A sporty hatchback doesn£€™t need to look like a be-winged freak that has escaped from a Fast and Furious film. Peugeot£€™s 308GTi is suave and stylish as any Audi and comes in two levels of sauciness with 247bhp or 266bhp and unless you go for the Coupe Franche colour scheme it£€™s pleasantly restrained in these days of bling.
Not that long ago 266bhp was a lot of power, but with Honda squeezing 306bhp out of its Civic Type R there were moments when I wondered if the Peugeot needed 2-litres rather than 1.6 under its bonnet. But once the turbo£€™s on message there’s plenty of pace.
Performance is particularly strong in third and fourth gears from 1,900rpm to 5,000rpm so you are not always changing gear. And, as often with Peugeot, the drive is not just about power; it£€™s about how you can use it and how the car flows around corners.
The GTi is lots lighter than the Civic and even more than Ford£€™s porky Focus ST and that makes a huge difference when accelerating, braking and turning. It even has a better power to weight ratio than Volkswagen£€™s Golf R.
The Peugeot£€™s faster than it feels in other words. The two versions cost £26,855 or £28,455 but Ford discounts will beat this. The suspension is lowered 11mm compared to the standard car and the springing much stiffer.
On the 266 car, badged 270 in metric horsepower, a limited slip differential pushes power to the other front wheel if the outside one loses grip. It operates more smoothly than diffs on VW and Seat sporty models and the Megane Renaultsport; giving the driver more control when cornering hard.
But the black art of suspension work is not to make the ride rock hard, especially when riding on big 19in wheels, and Peugeot£€™s suspension gurus have done a great job. The bigger wheels are 2kg lighter than the 18in ones which reduces unsprung weight on each corner for sharper handling.
And though there are traction control electronics to help cope with the 243 lbs ft of torque, the best traction control is your right foot. The much loved, and crashed, 205GTi could be £€˜steered on the throttle£€™ and in today£€™s more nanny state days Peugeot has struggled to find a balance that skilled drivers will love but won£€™t pitch less skilled off the road.
The 308 comes closer to the 205 and other legends like the 306 GTi-6 and little 106 Rallye than for some time. There is some throttle adjustability in corners but plenty of outright grip from the wide Michelin tyres. Stopping power is massive from the Alcon brakes but they are too fierce on initial peddle application.
It£€™s great that Peugeot has a six-speed manual gearbox rather than granny paddles which anyone can use to achieve perfect gear changes. That said, the movement of the cold to touch aluminium gear knob is longer than ideal and the pedals could be better positioned.
There£€™s a sport button but that makes the throttle too sharp, pumps faked engine sound into the cabin and turns the instruments red, making the rev counter more difficult to see. I£€™m still not a fan of the 308£€™s tiny steering wheel and it depends on your height and driving position whether you can see the instruments.
You certainly need a firm grip if you use a lot of power because torque steer will pull it to one side. The 250 is less tiring and demanding to drive but still quick. A touch screen makes the dash simple and modern but it responds slowly and the satellite navigation wasn£€™t as good as my TomTom.
Verdict Peugeot has got its mojo back.