Someone once asked me where my love for cars started and how I'm able to write a story about them like they're more than inanimate tons of steel. It was a question that left me startled, because in my head, I was born with car keys in my hand and I'd like to believe that I drove myself home days after I was cleared to leave the hospital. The truth is, I can no longer remember. I do recall that the very first 1:18 scale model car my parents gave me was a Lamborghini Countach. It was a present for graduating kindergarten with honors, or at least that's how I'd like to remember it.
Unboxing it seemed like yesterday. The Countach marked the beginning of a collection that I would amass over the years. Every time I would be gifted with a new one, I would immediately remove the screws from its plate, and lay it down on the carpet where I'd stay for hours on weekends. There were days when my mom would open the freezer and be shocked to find a very frozen McLaren F1, because I didn't want it to feel hot. I guess I've always seen cars with deep affection, and once I've bonded with it, they all of a sudden have a soul. And much like people you meet, there are first impressions too.
A good example of this is Peugeot's 308 GTi. From the moment I set my eyes on it, I must admit that I was thrown off by its paint job. While the 'Coupe Franche' finish is executed with surgical precision, I felt it couldn't be trusted. Like a woman with too much make-up on, you can't really trust what you see on the surface - and it doesn't matter what brand she puts on her face.
I felt that with a paint job like that, it must be hiding something awful. I mean, the last Peugeot I drove had a rear view camera that only worked in daylight, when you practically don't need it - and that was only painted black. It had a calculator too, which would be great if we didn't live in a generation where the easiest calculator to use, is your smartphone.
"The car was alive and it revved to the heavens like its life depended on it."
I subconsciously told myself to keep an open mind, and with that, I hopped inside the car. Things were again quite awkward. For instance, the tachometer spins counter-clockwise and the instrument panel sits high above the steering wheel. It has a similar layout to a bus or a minivan, only made a sportier by the angle at which the rather small steering wheel is positioned.
The quality of leather is top-notch though, and so is the stitching around the cabin. The new i-cockpit theme of Peugeot works too. It's a major departure from the otherwise messy layout of their other cars. Many of the Y2K style buttons have been removed and now sit inside the screen as one of the menus that you can toggle with your fingertips.
"It's like going to a buffet when you're on a diet. All the food is laid out in front of you, yet you can't eat everything."
I especially love the seats. They instantly feel snug and really supportive without squeezing out all your fat through your back. The throw of the gearbox is quite long. With a steering wheel the size of a 5 peso coin, I expected the gearbox to be a really short throw, but it wasn't. It reminded me of our old Mitsubishi Strada. That aside, I'm pleased to say that the clutch feedback is wonderful and the shifts are still precise.
When you move forward the first couple of yards, you notice that the steering is quite light. It's not the Ferrari kind of light wherein loads of information is sent to you. This is a bit numb, but not like anaesthesia for your gums. It's a little bit better than that. The steering feels quite identical to a standard 308, which suits that car perfectly - but not this fire breathing 266 horsepower monster. The paint job is starting to make a lot of sense right now, and I really wish it didn't. All until I stumbled upon a button that read 'Sport'.
I held the button down for about two seconds, and all of a sudden the instrument panel turned red. I gave it the full beans and in less than 6.0 seconds, I was pushing 100 km/h. The car was alive and it revved to the heavens like its life depended on it. There was noise, a beautiful sonorous sound matched with the turbo hiss after letting go of the pedal. In a noise battle between a Subaru WRX STI or this, there isn't even a battle at all.
And when you let go of the throttle, the exhaust starts gargling fuel and spitting it out to give you some mild backfire. Sometimes I'd floor the throttle, wait for the boost to kick in, and then let go just to make that noise over and over again. How do you even extract this much performance from a 1.6-liter engine?
"I would love to drive up to Punta Fuego and be happy to realize that I've left my overnight bag, because I'd have to drive back down again."
In general, I think that cars that have their power sent to the front wheels are okay for as long as they're somewhat below 220 horses. However, since this one has much more than that, you will have to live with torque steer. And because you do, you can never get in this car and find its limit immediately. There's some nasty understeer and feedback from the steering isn't the best out there.
You're going to have to progress through the same stretch of corners while increasing your pace to get a feel of the limit, because the steering doesn't give the clearest lines of information. However, once you've gotten comfortable with the car's dynamics, you'll realize that it is an absolutely epic machine. I hate front wheel drive performance cars because it's like going to a buffet when you're on a diet. All the food is laid out in front of you, yet you can't eat everything.
"It no longer matters that second gear is in Australia and third is in Africa."
This 308 GTi is too charming to even dwell on its quirks. For the first time, I'm talking about Peugeot without having to involve art to make it more appealing. When people ask me what the car is like or why they've done this or that, I no longer have to say, "It's French" - because this car is fantastic.
Even the LED headlights on this car are the best I've used so far. In fact, the standard 308 in hatchback form or in wagon form is an outstanding car. Peugeot have really pushed themselves forward with their new generation of cars, and there isn't a better poster child for it than the highly addictive GTi.
You can drive it normally around the city and in a push of a button, it encourages you to drive like you've been set on fire. You forget its front wheel drive, and it won't matter that the rev counter spins the wrong way. In fact, you can't even read the dials when they're red so you can go to 15,000 rpm and you wouldn't have known at all. It also no longer matters that second gear is in Australia and third is in Africa, because once you get going you're going to want to keep driving forever.
This has been a genuine example that first impressions don't always last. It wears this paint job like a heart on its sleeve. It isn't to mask anything hideous, but to celebrate its bewitching lunacy. I am in awe of this car. I would love to drive up to Punta Fuego and be happy to realize that I've left my overnight bag, because I'd have to drive back down again. It truly brings out the child within us, and isn't that what makes cars like these so desirable in the first place? #Lunatique
Awaken Your Senses.