What's Hot: Sublime chassis, beautiful interior, few vices.
What's Not: Missing cupholder, marginally more costly than key competition
X-FACTOR: Whether hatch or wagon, the new 308 is a stellar small car that deserves your attention.
Vehicle style: Small hatch and wagon
Price: $21,990 to $37,490
Engines: 96kW/230Nm 3cyl petrol, 110kW/370Nm 4cyl diesel
Trans: 6spd manual, 6spd auto
By Peugeot’s own admission, the outgoing 'T7' 308 was fighting an uphill battle.
It’s been the oldest product in the small car segment for a long while, and has also been handicapped by a starting price well above its competitors ($27,490, for those playing at home).
Not only that, but though the T7 308’s replacement launched in Europe late last year, production delays for automatic variants meant Peugeot Australia has had to wait until now to launch the new 308.
But thank the heavens, for it’s here at last - and it’s mighty good.
And having taken top spot in the European Car Of The Year awards, small car buyers now have a compelling reason to peek into a Peugeot showroom.
The new 308 range will be launched in two phases, with the three-cylinder 1.2 PureTech engines and a 2.0 HDi diesel the first out of the gate, followed by 1.6 petrol variants - including more wagons and a sporty GT model.
We travelled to France to check out the 308 on its home turf. From our first taste of the 2015 308, we found much to like, and little to dislike.
The people of Europe recently elected the T9 308’s interior as being the most beautiful on the market, and we can see why.
The quality of materials is good, fit and finish is excellent, the design is clean and the high-mounted instrument cluster not only helps keep your eyes up, it looks great too.
A simplified radio and gaping hole in the centre console spoils the look for the base model 308 Access, but every other variant scores a neat 7-inch colour touchscreen surrounded by capacitive shortcut keys for accessing audio, climate, navigation and setup functions.
The screen gives the 308’s dashboard a sleek look, but it’s also a source of some criticism.
By removing physical buttons from the centre stack and making them only accessible from the screen, it can become frustrating when you need to keep an eye on the map, but also want to change the radio station or adjust the temperature.
However, the high-mounted insturment cluster is the opposite: a perfect example of function and form co-existing in harmony.
Forward vision is improved by having the instruments sit above the wheel rim, rather than within it. Some may get confused, but take it from us - with the wheel at its proper position, every dial is perfectly visible.
And the wheel, it must be mentioned, is outstanding.
It’s the same size as the 208’s tiller, and is the perfect size and shape. Its compact diameter also makes the 308 feel a touch sportier than the average small hatch.
And after driving many hundreds of kilometers in the 308, we can attest to the comfort of its seats. The cushioning is spot on, and the massage function in the higher-spec models is a godsend on long stints.
The back seat is comfortable, though legroom isn’t the most generous in the segment. There’s also a lack of rear face-level air outlets.
Another thing that’s conspicuously absent is a second cupholder for front-seat occupants. We’d hoped that Peugeot would learn its lesson from the previous 308, but it appears not.
First world problems indeed, but it’s hard to overlook when every competitor offers two cupholders up front.
On The Road
A 96kW/230Nm turbocharged 1.2 litre petrol three-cylinder is responsible for powering much of the range (at least until the arrival of the 1.6 petrol next year), and it’s one of the best three-cylinder engines we’ve sampled to date.
Smooth, eager to rev and fairly linear, the 1.2 e-THP three-pot also sounds pretty rorty.
It takes at least 3000rpm on the dial (which spins anti-clockwise, by the way) for it to deliver its best, but even at low rpm the 1.2 proves tractable enough.
The standard six-speed manual is a delight to use thanks to a slick gate and light, easily-modulated clutch, but the six-speed auto that’s standard on all models bar the base Access is even better.
On the mixture of highways, rural backroads and city streets that made up the French drive route, the automatic impressed us with its resistance to hunting, fast kickdown performance and responsive manual shift mode.
And when paired with the 110kW/370Nm 2.0 litre HDi diesel engine, the extra torque allows the 308 to shrug off steep hills and cruise at high speed with ease.
The chassis is absolutely superb.
We spent some time in the European-market naturally-aspirated 1.2, whose skinny tyres, modest power and relative lack of grip revealed a chassis that is surprisingly responsive and neutral.
The electric power-steering is sharp and without the vagueness of some other electrically-assisted systems, and the 308 hooks into turns crisply with minimal body roll.
It rides and handles beautifully too. On the smaller diameter wheels it’s supple enough to absorb big lumps in the asphalt, while even models shod with 18-inch alloys have good compliance.
As far as how it drives, the 308 ticks all the right boxes, and none of the wrong ones.
ANCAP Rating: The T9 308 has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Six airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist are standard across the 308 range.
TMR First Drive Verdict
With the transition from dowdy T7 to the fresh-faced T9 generation, the Peugoet 308 has undergone a radical transformation from ho-hum hatchback, to something you’d happily shop against a Volkswagen Golf.
There are compromises in the interior (a shortage of cupholders being one of them), but on the whole the new 308 is a sharp and enticing package.
It drives beautifully, looks fantastic, and has no small amount of French flair to make it stand out in traffic.
There are some weaknesses though. A reversing camera isn’t standard across the range, and the base model 308 Access misses out on reverse-parking sensors.
Peugeot says buyers at that end of the market don’t place as high a level of importance on that kind of equipment.
We're not so sure. With so many competitors adopting such technology as standard - and the 308 at a price premium over most other small hatches - it would be good to see the French brand follow suit.
But that aside, Peugeot has a winner. The automaker may be ambitious in putting the likes of the VW Golf and Mazda3 in its sights, but we reckon the new 308 has the right stuff to go head-to-head with either.
Of course, a more comprehensive local test will tell us the full story, so stay tuned.
Note: Tony O'Kane travelled to France as a guest of Peugeot.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 308 Access Hatch - 1.2 petrol manual - $21,990
- 308 Access Hatch - 1.2 petrol auto - $23,990
- 308 Active Hatch - 1.2 petrol auto - $27,340
- 308 Allure Hatch - 1.2 petrol auto - $30,490
- 308 Allure Hatch - 2.0 diesel auto - $34,790
- 308 Allure Touring - 2.0 diesel auto - $37,490
Vehicles due end Q1 2015:
- 308 Allure Hatch 1.6 petrol auto - TBC
- 308 Allure Touring 1.6 petrol auto - TBC
- 308 Allure Premium Hatch 1.6 petrol auto - TBC
- 308 GT Hatch 1.6 petrol manual - TBC
- 308 GT Hatch 2.0 diesel auto - TBC