With the arrival of the Peugeot 308 GT last year on Malaysian shores, Malaysians now have a cheaper way to enter the world of European turbocharged hot hatch motoring.
The MINI Cooper S is a bloody fun car to drive and many will be looking at the 308 GT as a cheaper way (RM159,999) to experience something close to the Cooper S. This is because the Cooper S and the Peugeot 308 GT share the same engine. It’s also way more practical in the sense that the 308 can seat 4 comfortably while the Cooper’s rear seats aren’t a very nice place to be in.
The 1.6 litre Prince engine with direct injection and a single twin scroll turbocharger, producing 175 horsepower and 240Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm. That’s a full 25 horses and 40Nm less than the Golf GTI, but surely the 6-speed manual will make up for it in terms of driving experience?
Find out my thoughts on the 308 GT after the jump.
The exterior design of the 308 is pure Peugeot. It’s a hit or miss thing because of its rather unorthodox looks. Many people are used to a more conventional face on their car. The 308 has a completely unique feline look with large headlamps that sweep far backwards. Look at the 308 from the side and the headlamps actually extend behind half the length of the front bonnet. And then you have the Peugeot badge on the nose – there’s no separation between the radiator grille and the lower bumper grille – it is just one large grille with a thick brace through the middle.
From the side you get a sleek 3-door profile which looks way better than the more practical 5-door. The doors are not frameless though, which would have added a nice touch, but it’s not something you miss. The large 18 inch wheels suit the car in the sense that they do not leave you wanting for something bigger, you might get the urge to slam the car lower though.
The car has a nice rear end though far from as radical as the front and, and I find that it’s pretty odd Peugeot decided to keep the car’s exhaust tail pipes hidden when this is a sporty model. Malaysian Peugeot distributors Nasim probably agree with me as say they are working on a bodykit that includes some visible tail pipes at the rear.
The driver’s seat is a very nice place to be. In front of you are some of the best-designed instrument clusters around. The dials have a white face with a red needle and the individual gauges have a classy chrome ring surrounding them. At night, the dials light up in entirety instead of just the numbers being backlit.
If I were to be fussy, perhaps having the speedo and RPM needles start from the 6 o clock position would make them seem sportier, but if that were the case it would not be possible to fit the various indicators, clock and odometer in the 5 to 7 o clock area of the two main dials.
Between the two main dials is a little red multi-info display with various information such as fuel consumption and above that are two little dials that show the fuel gauge and most importantly the temperature, something that is slowly disappearing from alot of modern cars.
The rest of the interior is also nice, with a soft touch dashboard and a decent feel to the various controls. It’s all very classy somehow. The dash leans towards the front of the car and ends near the windscreen with a little LCD display that displays various in-car entertainment details, including a graphical display of the front and rear proximity sensors that shows how close you are to objects near you. You can also access various configuration settings of the car from this display, such as follow me home lights timing, auto-door lock and etc.
Also, notice the CD changer? It isn’t really a “changer” per say, there are dedicated slots for each CD! Looks kinda like an air cond vent to me at first. There is also the JBL Hi-Fi system. The audio controls are mounted on a separate stalk and that needs getting used to a little at first but it was a quick learning experience for me. Steering wheel looks a little bland though.
That aside, somehow everything just seems to have some kind of nice flair about it which invokes a happy feeling, like this car wasn’t just made to make money but to please the owner too. The cabin feels very airy and nice thanks to the massive panoramic moonroof, which can be covered up with a shade in case you’re driving in too hot a day.
And now to the driving. After all, isn’t that what one would have in mind when one buys a turbocharged hatchback with a manual transmission? Well for one the 308 GT definitely does not feel as fast as the Cooper S. As you row through the gears there is a massive push when you start off because of the turbocharger’s 240Nm of torque kicking in so early but the engine somehow goes a little out of breath towards the upper edges of the redline, like the kind of torque curve best mated to an automatic.
The shift knob feels nice in your palm and the gears click in nicely though I wouldn’t call it one of the best slick-feeling shifters I’ve ever used. The clutch is set way too high with a short range of travel. This combined with a snappy accelerator pedal means it will be a tad frustrating to drive the 308 GT smoothly at first, but this is something you’ll hopefully get used to. There is also no foot rest.
The ride is a little firm but still pliant. There’s lots of grip afforded by the very nice 18 inch Pirelli tyres, and the steering tightens up at high speeds to provide the driver more precise control over the steering angle.
Open the rear hatch and you get access to a pretty deep boot but it’s not very tall. The headlamps are a real dream to drive with at night, they are so bright and clear and a passenger actually commented that they might be a little too bright and was afraid we were offending oncoming drivers.
On the interior the front seats are decently sized and they fit my big bulk quite nicely. It doesn’t have super aggressive semi-bucket-like side bolsters. Most importantly they look reasonably upmarket, along with the rest of the interior, which is really a nice place to be in. The rear seats will fit 2 comfortably (see legroom and headroom shot).
I feel Peugeot tried a little too hard to appeal to too wide a spectrum of customers with the 308 GT. They should have left that job to something like the Turbo. Despite 3 doors and a 6-speed manual the car somehow still feels a little too soft. Like it doesn’t have enough hot hatch DNA. Or is that a job that Peugeot delegated to the 207 GTI? Is a 308 GTI coming later?
But it is because of all the soft edges that makes the 308 GT a practical enough yet fun car to be used everyday, even if you regularly have to take in rear passengers. The interior is far from cramped, the ride is pliant enough and operating the front passenger seat to allow access to the rear bench is not cumbersome. Heck, the huge moonroof makes the interior such a nice place to ride in that I’d pick hitching a ride in this car over a sedan in the same segment anytime, if its not a very long journey!
It’s a decent daily or weekend car to have, especially with the potential tweaking that can be done to that turbo engine. On top of the base price of RM159,999, potentially over 200 horses could be unleashed if you spend a little money.
Only problem is if you spend that kind of money to solve its imperfections to suit your needs will it push the overall cost to that of a pre-registered Golf GTI?