Simon Rose’s list of priorities halfway through 2015 were SUVs, go-fast hatchbacks and sports coupes, not necessarily in that order.
He had just become the divisional manager of Peugeot/Citroen/DS distributor Sime Darby Automobiles NZ (SDANZ) and was “entering a period of consolidation” to work closer with the new-look company’s Australian parent.
“It will take six months or so,” he said, “to realise all the benefits before we start sustained growth – 2016 will be a stronger year and new SUVs, hot hatches and sports coupes are all under consideration.”
No longer, not for the performance hatchbacks anyway. They have just arrived in New Zealand in the form of the petrol 308 GTi (top) and diesel 308 GT, two five-door variants of the 2014 European Car of the Year.
They won’t send Peugeot sales zooming – Rose will be happy if he sells three or four of each a month – but they will focus attention on the French brand, if only because it knows a thing or two about making go-fast hatchbacks. Cue here the 205 GTi of the 1980s.
Rose couldn’t have wished for better cars to re-energise his dealer network than the two front-drive 308s. Peugeot/Citroen sales last year were at best modest, considering the industry’s all-time record year. Peugeot sold 819 vehicles and Citroen 222. The niche DS line-up – Citroen’s breakaway luxury nameplate – will continue to drift in over time.
The petrol-powered 308 GTi costs $58,990 and the 308 GT oil-burner $49,990. The 308 GTi joins the smaller 208 GTi, giving Peugeot like-for-like rivals to Volkswagen’s Golf GTi and Polo GTi and Ford’s Focus ST and Fiesta ST. The diesel 308 GT stands out on its own – it has no direct competitor.
Peugeot launched both 308s on the track at Hampton Downs this week. The GTi was built by Peugeot Sport, the company’s performance arm. It also built the 208 GTi 30 – the 30th anniversary model of which only three landed in NZ – and the RCZ R coupe, All three cars use essentially the same engine, a turbocharged 1.6-litre unit in different states of tune.
It delivers 153kW/300Nm in the 208 GTi 30 but 200kW/330Nm in the RCZ R and 308 GTi. The extra oomph comes from more pressure behind the direct fuel-injection system and boost on the turbocharger, to an absolute 2.5 bar.
Despite the high boost pressure, there was little lag and good power delivery across the rev range. A ‘Sport’ button gives the exhaust note an appealing edge, although it’s computer-generated.
Helping to get the power down via the six-speed manual gearbox is a Torsen helical limited-slip differential borrowed from the RCZ R coupe and 208 GTi 30. It works with the electric power steering to minimise torque steer. But the busier it gets the more it takes away feel, to the point where the steering at speed – on a smooth top at least – becomes over-assisted and light.
The GTi rides 11mm lower and has a wider front track than the standard 308. It also gets stiffer springs, uprated shock-absorbers and 19-inch rims. It sat down on its suspension and there was little body movement when the G-forces built up on the tight circuit. It was accurate and settled.
How the set-up handles the mixed surfaces of public roads away from the track is another question. But what won’t need second guessing are the front stoppers, 380mm discs clamped by four-piston calipers.
Inside is the familiar i-cockpit design, a combination of ergonomic factors built around a smaller steering wheel and an instrument panel that sits above the wheel itself. It is loaded with kit, both for safety and entertainment. Buckets seats wrap you in.
The diesel 308 GT also gets plenty of kit and a ‘Sport’ button, but it wasn’t put together by Peugeot Sport. Nevertheless, it appears an appealing package, its 2.0-litre engine good for 133kW/400Nm and mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Town-and-around fuel use is a claimed 4 litres/100km. Real-world use of course will be more.
We didn’t get to lap Hampton Downs in the GT, only to steer it in a straight line in ‘Sport’ mode on a standing start run over 200 metres or so. Jump on the throttle and the engine’s 400Nm pins you back in your seat and the exhaust note takes on its own computer-generated pitch. It’s no slouch, getting to 100km/h in a tad over eight seconds. The gearbox makes a reasonable job of an urgent throttle, too.