Peugeot 308 GT offers miles of smiles

Peugeot is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, which is quite an achievement. To put it into context, when Peugeot was founded in 1810, Napoleon had 11 years left in him and Beethoven was still hard at work.

Of course, had Napoleon or Beethoven popped down to their local Peugeot dealership it would have been to buy a coffee mill rather than a car. The company's first foray into mobility came with push bikes in 1830. It wasn't until the 1890s that Peugeot built its first internal combustion engine-powered cars, inspired by meetings with Gottlieb Daimler in person.

More than a century later, cars have advanced to a level that would have been unthinkable to the fathers and founders of the motoring industry – a level that allows Peugeot to mark its bi-centenary with a model powered by an engine less than three-times the size of those in its first ever models, but producing 100-times the power.

The 1.6-litre turbocharged unit in the 308 GT 200 makes it the most powerful 308 hatchback since launch in late 2007. Put to good use in the new RCZ Coupe and 308CC convertible, it's an engine used to deliver power and economy by other manufacturers, too.

The model is badged as 308 GTi in some European markets, but Peugeot has stopped short of giving it the full-blown GTi title in the UK. Why? The answer lies in the GT 200's tractable nature. It's not a full-blown hot-hatch designed to compete with scalding three-door performance models such as the Ford Focus RS, RenaultSport Megane, Volkswagen Golf R or Seat Leon Cupra R, but with 200bhp and a sub-eight second 0-62mph sprint, it's not your run-of-the-mill family hatch, either. The extra chilli that would have earned the model a GTi badge has been left out of the mixture in favour of five doors, a more agreeable ride and better manners around town.

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These aims, the 308 GT 200 achieves. Despite the induction roar and impressive in-gear acceleration, the model can function like a regular family car. The five-door layout offers good access and practicality, the steering is light in traffic and the ride shows typical French prowess.

The 308's handsome design has been subtly revised for the GT 200 with butch bumpers, a rear diffuser, twin chrome exhausts, carbon inserts in the front and particularly attractive alloy wheels. It is subtly aggressive but still discreet.

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However, when the mood calls for it the 308GT goes a long way towards delivering GTi thrills. The 1.6 THP engine comes with a rewarding soundtrack and the chassis, although not on a par with genuine hot-hatches, is more than capable of dealing with enthusiastic cornering.

The GT 200 changes direction nimbly and with little loss of traction, body roll is limited given the quality of the ride and both throttle response and braking are impressively urgent. The steering suffers for its tractable nature in town, offering decent weight but limited feedback and the steering wheel feels a little oversized for a sporty model. Staggered pedal heights take a little getting used to.

Despite these small faults, you can rely on the model to put a smile on your face with its performance.

Value for money is likely to do the same. Half-leather interior, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, electric windows and mirrors and neat touches such as the metal gear knob and pedals are all standard.

Lumbar support and side bolsters on the excellent front seats along with an armrest for rear passengers makes it effortlessly comfortable, and the interior ambience teeters on luxurious thanks to some contemporary styling and details.

Peugeot could have celebrated its birthday with an all-out performance model but the sporty yet tractable 308 GT 200 is a better demonstration of its car-building ability. A measured blend of sensible and entertaining, it would no doubt have pleased the Peugeot family.

Model: Peugeot 308 GT 200, �21,995 on the road

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit developing 200bhp and 202lb/ft of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission, driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 7.7 seconds; top speed 140mph

CO2 emissions: 159g/km.

MPG: 40.9mpg combined

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