Peugeot's latest 308 looks to have come of age, now boasting a complete range of PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Peugeot 308 has evolved. The Focus-sized family hatchback formula is much the same but the execution is miles better in this second generation model, with a focus on refinement, interior quality and efficiency that puts it right up alongside the Ford and Volkswagen class leaders. It's that good, especially now that the French brand has brought its engine technology up to date. There's a level of self-confidence and, yes, desirability here that we've not seen from Peugeot in a very long time.
What do you look for in an Astra-sized family hatchback? If it's driving excitement, you'll find it in a Ford Focus. If it's sheer value, then you're more likely to be drawn towards cars like Hyundai's i30 or Kia's cee'd. But what if your priorities are a bit more relaxed? You want an expensive feel. An absorbent ride. A laid back demeanour. And a car that makes you feel you're in something much nicer. Perhaps, just perhaps, you want one of these, Peugeot's second generation 308. Shouldn't it be called the '309'? Perhaps - but then, Peugeot sold a family hatchback of that name back in the late Eighties that was anything but up-market and moving a digit further on would have removed the distinctive 'middle O' prefix that the company seems to like so much. On top of that, '8' is a lucky number in China, this car's most important overseas market. So, 308 it is, which means that for the first time in this Gallic brand's history, an existing model name was carried over into an all-new design. Don't be deceived: that's exactly what this is thanks to a hi-tech EMP2 ('Efficient Modular Platform 2') underpinnings that support a smarter, classier body powered by some key engines that are equally cutting edge. The result promises to be a car that family hatch buyers must now take very seriously indeed. Let's check it out.
The 308 has never really been a car for the hard charger - a family hatchback that's more about refinement and a relaxed gait. The suspension carries no great surprises, with a standard front strut and rear torsion beam arrangement. Peugeot has fitted rear trailing arms that allow greater longitudinal arc in the wheel travel. It sounds esoteric but it makes for a smoother ride when the rear wheels hit ridges or bumps. The electrically-assisted power steering is geared towards ease of use rather than detailed feedback but perhaps that's just as well. It makes the 308 very comfortable around town in the sort of usage it will mostly see. Onto engines. The 308 range has now migrated into Peugeot's latest BlueHDi diesel technology. Most will want the 1.6-litre unit, which comes in either 100 or 120bhp guises. There's also a 2.0-litre BlueHDi engine, offered with either 150 or 180bhp. For petrol people, the engine line-up opens with an 82bhp, 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech unit, then there's a choice of either 110 or 130bhp versions of this same engine further up the range. Across the line-up, transmissions are fairly standard fare, with five and six-speed manuals or a six-speed torque-converter automatic. If you want something sparkier, there's a choice of the warmed-up GT model or the full-fat GTi hot hatch. The GT variant gets the older petrol 1.6-litre THP unit in 205bhp guise or the 2.0 BlueHDi 180 diesel unit. Go for the GTi and there's a choice of pokey 250bhp and 270bhp versions of the 1.6 THP petrol powerplant.
Design and Build
The fact that this model retains the 308 name should tell you something. That something is that the 308 badge now has some respectability, something that eluded the previous 307. The first generation 308 had morphed into quite a good looking car and today's model is even more handsome. The front end features a sculpted bonnet and sharky headlights but there's a maturity, a confidence, about the styling. It's not trying too hard. We like that. The interior is dominated by a 9.7-inch touchscreen and while some of the materials quality is a bit variable, sit in a Golf Mk 7 and you'll come to a similar conclusion. There's a small strip of buttons for locking, demist and hazard lights and then virtually everything else is controlled by the touchscreen, making for a very clean-looking interior. The 308 gets the tiny steering wheel debuted on the 208, but in this instance, it's possible for shorter drivers to see the dials over the top of it. The contra-rotating rev counter is a neat touch, the oversized manual gear knob less so. Space all round is more than adequate and the 470-litre boot is excellent. If you need more space, there's a 308 SW estate variant with a 660-litre boot extendable to 1,660-litres with the rear bench folded.
Market and Model
Prices range in the £15,000 to £27,000 bracket and there's a choice between Access, Sportium, Active, Allure, GT Line and GT trim levels, plus a GTi hot hatch model. The two bodystyles are a five-door hatch and a spacious SW estate. Engine options range between a choice of two different 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesels, offering either 100 or 120bhp, plus there's a 2.0-litre BlueHDi unit with either 150 or 180bhp. Petrol people choose between 82, 110 or 130bhp versions of the 1.2-litre PureTech powerplant, or a turbo 1.6 THP with either 205, 250 or 270bhp. Even the most basic models include air conditioning, remote central door locking, cruise control with speed limiter, a DAB digital radio, LED daylight running lights and Bluetooth connectivity. However, if you go for base Access trim, you don't get the infotainment touchscreen that's such a key part of his 308's much improved cabin. The minimum trim requirement for this is the 'Active' level, which starts at around £18,000. Stretch to a plush Allure model and you get leather and Alcantara seats, or you can pay a bit more and go for full leather. This features subtle stitching, some impressive fluting and a particularly comfortable shape. The optional electric adjustment includes a variable massage function. The full-length glass roof transforms the feel of the rear seats and is sure to prove a favourite option. Electric parking brakes haven't found universal favour but the one fitted to the 308 is one of the better examples. It disengages automatically as you pull away and makes the centre console look clean and tidy.
Cost of Ownership
Peugeot's engineers have been assiduous in their quest to reduce the excess weight from the 308's construction. To this end, the car is a significant 140kg lighter than its predecessor. It's helped by the fact that it's actually a couple of centimetres shorter than the car it replaced. The 1.6 diesel tips the scales at 1,160kg, which to save you looking is about ten per cent less than the equivalent Volkswagen Golf. The chassis features aluminium and composites and the tailgate is made from thermoplastic. And fuel economy? Well, if you really want to eke every mile from a gallon, you'll probably be drawn to the 1.6 BlueHDi model which returns 80.7mpg on the combined cycle and emits a mere 92g/km. In the 120bhp version, these stats actually improve - to 88.3mpg and 82g/km. Don't automaically opt for a diesel though until you check out the PureTech petrol options which could make more sense for lower mileage owners. The 82bhp model manages 55.4mpg on the combined cycle and 117g/km of CO2. For the 110bhp version, the figures are 61.4mpg and 107g/km.
The Peugeot 308 has developed in an interesting manner. In many respects, it has quietly morphed into something very slick, something quintessentially French, despite being benchmarked against a Golf. If you enjoy flinging your car along the twistiest road you can find, a Focus will doubtless deliver a bigger hit. Having said that, the 308's laid-back demeanour and long-legged loping gait, attributes that hark back to classic Peugeots of the distant past, are actually qualities more in tune with the way we use cars today. You need to avoid the entry-level model to get the touchscreen-trimmed cockpit that really brings the interior to life, but aside from that, there aren't too many caveats. The diesel engines are hugely economical and the three-cylinder petrol units characterful and fun. Peugeot's biggest challenge will come in delivering three-year residual values that will make this 308 as affordable to run as a Golf. That's not the work of a moment, but if this 308 is anything to go by, the French company is certainly moving in the right direction.