Peugeot 308 GTi
Peugeot has a strong history in family hatch-sized GTi contenders. The brand's 308 GTi model is one of the most potent ever, a hot hatch that produces up to 270bhp and in this improved form, is even more ready to do battle in this sector with the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The 308 GTi is aimed at the enthusiast end of the market - in every way a red-hot hatch. Hence the effort that's gone into tuning both the chassis and the 1.6-litre THP turbo engine, a unit now offered only in its top 270bhp guise. Performance is strong, this model quicker over the benchmark sprint than a rival Ford Focus ST. This 308 will get from a standing start to 62mph in 6.0 seconds, en route to a top speed of 155mph. The kit tally includes a hi-tech Torsen limited-slip differential, this channelling the power to the wheel with the highest grip. That makes this Peugeot deceptively quick through the bends.
Through those turns, this car feels taut and responsive, with body roll well controlled, despite a suspension set-up that's also tuned to be compliant over broken surfaces. Enthusiastic drivers will want to press this 'Sport' button that ramps up the engine note, sharpens the throttle response and turns the instrument lighting from white to red. For this kind of progress, you'll want to perfect gearchange shifts you'll have to make via a 6-speed manual transmission - there no paddle shift auto option.
This 308 GTi certainly looks the part, offered with clean lines that build on those of the standard car. Changes to this revised model include the adoption of a new bonnet, a re-styled grille and revised headlights and rear lamp clusters. As you'd expect, this top hot hatch has more road presence than its siblings, with a muscular stance and plenty of enhancements to the exterior to make it stand out from the crowd.
This includes exclusive styling front and rear and a lowered ride height that sees this car sit 11 millimetres lower to the ground than the standard 308. The nose features full LED headlamps, flanking a smarter black radiator grille with a horizontal chequered pattern and gloss-black finishing. The same motif is echoed on the air intake, which is surrounded by sequential LED indicators and a red detail strip. Below the bumper, two front spoilers boost aerodynamic performance.
In profile, the redesigned door sills hint at the car's aggressive nature, while the sleek rear design features a gloss-black section housing the twin exhaust pipes. With a wider track of 1,570mm at the front and 1,554mm at the rear, this GTi has been engineered to offer exceptional grip. Buyers get dynamic 19-inch 'Carbone' light-weight wheels. Jump inside and you'll find a Peugeot i-Cockpit cabin enhanced to reflect the sporting nature of the car, with additional detailing to signify this performance version.
Peugeot seems to be rediscovering a little of its hot hatch magic. The 208 GTi showed us that the company's 'Sport' division still knew how to build a decent shopping rocket and this improved 308 GTi model seems to confirm that feeling.
This may not be as good a track car as, say, the Renaultsport Megane but it'd probably be an easier hot hatch to live with - and enjoy - day-to-day. If you're buying a car in this segment, it's a model you need to try.Click here to find out more about our Peugeot 308 GTi range
SEAT Leon Cupra
Looking for something fast, practical and which won't send you to the wall financially? The mighty SEAT Leon Cupra 300 could be the answer. It can get to 62mph in well under 6 seconds, return around 45mpg, seat five and, thanks to recent price cuts, now cost you no more than about £30,000. As a one car solution, this one's got legs. Teeth too.
The Leon Cupra has some form line. There's never been a duff one and this latest Cupra 300 gives SEAT's hatch real giant killing ability. That 300PS power output will catapult it to 62mph in around five and a half seconds, or a fraction quicker if you choose the DSG twin-clutch gearbox. Top speed is limited to 155mph although it would be interesting to see how fast it would go before physics intervened. The uprated 380 Nm maximum torque of both versions spreads from just 1,750 rpm all the way up to 5,300 rpm, guaranteeing impressive pulling power and overtaking flexibility. Go for the ST estate version and you also get SEAT's '4Drive' all-wheel drive system, which has to be mated to DSG auto transmission.
The chassis has more tricks up its sleeve than David Blaine and features DCC dynamic chassis control, a front-axle differential lock and progressive steering all as standard, as well as a Cupra-specific, high-performance brake system, recognisable by its red callipers. The ESC handling system has been developed specifically for the Cupra and can be deactivated in two stages - the first stage deactivates the traction control and puts the ESC into sport mode, permitting greater yaw angles. The second stage deactivates the ESC completely. The Cupra Drive Profile allows the driver to set the car into one of three modes, 'Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Cupra'. This raciest setting gives you a hair trigger throttle response and most aggressive DSG shifts, while the sound actuator turns the volume up to eleven. The DCC dynamic chassis control, progressive steering and the front-axle differential lock are also dialled to their most focused settings.
Any Leon that wears a Cupra badge has to dose up the attitude a degree, but the Cupra 300 looks really gym-toned, whether you order it in three-door 'SC' form, as a five-door hatch or in the ST estate body style. The front end features big air intakes and beady-eyed all-LED headlamps. There's a combined rear skirt and diffuser and twin oval tail pipes to ensure the powerful look continued by the rear skirt with its diffuser effect and two oval end pipes. The Cupra 300 is also gets unique 19-inch wheels with a titanium paint finish, plus the Aerodynamic Pack, which comprises a spoiler on the rear roof edge, Cupra lettering on the brake callipers and black exterior mirror housings.
Inside, you get trim elements finished in a gloss black and a smart Cupra sports steering wheel, complete with shifting paddles for the optional DSG transmission. The sports seats, in dark grey Alcantara finished with white stitching, are another interior highlight. Black full-leather upholstery, likewise with white stitching, is also available. The pedals and entry sills are made from aluminium to add a bit of eye candy to a fundamentally low-key cabin. There's a 380-litre luggage bay and the quality feels up to the mark, with a dashboard that no longer looks so obviously built down to a price.
SEAT has come good in recent years with the Leon, a car that many felt had peaked early in Cupra guise. The Cupra 300 is without doubt the fastest and most exciting Cupra to date and thanks to the recent asking price reductions, it now looks like very good value too. Despite that, this hot hatch is very well equipped, with satellite navigation, 19-inch alloys, a smart media system and full-LED headlights, features which could easily tack on over £1,500 to the price of rival cars.
It's properly fierce too, with the ability to demolish the sprint to 60mph in a hair over five seconds - and it doesn't let up thereafter. Yes, some may find the cabin sound actuator a bit artificial but like most things, you grow to get used to it. If you felt that cars like the Volkswagen Golf R have had it too easy for too long, here's something that will certainly give it some pause for thought.Click here to find out more about our SEAT Leon Cupra range
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Volkswagen Golf GTI has upped its game in the face of increasing competition and offers up to 245PS, plus there are smarter looks, a classier cabin and improved media connectivity. Though little of the original GTI DNA remains, it's a very complete hot hatch indeed.
The big news for enthusiasts is that this GTI continues to be available in two different power outputs. Before, the standard car offered 220PS and there was a 230PS GTI Performance model. Now, Volkswagen has upped these outputs, so the normal version gets 230PS and the GTI Performance model features 245PS. Expect that to be enough to get you from rest to 62mph in only a fraction over 6s. As before, the GTI Performance variant also gets bigger brakes and an electronically controlled mechanical front axle differential lock for improved cornering.
Both cars get a 'progressive steering' system which means low effort at parking speeds but a smooth, natural feel when moving from small steering angles to larger ones at speed, something that has often escaped designers of modern electrically-assisted steering systems. A six-speed gearbox is fitted as standard to both cars, with the option of a six-gear DSG twin-clutch transmission for those who don't fancy a clutch pedal. If you like the GTI look but want to optimise frugality, a GTD diesel variant using a 2.0 TDI 184PS powerplant continues to be offered.
The first thing you'll notice about this revised Golf GTI is probably its slightly sleeker front end. There are full-LED headlamps and the air intakes at either corner of the front bumper have been restyled too. Jewel-like LED tail lamps are now standard too, with smart animated flowing indicators too. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's a choice between three or five-door hatch body styles, both of which sit on the Volkswagen Group's light, stiff and very sophisticated MQB chassis.
There's no doubt that this is a seriously good-looking car these days. Some of the detailing is quite exquisite. Red, black and white production paint finishes hark back to the Eighties heyday of the Golf GTI, while the big roof spoiler is neatly integrated to the roof line and door pillars.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight, with a circular hub and a deep dish with audio, telephone and cruise control buttons mounted on two of its three spokes. The dash is finished in an interesting capping which at first looks a little like carbon fibre but is in fact a technical finish that manages to escape the essential cheesiness of fake carbon. There's also a set of drilled pedals and a big alloy foot rest.
This current Volkswagen Golf GTI is a different car to the original. It has grown up, become more refined, smarter and, yes, better in virtually every regard. It doesn't need to constantly remind its customers of its roots. Time has moved on and it is what it is. And what it is, is the go-to car if you want a quality hot hatch. Yes, it now campaigns in the upper echelons pricewise but the value proposition nevertheless looks good, with this improved Mk 7 model promising some really strong residual values that take the edge off the cost of ownership.
Volkswagen hasn't forgotten about driving enjoyment as the Golf enters middle age. This one's still got the chops to entertain with its clever front axle diff lock signalling that this isn't just for people who merely want the most expensive Golf. There are some formidable vehicles in the hot hatch division, but the Golf GTI almost campaigns in its own sub niche. It's all about authenticity, something true hot hatch buyers don't need unsubtle history lessons to understand.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Golf GTI range