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New Peugeot hatch both classy and wicked

AAP logoAAP 26/08/2016 By Peter Atkinson

HOW hot is hot enough?

No, we're not talking weather here. Or curries. We're talking hatchbacks.

Hot hatches - the fast-and-fun machines that have elbowed their way into a growing number of Aussie garages over the past decade.

With their mix of driving pleasure and family-friendly practicality, they're highly sought-after and the competition these days has reached an entirely new level. And, like a good curry, they're available in varying levels of hotness.

At the top of this automotive Scoville Scale is the ballistic Mercedes-Benz AMG A45, whose astonishing 285kW make it the beef vindaloo (extra hot) of this class.

Not far behind is the equally insane Audi RS3 (270kW), both of which will hold their own against virtually any performance machines on the planet.

BMW's newly-released M2 (a coupe, not strictly a hatch) will keep this pair very honest indeed (we'll tell you about it in a couple of weeks).

Slightly less incendiary are machines like the VW Golf R, Ford's rapid Focus RS, Holden's Astra VXR, Subaru's legendary WR-X and STI models, Renault's Megane GT and the John Cooper Works-tuned Minis.

And now, entering this scorching selection of hot hatches comes French maker Peugeot with its new 308 GTI.

And, just like a good curry menu, it allows the buyer to decide how hot you want it.

This new GTI, the first 308 to wear this coveted badge Down Under for almost 15 years, arrives in not one but two temperature levels. The very hot GTI250 and the slightly-more scalding GTI270.

Each takes its name from its power output - the 250 delivers 250 horsepower (184 kilowatts) - while the 270, with a handful of extra go-fast bits, has been fashioned with the hard-core enthusiast in mind with a neat 200kw beneath the bonnet.

We tested the former - which Peugeot says is aimed more at "daily drivers" - and enjoyed its combination of hard-edged performance and all-around driveability.

That's a blend not easily achieved but the GTI250 deftly mixes classy refinement with a distinctly wicked side.

Peugeot insists that the GTI designation "only ever features on Peugeot products of the highest performance" - and sadly it hasn't been seen on a 308 here since almost the turn of the milennium.

Absence might make the heart grow fonder but this is ridiculous. Happily, it's been worth the wait.

The sporting rivalry between Peugeot and its arch-rival Renault is one waged mostly on the slippery surfaces of the World Rally Championship circuit - but that resultant technology has helped turn this 308 into quite a piece of kit.

We've previously tested the 308 in more sedate form - the 308GT, featuring a surprisingly punchy turbo-diesel engine, disguised with a funky exhaust device that made it sound like a petrol-powered hot rod.

The GTI cranks up the fun factor - and the exhaust volume - by a couple of notches - with the French engineers coaxing a dazzling 184 kilowatts, plus 330 Newton metres of torque, from a relatively small 1.6-litre four-cylinder.

That translates into an impressive 0-100km/h sprint of 6.1 seconds, although it feels even quicker when in full cry. A slick six-speed manual allows the driver to access every part of that power band. It will comfortably pull 100km/h in second gear on its way to a top speed of 250km/h.

Styling wise, the Peugeot designers have taken a fairly conservative approach to this car's outward appearance. It looks classy and upmarket, without having too much of the boy-racer appeal so typical in these incendiary little machines.

It has a squat, athletic stance (11mm lower than the standard 308) , while its big alloys and chrome dual exhaust pipes are a bit of a giveaway. But at first glance you'd barely suspect the mayhem that lies within.

Like its less sporty siblings, the GTI uses Peugeot's new iCockpit layout - combining a small, chunky steering wheel and with all instruments set higher on the dash, so they can be viewed above the arc of the steering wheel, rather than through it.

The smaller wheel feels particularly well-suited to this kind of car - reminiscent of those dessert plate-sized custom steering wheels that were popular in the seventies.

Its handling, too, is go-kart-like, with accurate turn-in and admirably stable handling in all situations. The chassis is stiff enough to deliver rewarding driver feedback, while still managing decent passenger comfort.

And its $44,990 price brings with it a long list of standard equipment - including keyless start, rear parking sensors and reversing camera, dual-zone climate-control air, 97-inch multifunction touch-screen with satellite navigation, excellent sports seats and tyre pressure monitoring system.

Sharp and sporty, yet impressively refined and comfortable.

So you can have your curry and eat it, too.

PEUGEOT 308 GTI

HOW BIG? A compact hatch, but it will comfortably fit four adults or a family of five, with useful cargo space beneath the hatch.

HOW FAST? Seriously. You'll need to spend almost twice as much to get a hot hatch with more performance. It feels urgent and edgy.

HOW THIRSTY? It's modest-sized 1.6-litre engine delivers decent fuel-efficiency with a combined thirst of 6L/100km. On the open road it will get below 5.

HOW MUCH? Not cheap for a compact machine, but at $44,990 it's generously equipped, beautifully built and great bang for your buck.

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