Much as it’s an abject professional failure for an Autocar road tester, I have to admit that I can’t tell you what 500-horsepower feels like in a car the size of a fairly ordinary family hatchback.
That's because the 308 R Hybrid actually only develops that much urge in launch control mode, and launch control was off the menu during our regrettably brief test drive of this prototype offering.
In the car’s other driving modes - ‘ZEV’ electric-only running, ‘Hybrid’ and Hybrid Sports’ – it delivers a peak of around 400bhp and just over 400lb ft: outputs that the high-voltage electrical system can sustain for flat-out bursts of about five laps on circuit, or more unconditionally during less demanding road driving.
Ask for more than 400bhp from the car for much more than the length of a couple of typical straights, the engineers say, and you soon have a very hot, very depleted lithium-ion battery to nurse back into condition.
But even with a piffling 400bhp to struggle along with, it feels like an indecently rapid thing. Flat-out, just about fast enough to outsprint its rivals from Quattro GmbH and Mercedes-AMG up to about 100mph - after which point those electric motors really do become ballast, the ECU ramping down their output levels in order to give the battery an easier life.
But as usual with electrified cars, it’s not the outright power or performance that takes your breath away, but its flexibility and immediacy. You can leave the car in a high gear at a prevailing 50mph or so, flatten the accelerator, and instantly – with no more than 2000rpm showing on the tacho – be shunted forwards on a titanic wave of AC-synchronous torque.
Peugeot’s claim is that the car will go from 50-80mph in top gear in just 3.1sec; an Audi RS3 takes about three times as long according to our road test figures. Sounds ludicrous, but it’s entirely believable from behind the wheel, and could make this one of the most muscular performance cars of its kind.
It’s equally clear when driving the 308 R Hybrid that its powertrain has its limitations, though. The first and main one we’ve already touched upon, but added to the car’s fleeting delivery of its full 493bhp, there’s the gearbox.
Peugeot Sport chose PSA’s automated manual transmission technology for the car’s primary transmission on the grounds, I suspect, that it’s cheap and relatively light: ostensibly the same gearbox that the 308 GTi uses, but with electronic actuators rather than a normal clutch and gearlever. To be frank, the technology wasn’t good enough for PSA’s current lineup of ‘Hybrid4’ hybrids; it certainly isn’t up to this application.