Road test: Does Peugeot still have the hot hatch magic touch?
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2019 Peugeot 308 GT Black Pack
• Great fun
• Still looks sharp
• Worthwhile value proposition
• Rear legroom
• Gearbox at low speeds
• Ageing cabin
The 'have your cake and eat it too' hot-hatch vehicular genre is a favourite among many for the way it blends performance, practicality, and value for money. And over time it's a segment that's broadened to extend from the financially friendly Suzuki Swift Sport, to hyper hatches like the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45.
Finding a sweet spot on that axis can be difficult, but for most buyers seeking family values, the fast-growing compact 'warm hatch' sub-segment strikes a solid balance. And within it, the newly updated Peugeot 308 GT is a worthy player.
Admittedly, in the chaotic crossfire of hot hatch performance warfare, Peugeot's line-up of pocket rockets has spent a lengthy period being overshadowed by more dominant forces. Perhaps as a result, the firm quietly pulled the highly underrated GTI from the domestic line-up not so long ago.
Which is a bit of a shame. Peugeot are decorated pioneers in hot hatch folklore thanks to cars like the 205 GTI and its Group B evil twin — the 205 T16. The 308 GT may not be a GTI replacement, but it's a car that nonetheless displays hallmarks of that hatch heritage.
The 308 has been around for a few years now. But despite the somewhat familiar face, its latest wave of updates is surprisingly comprehensive. A new-to-the-model 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine headlines the changes, and it comes supported by a clever new Aisin-sourced 8-speed automatic.
Ordinarily 308 GT pricing would start at $46,990, but the line-up is currently discounted across the board. A generous five-grand chop lowers the price to $41,990 — making it very competitive on paper, undercutting the Hyundai i30 N-Line by a couple of grand.
There's also a new limited-edition trim level called the Black Pack, and it was this that Peugeot supplied for our test.
For an extra $1000, the pack throws in an enormous panoramic glass roof, plus blackened wing mirrors, grille, and window trim. Buyers also get Black Pack–specific 18-inch wheels, which pair perfectly with the Hurricane Grey bodywork.
It may be a little long in the tooth, but to my eye the 308 makes for a surprisingly sinister looking car in this moody guise.
Inside, the GT gains some of the most comfortable alcantara buckets in any performance hatch; framed with red stitching and leather accenting.
A 9.7in touchscreen that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto takes pride of place in the middle of the bulbous, angular dashboard. Standard kit is impressive, with satnav, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and selective parking assist all included.
Practicality is a mixed bag. Boot space is a huge 470L, but things are less rosy for rear passengers. Headroom is good, but knee and legroom isn't particularly generous. Some might assume the lack of passenger space is down to the boot, but the 308's tight 2620mm wheelbase is also part of the why.
Being French, the interior naturally packs a requisite list of oddities.
The dials in front of the driver, for example, feature a tachometer that flows backwards and a speedometer that starts at 30km/h before growing in 20km/h increments — as if specifically to avoid featuring 50km/h and 100km/h. The infotainment doesn't automatically re-engage Bluetooth audio when turned off and restarted. And, undoubtedly the cabin's most interesting feature, is the tiny football-shaped steering wheel. But more on that later.
If the combination of a 1.6-litre and an 8-speed sounded familiar, that's because it's the same powertrain as that in the new 508 — albeit tweaked somewhat. Here, you get 165kW at 5500rpm and 300Nm at 1900rpm. Peak power expands by 3kW in the 508, and interestingly peak torque delivery in the Fastback and wagon duo comes at a higher 2750rpm.
It may not be a hot hatch by dictionary definition, but the 308 GT certainly tries hard. The new powertrain is a harmonious and deceptively quick combination. While peak power doesn’t come on until relatively late, the early access to torque makes the GT a rather explosive thing off the line. Peugeot reckon it will hit 100km/h in 7.4 seconds. We think you could probably go even better than that in ideal conditions after having a few goes ourselves.
A surprisingly musical engine note further feeds into the Peugeot’s performance aspirations. The 1.6 has a tasty rasp to its song, although it must be said that much of that sound (in Sport mode, especially) is amplified through the 308’s speakers. Such fakery is normally looked down upon, but here it’s forgivable given how committed to the bit the French is elsewhere.
As good as it is off the mark, it’s in the corners that the 308 starts to feel less like a mere warm hatch and more like a rival for outright segment names like the Volkswagen Golf GTI. While the VW packs more power and torque (169kW/350Nm), it’s also between 200-300kg heavier than the 1204kg Peugeot.
A favourable weight metric is supported by a set of excellent Michelins, vented disc brakes up front, tuned suspension, and a chassis that Peugeot has clearly been tinkering with and refining for years.
It straddles the balance between being supremely chuckable, without grip being infinite. Leave your braking late and you’ll be rewarded with wisps of lift-off oversteer, slam onto the power with gusto on corner exit and a light tug of old-school torque steer is felt through the steering wheel.
It’s a fantastic drive and, perhaps best of all, if none of that is of any interest to you and all you want is a comfortable hatch — it does that just as well, with economy as tested sitting at a respectable 7.2L/100km.
The oddly shaped steering wheel will have its fans and its critics. In most driving applications its fine (those with magical wrists will enjoy how quick the 308 can be whipped from lock to lock). The main drawback I found with it was that while it made steering off centre nice and sharp on fun drives, any corner that approached a requirement of 90-degrees of lock would become a chore, due to the decreasing level of available resistance. Shuffling your hands on the wheel is slightly more of a mission, too, since there's less to grab a hold of.
The 8-speed was similarly mixed in our tests. It was a standout, rapid-shifting performer in spirited driving, but at low speeds it had a tendency to stutter; a little like its dual-clutch counterparts. Part of this likely comes down to the way the ‘box uniquely dances into and out of neutral while coasting; something it does to improve economy.
While some enthusiasts might scoff, it can’t be denied that the ‘warm hatch’ concept is one that broadens the appeal and accessibility that lovers of pint-sized fun crave. And, even at its seasoned age, the 308 GT is an exemplary entry.