If the gas-powered hot hatch is coming to an end, maybe it’s time to reflect on how good we got it. Especially lately. Sure, the 1980s and 90s are rightly cited as iconic eras for pent-up performance, but maybe it’s high time to consider just how relentlessly good the 2010s were. And not just at the 200hp level of exuberant RenaultSports and maniacal Minis; the last decade and a few were no doubt the golden period for large warm hatches. Not least because of, love it or hate it, their endless crumbling of the front-drive Ring’s record.
While the Golf GTI and Megane RS have traditionally dominated at opposite ends of the 250bhp spectrum, the amount of choice between the two – Type R, Cupra, Focus ST, i30N and now 128ti – shouldn’t be overlooked. And between all that, the Peugeot 308 GTI, a car with an attractive bipolar character.
Want a small, undersized turbo engine that will top 40 mpg with consistency? It is perched up front, mated exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox. Want five-door functionality without a glued-to-top body kit? Skip the optional two-tone paint job, exhibited by the car we have here, and Peugeot nailed a bit of modesty that not every competitor in this sector can claim (we’re all looking at you, Honda). Fancy a bit of frivolity on takeoff and oversteer when the mood takes you? It came baked in the GTI, a car whose mood morphed pretty well with yours. And for all its economy, the 1.6-litre THP engine – shared with the esoteric RCZ R – really likes to rev.
Peugeot launched the car in two versions, rated at 250 or 270 bhp, the latter bearing the suffix “by Peugeot Sport” and featuring a Torsen limited-slip differential at the front. Just like in the dinkier 208 GTI, it’s that “BPS” version you really want.
And it is the one that is proposed here. Priced under £13,500 it’s among the cheapest 308 GTIs on sale, and if you can deal with the color scheme – itself more than a little bipolar – it might be in the most attractive specification possible. Having clocked up 46,000 miles in six years, it also hasn’t been overworked during its relatively short lifespan.
There are quirks to be experienced. Shrill beeps and chimes invade an interior not screwed like that of a German, Japanese or Korean rival. That shabby little steering wheel will more than likely compromise your driving position – you’ll probably be sitting a bit higher than normal in order to combine a comfortable arm position with full visibility of the dials – while the dinky rim also gives the steering a alacrity similar to a modern Ferrari luggage rack. That in itself isn’t a terrible comparison, and it means that even when you’re pushing for the practical stuff in a mid-sized five-door matchup, you’ll still get a little flavor of the fun lurking underneath.
You might have forgotten that Peugeot even made a 308 GTI, let alone a very good one, considering how many nice hatches have spread over the past decade. Not least because he’s one of the few who refused to insert his name in the increasingly important Wiki thread “Ring lap times”. But that perhaps explains some of its inherent appeal as an outlier. And the fact that you can spend north of £20,000 on newer examples suggests you won’t be the only one to value subtlety. Under the skin, at least.
Specification | Peugeot 308 GTI by Peugeot Sport
Engine: 1,598cc four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive, LSD
Power (hp): 270 to 6000 rpm
Torque (lb ft): 243 at 1,900-5,500 rpm
First registered: 2016
Recorded mileage: 46,000
Price new: £28,155
Yours for: £13,499