By Glenn Brooks | 29 April 2015

GT has LED headlamps & sequential indicators below bumper

GT has LED headlamps & sequential indicators below bumper

Peugeot is trying to move its image and pricing to the space occupied by Volkswagen. Britain being the French brand’s third largest market, taking on the Golf here is key to its plan. The new 308 GT is an additional attempt to better compete with the UK’s best selling diesel car.

That’s right, the Fiesta might be the country’s number one model but the Golf TDI and GTD outsold compression-ignition versions of the little Ford in 2014 (source: SMMT). Volkswagen’s slick marketing helps, with TDI well established as a sub-brand. It can’t hurt to have diesel Audis using the same three letters, while the more powerful and torquier Golf GTD is rapidly gathering a strong following as a cheaper to own GTI. PSA has been watching all of this for some time, it seems: the GT BlueHDi 180 five-door hatchback and estate are its first step in slowly-slowly building up the 308 range as a tempting alternative to the Golf.

Where Peugeot has particularly succeeded is in the sporty credentials of the GT. The BlueHDi 180 suffix is clunky and long compared to Volkswagen’s GTD but at least it leaves you in no doubt as to the power output of the 1,997cc engine. One of these days, surely a manufacturer is going to badge a car with the torque output. Peugeot should choose to be the first, as the 400Nm of the GT is a strong achievement and it would set the brand apart, at least until rivals copied. The Golf GTD has 181hp and just 380Nm. Will VW put the Passat's new 240hp 2.0 TDI in the Golf? Almost certainly, and probably as soon as late 2015.

The GT sits at the top of a range which starts at GBP14,995. This is the 1.2 PureTech 82, and there are multiple other engines, including 110hp and 130hp versions of the same three-cylinder petrol unit, 92hp, 115hp and 120hp 1.6 HDi diesels, and a 150hp 2.0-litre HDi. 

The 308 and Citroen C4 were the first cars to be fitted with PSA's EB Turbo PureTech engine. This 110-130hp series is manufactured in Douvrin at the Française de Mécanique plant. Production began in March 2014, with annual production capacity set at 320,000 engines. This turbocharged petrol engine will also soon be manufactured in Latin America and China for local markets.

The most powerful and fastest 308 can also be ordered with a turbocharged petrol engine. That’s why the diesel wears ‘GT BlueHDi 180’ badges, to distinguish it from the GT THP 205 (you can guess what the power output is). Is there a GTI yet to come? Undoubtedly, as Peugeot knows that it needs to keep the 308 newsworthy and also to try to tempt those for whom the Golf GTI is a bit, well, everywhere. After that, an R should be added, again to match the Golf and its future 400-420hp derivative, which was recently confirmed for production.

The five-door 308 still looks fresh, even though it’s coming up for two years old. It was announced in May 2013, with its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show four months later. The estate had its world premiere at the Geneva motor show in March 2014, going on sale the following month. Badged ‘SW’ it is built on the same line as the hatchback at Sochaux. The Trémery and Douvrin sites, also in France, supply all of the power units. The car for China premiered at November 2014's Guangzhou motor show and local production at DPCA’s Wuhan 1 plant is about to commence. Expect Russia and Argentina to be the next additional production/assembly locations. An SKD operation is already underway in Nigeria.

The second generation model is said to be 140kg lighter, version for version, than the first 308 five-door. Much of that is due to the advances made with PSA’s EMP2 architecture. This was in fact the company’s first model for its medium-to-large vehicle platform. The hatchback is 4,253mm long, 1,804mm wide and 1,461mm high, with a 2,620mm wheelbase. That last measurement means the former 308 was 90mm longer between its wheelarches and this shows. Headroom is generous and you won’t be touching elbows with your front passenger but the boot is just 420 litres and legroom in the back isn’t class leading either. This is more of an issue with the sports seats of the GT, though - cheaper variants have thinner backrests.

Something that really stands out in this car compared to all of its C segment rivals is the driving position. It’s so unusual that a brief test drive is probably going to see many people put off, which is a shame. The instrument pack is at the usual height but the steering wheel is low and especially small of circumference. This can take some getting used to. The best way to explain why is what happens the first time you approach a corner. The tendency is to turn the wheel more than you need to, which will immediately unsettle a nervous driver. Persist, and it all becomes really rewarding, with just the right amount of electric assistance. The steering of the next car you get into will feel sloppy by comparison, and its steering wheel will look enormous and feel that way to hold. Peugeot should insist that prospects take a 48 hour test drive and insit that the car needs to be driven.

Something that’s by no means limited to PSA models is the trend towards overloaded touch-screens. It all looks terrifically minimalist but really, what’s wrong with five to fifteen dials or buttons that are easily identified and activated in a split second. In this car, if you want to adjust the temperature it’s one push of a virtual fan button and then + or - presses for air speed. Another press is needed for passenger or driver’s side temperatures and these rise in half degrees so there’s a lot of time spent fiddling. A/C is another press, and so is AUTO. The latter would be irritating in hot countries: you need that as a button on the dashboard that you press the moment you get in. 

As has become the norm with many recently released cars, all plastics on the top half of the doors and dashboard are squishy, with harder surfaces reserved for the glovebox and lower parts of the doors. The test car had a big glass roof which doesn’t open, and can be covered by an electric blind, the door pockets are generously sized but sadly lacked the lining of their equivalents in a Golf. It might seem a small thing but it does stop things rattling around and so adds to a more relaxing experience.

The instrument cluster has the speed on the left and the tachometer on the right. The latter runs backwards so the zero is on the right hand side and the needle turns anti-clockwise. This looks odd but you do get used to it. You know that handy little image of a pump, the hose’s location matching the car’s fuel cap location? The 308’s stylists have made the fuel gauge look very cool but in so doing, the needle obscures the little picture as the reserve heads towards empty. Not a major issue to anyone who knows just about every European car has the fuel flap on the driver's side but you can’t imagine such an oversight in a Volkswagen. And like it or not, for Peugeot that is the standard which it must keep improving upon. One other thing. This is the priciest variant. It hasn’t got a CD player, which is fine. But for GBP24,945 you don’t want to see a blanking piece of silver plastic where the disc is normally inserted. 

Back to the big positives. The six-speed (‘EAT6’ - Efficient Automatic Transmission) gearbox, as supplied by Aisin AW, is so much better than others' dual-clutch alternatives and its paddle shifters make for fun driving. EAT6 even helps with the CO2 average, which is a superb 103g/km (107g/km for the SW). I already mentioned the excellent, sensitive steering, which has just 2.9 turns lock to lock. It makes empty roads a joy. The lowered suspension (7mm at the front/10mm at the rear) also plays its part in the GT’s fluid handling. 

Top speed is 136mph, 0-62mph takes 8.2 seconds but somehow it feels faster and the engine never gets harsh or noisy. Official consumption is 70.7mpg for the Combined cycle but given my enthusiastic driving, I averaged 43.6mpg. Having said that, 50-60mpg seems entirely possible if you’re happy cruising motorways at 60-70mph and limit your in-town trips. Stop-Start helps with the latter but there’s only so much it can do.

Thanks to the pleasing styling and a few touches reserved for the GT, it looks like no other car on the road and that’s a good thing. It’s nice to see the word PEUGEOT in the grille now and also in equally small letters on the hatch. You also find GT badges on the steering wheel, grille, and front wings. The mirror surrounds are a gloss black and the test car was a beautiful (purply) Magnetic Blue.

Certain small but important things are getting better with PSA cars and this one has a few which are new to me: the key was much nicer than previous Peugeot ones and the indicators no longer flash manically when you unlock. Instead, they illuminate dynamically, from the inside to the outside in sequence. Remember when only the Audi R8 had these? 

Is the 308 GT BlueHDi 180 as good a car as the Golf GTD? Not quite. But it's not a long way off being so. That should worry Volkswagen. Especially now that PSA does seem to be acting on the knowledge it has had for some years about how to make the Lion-badge brand more profitable. 

This car is cool, refined, and sporty when you need it to be, but let down in places by small details. The basics are right, which is what should be remembered. A few years ago, you wouldn't have paid twenty six grand for a diesel Peugeot 308 - incidentally, it's only GBP70 cheaper than the GBP26,015 Golf GTD. Now? Looking at the performance, economy, equipment, build quality, styling and improving image, you can certainly make a case for the GT BlueHDi.