First drive: Peugeot 308 GT

Peugeot 308 GT

The new 308 is already one of Peugeot's stars. Now it has produced several GT performance models that will sit right at the top of the 308 range.

What is it?

The 308 has undergone surgery to make it more sexy than its predecessor. The new hatchback and SW estate come with new engines that make them more eco-friendly, while also delivering a fair bit of oomph. And inside they have had a makeover to make them feel more sporty – and the finished product is something Peugeot fans will like, and it just may attract admirers who currently own cars from other brands.

What's under the bonnet?

There are new petrol and diesel engines on offer in the GT that provide plenty of power and yet are so kind to the environment it's a wonder they haven't picked up awards from the World Wildlife Fund. The four-cylinder 1.6-litre THP petrol engine pumps out 202bhp through a six-speed manual gearbox and races from a standstill to 62mph in a speedy 7.5 seconds, though it is capable of 50.4mpg in hatchback form.

The diesel offering is a 2.0-litre 178bhp motor, which is fitted as standard with a six-speed automatic gearbox. This model returns strong claimed economy of 70.6mpg but still sprints to 62mph in a brisk 8.4 seconds.

It's the diesel engine that Peugeot believes will be the big seller, especially in the fleet market.

What's the spec like?

The GT is the new prestige model, replacing the old Feline specification, and it includes plenty of toys to keep even the most equipment-hungry buyers happy. There's a small sporty steering wheel, which looks rather racy with red stitching and a GT logo, a Sport button which makes the engine roar like a lion on heat (it's only a sound effect, mind – but a clever one at that), the steering heavier, the accelerator a touch more responsive, and gives the instrument panel a deep red glow, which complements the red stitching in the cabin.

There are also really rather nice 18-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, twin exhausts, dynamic cruise control, a collision alert system, and a very handy 9.7-inch colour touchscreen, which is so large it makes the sat nav a cinch to follow. And the screen is tilted slightly towards the driver – a nice touch.

Peugeot 308 GT

Peugeot 308 GT

Any rivals?

Peugeot hopes to persuade owners of the VW Golf and Ford Focus to jump ship and give their new hatchback a go. Of course, it's a tough challenge to pick a fight with those two heavyweights, but the new 308 oozes class and quality.

What's it like to drive?

Surprisingly good. The hatchback is nippy and has plenty of power. It's fun switching to the Sport mode to hear it roar, and to make it a little more responsive. The only downside is that the small steering wheel totally obscures the stalk with the cruise control buttons on it. This won't be an issue if you drive the car day in, day out and work the controls by feel, but for a poor journalist using the car for only a short period, it was a real pain.

As for the SW estate – which is only available in automatic diesel form – the biggest complement you can pay it is that it doesn't drive like a big car. Piloting it from behind the wheel was easy, and it had plenty of zip – and on the motorway it just eats up the miles.

The AOL Cars verdict

Going head to head with the Focus will be tough – but this is a seriously impressive car. Peugeot firmly believes that if it can get potential buyers into the driving seat and out on a test drive, they'll be hooked. And they could be right.

The GT models look nice and sporty, and they drive even better. Peugeot wanted these cars to show everyone how well they can do premium and quality, and they've delivered something very nice indeed.

The knowledge

Model: Peugeot 308 GT
Price: £25,945
Engine: 2.0-litre BlueHDI 180
Power: 178bhp 400Nm
Max speed: 136mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
MPG: 60.1mpg (urban), 80.7mpg (extra-urban), 70.6mpg (combined)
Emissions: 103g/km CO2