You may not like the new Peugeot 308. You may not think that you have any interest in the new Peugeot 308. But for one simple reason, you should be thankful that the new Peugeot 308 exists.
And that’s because it’s a car that – once and for all – will shut up the people who still insist on placing the Volkswagen Golf on a pedestal. To some folk, it’s the best metal to come out of Germany since The Scorpions. Well sorry, Volkswagen, but there’s a wind of change blowing through the C-segment.
*Mullet mode switched on* The Peugeot 308 will rock you like a hurricane. *Mullet mode switched off*
We knew the Peugeot 308 had the potential to be good when we completed the first drive last year. But we wanted to reserve judgement until we’d had a chance to spend a week with it.
Well we were wrong. The Peugeot 308 isn’t good. It’s great. It no longer feels like the sloppy seconds of the C-segment sector. Putting one or two notable issues aside for a moment, it’s a match for just about any of its rivals. And yes, that includes the Volvo V40 and the Audi A3.
For a while, Peugeot has been harping on about its desire to move upmarket. To appeal to a more demanding customer. Well, if the Peugeot 308 is anything to go by, it’s very much mission accomplished.
As Loyd Grossman would have said, let’s consider the evidence.
Face it, in this segment, looks matter. Whether it’s an attempt to get one over on your neighbours, or simply to impress in the office car park, a five-door hatchback has to look good. The Peugeot 307 didn’t, and the previous generation was even worse.
But the new car looks fresh, chiselled, athletic and very, very smart. Against it, the Volkswagen Golf simply looks frumpy, bloated and tired. The Audi A3 looks OTT, the Ford Focus a little old and the Vauxhall Astra, well that’s just anonymous. Even the new Mazda3, which by all accounts is rather good, just looks like it’s trying too hard. The SEAT Leon is the only rival that can run the 308 close, but only in three-door SC guise.
Everywhere you look, there’s a fine piece of detailing. Like the LED rear lights, which are squeezed into the rear-end with Swiss levels of precision. You couldn’t even fit a piece of cigarette paper between the light cluster and the bodywork. Then there’s the crease line, which runs from the rear lights, through the doors and drops off at the front wheel arch. It’s a really nice touch.
You’ll also appreciate the subtle roof spoiler and the way in which the C-pillar ‘hugs’ the rear window. And the rather wonderful headlight clusters, which – on the Alure and Feline models – are full LED with integrated LED daytime running lights. We could also mention the sculpted bonnet, the subtle way in which the boot lid curves as it meets the rear bumper, or the 18-inch alloy wheels – standard on the Feline – which are about as sexy as wheels get in this sector.
Notice the use of the word ‘subtle’, which has been deliberately mentioned twice. In its entirety, it’s a very subtle approach, but it just works. We lost count at the number of times people stopped for a closer look at this car.
Without wishing to dampen the flames of desire too much, it has to be said that we were driving the top trim Feline model with the brilliant 1.6-litre THP 156 petrol engine. And at £21,345 plus £675 for the pearlescent paintwork, you’d have every right to demand a little kerb appeal. With smaller wheels and without the LED headlights, it will undoubtedly lose some of its gloss. But it will still remain a class act.
Once inside, the Peugeot 308 continues to impress – perhaps even more so. Peugeot has clearly worked hard to bring the 308 up to the standard we now expect in the highly-competitve sector. It’s as though the company has listened to the criticism of the previous models, seen what’s good about rival models and then set out interpreting them in a very Peugeot way.
And that’s the crucial point to start. Any fears that the Peugeot 308’s interior would simply be a facsimile of a German product are soon diminished. First impressions are exceedingly good. Looking for quality issues soon becomes a fruitless exercise. So much so that you soon give up and revel in the 308’s brilliance. By the end of the first week with the car, you’ll still be as impressed as you were within the first five minutes.
Of course, the big headline isn’t what Peugeot has added to the 308, it’s what it has taken away. Peugeot calls it the i-Cockpit (stop laughing at the back), which in the 308 essentially consists of four components – the compact steering wheel, the raised instrument cluster, a high centre console and a 9.7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Peugeot has also taken the bold step of doing away with the majority of the buttons on the centre console. So the climate control, the navigation, the telephone and the audio settings are all controlled via the touchscreen. It works, up to a point.
Curiously, the buttons for the heated rear window, the screen blowers, the hazard warning lights and the air recirculation are all left on the console. But everything else has gone. It takes all of five minutes behind the wheel to get used to it, with most options executable within two touches of the screen. Like the instrument clusters, the display is clean and crisp, making it easy to read at a glance.
The problem is, the system demands more time with your eyes taken off the road. Take the climate settings, accessible either via an option on the left of the screen or via the temperate at the top. Accuracy is required on both, and once you’re on the climate control screen, you need to locate exactly where on the screen you need to ‘press’ to adjust the temperature. A single dial is much, much simpler and would require less eye movement.
Aside from that, it’s all good news. The small steering wheel and raised dials combination works even better in the 308 than it does in the 208, plus the steering wheel (leather on all but the basic Access model) feels delightfully premium. It’s a theme that’s carriers through to the plastics used on the dashboard and the door panels. Peugeot has got the 308 interior just right.
Minor niggles – and they are minor – include a slightly awkward positioning of the USB socket, the decision to include only a single cup-holder in the front, an adjustable centre armrest which shuts with the ferocity of a starved alligator, and a slightly rough edge on the silver plastic where it meets the cup-holder/lid. But such nitpicking shows how far Peugeot has come with the 308’s interior. After 900 miles in a week, we still weren’t tired of it.
And so to the subject of space in new Peugeot 308, which is a proper mixed bag of results. Peugeot is keen to shout about its “record” amount of luggage space – 470 litres to be precise. So Peugeot wins the space race.
But as a result, the rear seat passengers are forced into a game of space invaders, with the amount of rear legroom seriously restricted. Even the shortest backseat passengers will be pleading for those in the front to move their seats forward. In doing so, the driver will lose his or her ideal driving position, which can be tricky to get right with the compact steering wheel/raised dials.
It’s made worse by the general cramped feeling in the back, not helped by the low roofline and huge C pillars. There’s no getting around it, Peugeot could potentially lose sales as a result of the rear space.
Peugeot UK played a canny card by sending the 1.6-litre 156 THP turbocharged petrol engine to PetrolBlog for review. It knows how much we rate the quite brilliant engine.
And it doesn’t disappoint in the new Peugeot 308. Eager to rev, wonderfully refined and – by averaging 38mpg across 900 miles of hard driving – reasonably economical. The peak power of 156bhp comes at 6,000rpm, so you do need to push hard to get the best from it, but so smooth and linear is the delivery, it never becomes an issue.
The 1.6-litre THP is likely to be the choice of the enthusiast. It makes the most of the new 308’s strict weight loss diet, with as much as 140kg shaved off the weight of the predecessor. The new car feels more agile. You can certainly feel the benefit of Peugeot’s new EMP2 platform. It bodes well for future models.
Those 18-inch alloy wheels – standard on the Feline – may look fantastic, but there is a trade-off when it comes to the ride quality. The Peugeot 308 can feel unsettled over rough surfaces, with even a humble cat’s eye managing to throw the car off line. The ride – whilst probably fine for readers of PetrolBlog – is also a little on the firm side.
The 17-inch alloys – as experienced during the Peugeot 308 first drive last year – would represent the better choice for all-round performance.
To drive, the Peugeot 308 falls on the side of pleasant rather than exciting. And that’s fine, because the 308 Feline makes no attempt to position itself as a performance car. The compact steering wheel means that only the tiniest of input is required to make the 308 change course. Some drivers won’t like that, but it does help to make the 308 a delightfully engaging car to drive.
It’s also wonderfully composed through the bends, with only the merest hint of body roll and huge levels of grip. Being critical, the overall driving experience does feel rather sterile – too artificial. But as a car to live with on a daily basis, it feels very special.
And ‘special’ is a key word when it comes to the Peugeot 308. It looks special, feels special and does a highly convincing job of feeling like a premium product. Whether the 308 has been festering too long in the doldrums for people to look beyond the badge remains to be seen. But if they can’t, they’ll be missing out.
The pitiful amount of rear legroom and the ride quality associated with the 18-inch alloy wheels are two issues that can’t be ignored. And it’s also worth pointing out that the sat-nav system managed to get itself confused – with the audio instructions disagreeing with the infotainment screen. A case in point was on the M4 – whilst on the way to the launch of the Peugeot RCZ R – where the infotainment screen said ‘exit for the A419’, but the voice and instrument cluster was encouraging us to stick on the M4 and exit at the A34. Teething problems?
But nothing can dampen our enthusiasm for the new Peugeot 308. If the RCZ R is the brand’s best performance car for a couple of decades, then the 308 is arguably its best everyday car for a generation. Ignore the base-spec Access trim levels and hunt down a deal on either an Access+ or Allure model.
Or better still – wait until the much-mooted 308 R or 308 GTi models arrive. Based on the 308 Feline, we have every reason to be optimistic.
Anyone for Golf?
All images © PetrolBlog.