(Pocket-lint) - Think GTi and Volkswagen springs to mind, right? But as you'll know if you've read our review of the Peugeot 208 GTi, the French car-maker has something to say about its German cousin owning that moniker.
And the very Golf-sized Peugeot 308 is now available in GTi format, which we're testing here in the uprated 270-horsepower Peugeot Sport version.
In basic form the 308 GTi is one of our more favoured family hatchbacks: it looks good, drives nicely and feels premium. But its souped-up engine, front-wheel drive layout and £30K price tag mean it splits the difference between your regular hot hatch (think VW Golf GTi) and the new breed of mad hatches (think Ford Focus RS).
Can the 308 GTi 270 by Peugeot Sport offer the best of all worlds?
Peugeot 308 GTi review: Favourable first impressions
If your idea of a French car is still rooted in the decade-old sense then you're in for a treat. Jump aboard any 308 and you're in for a host of surprises.
Firstly, this Peugeot is of Audi quality but without the predictable design theme. The 308 is simple, elegant in execution and everything you touch and feel has a palpable sense of quality about it.
What's better, we recently drove a 50k-mile 308 hire car and it felt as good as this media vehicle (which has just 7k-miles on the clock). So signs are that Peugeot has built it to last.
The seats are super too - big, hugging one-piece units that don't squeeze you tight like a Recaro bucket (see Focus RS), yet still hold you tight in a more cosseting way. We were able to get comfortable easily.
As ever with this new breed of Peugeot, though, there's a real try-before-you-buy necessity because the company's i-cockpit architecture - which pushes the dials up on top of the dash below the windscreen, and shrinks the steering wheel, thus bunging it in your lap - means that some people don't find the driving position comfortable. While it might feels unnatural at first, you should be able to find a decent position, see the dials and get used to the steering wheel being lower relative to your shoulders than in many other cars.
We think the 308 look good too. It's handsome and smart in a VW Golf-like way (it has almost identical proportions to the Volkswagen); it stands-out finished in ultimate red paint, although you should be careful to avoid the dual "coupe franche" split colour (part black/part red or blue), which is an ideas Peugeot has brought from its recent concept cars, but looks like an afterthought and, frankly, weird to our eyes.
Peugeot 308 GTi 270 Sport review: Fire it up
A GTi lives and dies by how it drives, otherwise you may as well save yourself both the bother and the cash and go buy a regular hatch instead.
The 308 is an interesting character. It doesn't shout its performance identity from its exterior design, nor do you get a Focus RS-style grunt when you turn the key and fire it up. Instead there's a pleasant little rasp from the 308's exhaust as the engine catches, while the counter-rotating dials spin around their clock faces. But that's all; it otherwise settles for a fairly hum-drum idle.
It is the engine which defines this car though. Delivering 270bhp from just a 1.6-litre unit is fairly incredible, which means Peugeot has had to play tricks with turbo-chargers and intercoolers.
So the 308 has the power, but you need to know how to use it. Being front-wheel drive, it's easy to light up the front wheels, despite the standard limited-slip differential metering out power to the wheel with most grip. It feels very turbo-charged too, which means that below 2,000rpm it can sometimes feel flat, especially if you get caught in the wrong gear. There's definite turbo lag, too, so when the turbo does kick-in the car can pull you down a bumpy road like a truffle-hunting hound.
Just in case all of that sounds a bit rubbish, it's really not. It all makes the 308 GTi a very involving driving experience. You'll occasionally need to hold on, but when it properly catches alight, it feels rabidly fast. Press hard into bends and that limited-slip differential works exceptionally well, keeping you on line and digging in. And if you've got the engine on the boil, blasting past lines of slower cars is a cinch.
Throw the tiny steering wheel and fast steering into the mix, and the 308 can feel truly go-kart in its ways. And Peugeot has backed up the firepower by fitting stonking 380mm front brakes, which haul everything back down to a stop very effectively.
Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport: A different animal
What really stands the 308 apart is that it provides quite a different experience to other cars in its class. Indeed, it's a different animal.
Sure, it's not got quite the pace, nor the four-wheel drive security of the Focus RS, Golf R or Merc AMG. It's not rounded and smooth like a Golf GTi either. And it's not quite as hardcore or raw as a Renault Megane RS either.
But it provides a good blend of all those different poles of the hot hatch experience. In many ways, the Peugeot is perhaps closest to the Seat Leon Cupra – because it's stealthy quick, quite a lot of fun, but refined and happy just to chug about and do the family thing too. The 308 is refined, comfortable and generally easy to live with.
Our gripes are that the gearshift still isn't the best-in-class (a common Peugeot moan), that the back seat space is generally pretty tight (the boot size makes up for this if your children aren't too large), and the fussy touchscreen interface (we desperately hope that an updated system - the one Peugeot showcased in the 3008 SUV launched at the Paris Motor Show - is coming soon).
As it stands the current touchscreen system is slow, dim-witted, can be very hard to work your way around and looks graphically geriatric. Eventually, the sat nav will get you to where you want to go, it'll play your music and let you save 6 Music as a preset. But not before you've turned the air blue, cursing it before you set off. Luckily, the steering wheel shortcuts are intuitive.
Besides this point, the 308 is otherwise exceptionally well equipped. Options are limited to an SOS and connected services system (£240), a Denon Premium hi-fi system (£400) and a panoramic roof - all of which were fitted to our test car. Almost everything else you can think of (LED lamps, sat nav, DAB, massive wheels, keyless entry and start) is as standard. However, as the 308 was developed just before the most recent slew of advanced driver support systems, don't expect auto braking radar cruise control or a head-up display (HUD).
The Peugeot 308 GTi makes quite a clear proposition: for VW Golf GTi money you get significantly more firepower and equipment as standard.
You'll forego the wide-boy image of some of the mega hatches, like the Ford Focus RS, but with a decent driver behind the wheel you'll at least stand a chance of keeping up on a country road.
The 308 is subtly different from its GTi competition; a mix of family car meets ooh la la. It doesn't grab you buy the scruff of the neck and shout "buy me", but it's still appealing, lively and lives up to the GTi name.
So while it's not as well-rounded as its Golf GTi cousin, the Peugeot's quality is comparable and, for us, the overall fun factor is just that little bit greater. For that, Peugeot should be applauded.