The Skinny: Talk about coming out of left field – Peugeot’s 308 has absolutely surprised us for its capability and appeal. A ‘Golf clone’, it has real verve at the wheel and a very smart, snug interior. If it had Volkswagen’s ad budget, it would be galloping out of dealerships.
Peugeot has added new drivetrains and new models so there are plenty of pickings for the fussy Francophile. Two problems: one, the competition is fierce; two, the Peugeot brand is a bit invisible so buyers may not be aware of this very competent car, nor that it should be added to their ‘short list’.
That’s reflected in modest sales for the capable 308. But, with a more enthusiastic distributor behind the brand, and a new capped-price service program, the time is ripe for the jump to something foreign.
Vehicle style: Small hatchback
Price: $31,842 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/240Nm 1.6 4cyl petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.5 l/100km | tested: 7.8 l/100km
You may think buying French makes you stylish or trendy or even sexy, but seriously, you’re just different. I know. I used to have a Peugeot 404.
But behind the badge, Peugeots today are in fact little different. There’s an engine at the front, six-speed automatic transmission, a wheelbase around 2700mm and five doors. Could be anything.
What sets the 308 apart is the way it’s bolted together and the outcome on the road.
There’s a heavy weighting to occupant relaxation in the seats and the suspension. Yet the 308 hatch can be pushed surprisingly quickly through the corners, its gentle body-sway more about acknowledging ride comfort than sports-car handling.
The quirky nature of its ancestors has gone.
Sales are ok, but yet to hit anywhere near the potential of the car. It will just take a bit of time. In the meantime, pull up a chair, slip into a crisp Chablis and read this. You may be converted.
Quality: For a long time, Peugeot had durability that didn’t necessarily equate to quality. They were rugged, dependable and made of materials that came off the “practical” shelf and not the one marked “attractive”.
Then came the 1980s and quality was, to be kind, rubbish.
Now, thankfully, the company appears to be back on track. The 308 is well-built, has a pleasant blend of tactile fabrics and plastics, looks subtly stylish and works just as well as its appearance suggests.
There is a neatness to the cabin that has some of the pragmatism of the Golf, yet is more homely. Notably, there‘s less of the matte black and more of the restrained colours.
The central monitor is flanked by oversized vents and the alloy-coloured surround adds a bit of class. The fluted leather seats with their immaculate stitching lifts the interior to prestige levels but, sadly, it’s a $3100 option on the Allure.
But the 308 is still not perfect. The glaring hole is the reverse camera – it has none, though all its rivals include it. No excuse here and Peugeot admits fault and says it’s soon to rectify this.
Comfort: It’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Citroen and Peugeot once led the world in comfort, the former with a gas-over-hydraulic fluid suspension system and the latter with long-travel coil springs and perfectly-valved dampers.
The 308 is, however, a compromise.
It tries to return that suppleness of the 1970s and 1980s models, but has to appease owners who enjoy a fang through the mountains. Or suburbs.
So the 308 finds a line down the middle and actually does a good job.
Yes, there are some low-speed niggles, and, with four adults aboard, potholes come through the rear suspension towers like a midnight road train through Albury.
But the seats are soft and inviting, their adjustment varied and in concert with the tilt-telescopic movement of the steering wheel, create a near-ideal driving position.
Controls are easy to use and within easy reach; from an occupant’s perspective, it’s a hard one to dislike.
Equipment: This is a key sales zone and the 308 is not lacking. The lack of a reverse camera is its main glitch. Standard features include a six-speaker audio with touch screen, Bluetooth connectivity and even a CD player. The monitor contains audio, climate, telephone and satellite navigation functions with only the reluctant telephone link proving annoying.
Outside, the Allure has 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/55R17 tyres and a space-saver beneath the boot’s floor. Optional is 18-inch wheels with low-profile tyres, adding $700 to the bill.
Storage: Despite being smaller than the Golf, the Peugeot has a bigger cargo area. The boot accepts 435 litres with all seats in place (the Golf is 380 litres) and expands to 1274 litres when the split-fold seats are cranked forward (compare that with Golf at 1260 litres).
It’s a pity that the seats don’t quite fold flat. The hinged section of the seats sits proud of the cargo floor by about 100mm, so cargo can’t be slid easily inside. But the tailgate opens wide for good access.
Cabin space isn’t brilliant, with a small centre-console bin with a lid, an even smaller glovebox and slim door-pockets that can take a water bottle.
The single cupholder in the front is deep and will swallow a plastic coffee, knock off its thin plastic lid in the process, then jam its circumference into the hole making it near impossible to withdraw.
The two rear cupholders are the opposite, being shallow and smaller in diameter. (I dissolved into a state of coffee withdrawal.)
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Before we turn the key (that’s right, no push-button here), a small history lesson: the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine in this car is the result of a joint venture between PSA (Peugeot-Citroen’s parent) and BMW.
You’d have seen it before in the second-generation Mini. Peugeot liked it so much it retained it for its upper-spec models.
In the Allure, it pumps 110kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm delivered flat from a modest 1400rpm right through to 4400rpm.
That torque is responsible for a crisp 0-100km/h sprint of 8.5 seconds, just behind the Golf 110TSI at 8.2 seconds.
It also makes the 308 such an easy car to drive and tickles the six-speed automatic, allowing fuel consumption to slide down to a wallet-friendly 6.5 l/100km of 95RON premium petrol.
There’s an “S” button just behind the gear-shift to add sparkle to the engine’s response and to extend the transmission’s upshift points.
This is a car you never become unhappy to drive and one of the reasons is nothing to do with the engine. It’s the unusually low placement of the tiny, gokart-like steering wheel and the top-dash location of the instrument binnacle.
The effect is a clear, unobstructed view of the road ahead and of the twin-dial gauges – with the clockwise speedo offset by the anti-clockwise rotation of the tacho needle.
Refinement: The “new” 308 has been around for a couple of years and has already impressed with its taut chassis and rigid body.
The test car, already with a few thousand kilometres under its Michelins, was free of creaks and rattles.
The perceived quality of the cabin and the fit and finish of the trim is very good.
This impression is reinforced by the smoothness of the drivetrain, low wind noise and the compliance of the suspension at freeway speeds.
Ride and Handling: In that compromise between ride comfort and handling, the 308 delivers a nice balance. The relaxed drivetrain is one reason why this is an easy drive, but it’s also the accuracy of the way the suspension guides the wheels around a bend and over a rut.
The 308 Allure weighs 1228kg, making it one of the lightest in its class. That ‘lightness’, and willing engine, means the 308 is enjoyably nimble when fired at a curly road.
Even the steering feel is very good for an electric-assisted system, with barely any vagueness, low-ratio gearing and plenty of feel.
Technicalities aside, it’s a lot of fun.
Braking: The 308 gets four-wheel disc brakes and the usual mandatory electronic brake aids for strong, progressive braking.
The park brake is electric, a small metal lever behind the gear shift lever that disposes with the space-consuming mechanical handbrake.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Peugeot 308 scored 35.82 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: The 308 Allure comes with six airbags, stability and traction control, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution and front and rear park sensors – but no reverse camera. The Allure Premium model does, however, get the camera as standard.
In addition, the Allure has brake emergency display, LED headlights and daytime running lights, an auto mode for the headlights and wipers, heated mirrors that also fold, and a tyre pressure monitor. The spare wheel is a space saver.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km. Peugeot has a capped-price service program that costs $1405 for three years, a bit more expensive than Volkswagen’s $1246 and higher than the Mazda SP25 at $924.
The 308 has a slightly lower resale value that is estimated at 50 percent of the purchase price after three years. This compares with the Golf at 58 percent, the Mazda 3 at 56 percent and the Kia Cerato at 52 percent. However, the 308 is a new model and adjustments could be made to this resale value over time.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline ($32,990) – The small-car benchmark is so close to the 308 that they could be clones. The Golf is a great ride with a superb chassis, but it rates poorly for breakdowns, particularly gearbox and electrical problems.
The 110TSI claims a mere 5.4 l/100km and has a solid list of features including reverse camera, seven airbags, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery and satellite navigation. (see Golf reviews)
Mazda 3 SP25 GT ($31,790) – As popular as noses and with good reason. It’s the most powerful one here at 138kW/250Nm and claiming 6.1L/100km. It is also the longest but the reverse camera and parking sensors are at hand in tight conditions. The Mazda has a 308-litre boot.
Features include six airbags, leather upholstery, bi-xenon headlights, satellite navigation and 18-inch alloy wheels. (see Mazda3 reviews)
Kia Cerato SLi ($31,990) – Don’t discount the Kia, this is a high-quality product with an attractive seven-year warranty, roadside assistance and seven-year capped price servicing. The Cerato has a 129kW/209Nm 2.0-litre aspirated engine claiming 7.4 l/100km.
Features include a reverse camera, leather seats with heating for the first row and ventilation for the driver, full-size spare wheel (the only one here) and sat-nav. The boot volume is 385 litres. (see Cerato reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
On its own, Peugeot’s 308 is a very good hatch. It’s eager to drive, looks stylish, is comfortable, well equipped and has a point of difference in a car market that has a lot of sameness.
The hiccup is the competition. The Golf is great to drive – less so to own – the new Ford Focus is a real ripper, the Mazda3 rings of quality and the smartly-styled Cerato is solid buying and quite a good drive.
And the list goes on.
The 308 desperately needs to be sampled. You will like its price and quality-feel, and absolutely love its gokart handling.
This is a car you can easily fall head over heels for. Would I? I’d miss my coffee but, yes, I would.
MORE: Peugeot News and Reviews
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