One thing everyone agreed on was how excellent the 266bhp version of Peugeot’s turbocharged 1.6-litre engine is. While many rivals use 2.0-litre engines, the upshot of Peugeot’s downsizing is that the 308 GTi has better fuel economy and lower emissions. The official combined figure is 47.1mpg; our time with the car gave us an average of 34.2mpg, a drop of almost 30%. Economy aside (quite frankly, it’s never the key reason for buying a hot hatch), the GTi’s engine didn’t want for performance, feeling nippier than you’d expect. By way of comparison, its nearest equivalents, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 40 produces 261bhp and the Ford Focus ST makes do with 247bhp.
It’s the same engine that’s used in the now-defunct RCZ R coupé, but retuned to provide a broader torque curve. The benefits are clear, the GTi 270 delivering ample power throughout the rev range with consistency and enthusiasm.
Creating more debate among Autocar staff was the steering, and specifically the reduced-diameter steering wheel. Described by Peugeot as “compact” and providing “natural grip and flawless precision”, it’s a divisive feature, to say the least. I quickly adapted to the wheel’s size, having driven a number of Peugeots since the feature’s introduction, and hardly noticed the difference over a typical wheel, but there were some strong aversions to it in the office. “I just can’t get on with that stupid wheel,” said one colleague.
The steering itself is also a little hit and miss and the most obvious area where Peugeot could improve the GTi’s offering. There’s little feedback, and while the weighting is good for medium-speed driving, it becomes over-assisted at motorway speeds.
Living in the London suburbs means the 308’s ride was regularly tested over many an unforgiving speed bump, but it fared well. Despite the 19in alloy wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, the 308 GTi proved largely stable and supple. As an aside, those alloys and high London kerbs don’t mix.
Out on the open road or on track (as we did on one occasion at Anglesey), the GTi’s handling wasn’t quite as rapier-like in its responses as that of a Focus ST or a Renault Mégane RS, but it had a grown-up feel that made it an easy, fast companion.
That maturity continued inside, with a minimalist, calming interior. I was rarely restless on long journeys thanks to comfortable seats, and I like the staid black finish. But the absence of buttons on the dashboard means you have to deal with the glitchy infotainment system, which has a small but highly irritating delay in reacting to inputs on its 9.7in touchscreen. Moving around the system isn’t as intuitive as it is in, say, a Volkswagen Group equivalent. Still, the second-gen system, which has arrived in the new 3008, has been praised for addressing these issues.