impression is a less than positive one. You drive it as you would any other front-driven hot hatch at first, but the tiny helm makes the car feel nervous and unsettled. Soon, though, you learn to calm your steering inputs and it doesn’t seem like such a hindrance any more. 

The Peugeot’s engine is about as good as four-cylinder turbo units get. Response is decent, power throughout the mid-range is very strong and the top end is lively
 and energetic. The differential, meanwhile, can be a little grabby, but it gets the power to the road effectively and tightens your line in bends. The body is tautly controlled and the natural chassis balance is actually quite pointy, which means the GTi has a tenacious front end and lots of adjustability. 

Down at road level the Peugeot feels very good indeed, but it’s let down by a handful of things that should be simpler to get right. For example, the gearshift is rubbery, the steering is a little vague and the seats don’t hold you in position, all of which means you have to work unnaturally hard in order to tap into the brilliance of the engine and chassis. 

The hot hatch formula used to be a simple one: drop in a potent engine and fit stiffer springs. Today that approach just doesn’t cut it and most modern hot hatches feel as though they’ve had care and expertise heaped upon them. The Leon Cupra sits somewhere in the middle. It isn’t necessarily a half-baked hot hatch, but it never transcends its humdrum roots to feel like a brilliantly well- executed performance car. 

The way the front axle leaps up and down under load is perhaps the surest sign that the Seat isn’t
a world-class hot hatch. By way
 of contrast, the Peugeot gets its power down much more cleanly. And whereas really effective hot hatchbacks seem to hunker down onto the road when driven quickly, the Cupra always floats above it. 

On a dry track, the Leon is so limited by its Pirelli P Zeroes that you simply don’t feel inclined to continue for lap after lap. All that happens is the car pushes into understeer on turn-in, then scrabbles for traction
at the exit. The 308’s Michelin
 Pilot Super Sports feel much better on a circuit – although they are compromised on a damp surface. 

The Peugeot gets the nod over the Seat, then, but allowing it to progress into the final shootout, where it’ll go up against the very best hot hatches currently on sale, feels like throwing a lamb to the lions. 

Second opinion - Matt Saunders

This was the first time I’ve driven a 308 GTi in anger on a track, and I was pleased to find a few hidden depths. The way the soft-ish suspension rides kerbs is to be admired, and there’s much better handling agility and adjustability than the muted steering leads to you expect. 

Peugeot 308 GTi 

Fine chassis and engine let down by poor steering and seats 

Price £29,405
4

Engine 4cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, petrol

Power 266bhp at 6000rpm 

Torque 243lb ft at 1900rpm

Gearbox 6-spd manual

Kerb weight 1205kg

0-62mph 
6.0sec (claimed)

Top speed 155mph

Economy 
47.0mpg (combined)

CO2/tax band  139g/km, 26% 

Seat Leon Cupra 

Fast, but much less satisfying at the limit than the competition 

Price £29,840
4

Engine 4cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol

Power 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm

Torque 258lb ft at 1800-5500

Gearbox 6-spd manual

Kerb weight 1395kg

0-62mph 
5.8sec (claimed)

Top speed 
155mph


Economy 40.9mpg (combined) 

CO2/tax band 158g/km, 28% 

Read more:

Audi RS3 vs Mercedes-AMG A45

Volkswagen Golf R vs Ford Focus RS

BMW M140i vs Honda Civic Type R

Our Verdict

Seat Leon 5dr hatch

Seat's third-generation Leon is attractive and capable, but it can't quite reach the benchmark set by the imperious Volkswagen Golf

Join the debate

Comments
1

4 September 2017
This has to be the most one sided review I've ever seen.

You may as well of titled it "sucking peugots dick"

The fact you've compared two cars and commented on under steer over steer and getting power down when you've pointed out straight away that your running the pegout on what is regarded as the holy grail of tyres

"You know the michilan pilot sports which the seat set a record using these for being the fastest FWD car to set a time at the infamous nuringburgh be for Honda shaved a second off it off it's time"

Compared to laughably Pzeros is a bit of a fuck witt thing to do really. They cost just less than 200 quid a tyre you cheap skates.

If your looking for a proper review of hatchbacks arecoss the board and range of track road performance drivablity across a range of 10 sports hatchbacks with out being cheap and comparing them all on same tyres go to EVO peeps

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Volkswagen Golf MHEV
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    VW's 48V mild hybrid technology is still a few years away from production, but we’ve sampled a prototype Golf fitted with it and are suitably impressed
  • Jeep Compass
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    Jeep enters the competitive compact SUV market with its new Compass, blending ruggedness with contemporary styling and tech
  • BMW 1 Series Saloon
    We had a short drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    A brief drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive model shows the future is bright for the 1 Series when it makes the switch from RWD next year
  • BMW 5 Series
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    The BMW 5 Series is top of the mid-exec pack, but is there still room for a diesel saloon in everyday family life?
  • Toyota Prius PHEV
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    Does running a plug-in hybrid really make sense as a 500-mile-a-week driver? Six months with a Toyota Prius Plug-in should give a conclusive answer