What is it?
The new Peugeot 308, fresh on the scene in the UK. It’s a car with a very fulsome engine range, largely because PSA is right in the middle of the switchover from ‘Euro-V’ to ‘Euro-VI’ emissions-compliant motors, but clarity will come in time.
We’ve had test experience of the mid-range 114bhp e-HDi turbodiesel, and will wait until thespring 2014 to try the full-house 148bhp 2.0-litre BlueHDi and the remarkable forthcoming 118bhp, 1.6-litre, 82g/km oil-burner – the latter a car with the potential to show a VW Golf BlueMotion a thing or two on fuel-sipping.
For now, we’re sampling the 91bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel – the car that, in ‘Access’ trim, provides a sub-100g/km, £16.5k oil-burning entry point to the 308 range. Our test car is in slightly richer ‘Active’ spec, but still looks good value at under £18k.
What’s it like?
Classy, upmarket and very pleasant indeed to spend time in. If habitual critics of French cars spent two minutes in this cabin, the greatly improved material quality will certainly make a good proportion of them think again.
The 308’s is a sculptural, substantial and swish interior with a central colour touchscreen interface that has permitted a major decluttering of the centre stack. Even lower-middle spec versions get expensive-looking trims and generous equipment levels (sat-nav as standard on a sub-£18k car, anyone?). Rear cabin space isn’t quite as generous and the seats could be more comfortable, but you get a big boot for your money, too.
Mechanical refinement is the 308’s next most convincing attribute – even this 91bhp turbodiesel is hushed and smooth compared to most like-for-like powerplants – and after that, the car’s quiet and pliant motorway ride distinguishes it best.
It’s a compliance, like so many, that is best delivered at the cheaper end of the model spectrum. Peugeot’s modus operandi on chassis tuning automatically gives cars with heavier and more powerful engines, bigger wheels and more fitted equipment slightly firmer suspension, and so full-house versions of the 308 not only produce more road noise, but ride less calmly, too.
But our Active-spec test car had an absorbent primary ride over low-frequency bumps, and while it lacked the fluency, wheel travel and subtle damper response of Peugeots of old when dealing with smaller and sharper intrusions, it still merits a rank among the most comfortable hatchbacks in the current class.
Performance suffers with poor turbo response at times, but feels entirely adequate otherwise, and the car’s handling is more than decent too, but the latter is the dynamic facet most likely to divide opinion. Through a downsized steering wheel, the car feels direct and wieldy at low speeds just as a 208 does, but has inconsistent levels of steering assistance and only sporadic feedback. It’s also easy to overwork the front contact patches in greasy conditions at fairly high speeds, and to bring about understeer sooner than you might have otherwise.
Should I buy one?
A full road test is in the pipeline for those who’d like greater detail. For now, we can at least report that, in more modest trim levels, the 308 rides on UK roads quite well, has none of the pedal offset problems in right-hand drive that Peugeots have suffered with in the past, and in the main feels like the sophisticated European contender to put Peugeot back in the critical vanguard of the hatchback class.
Perhaps not right at the head of the field, it’s true – but closer to it than it has been since the departure of the 306.
Peugeot 308 1.6 HDi 92 FAP Active
Price £17,895; 0-62mph 11.3sec; Top speed 113mph; Economy 78.5mpg; CO2 95g/km; Kerbweight 1340kg; Engine 4cyls, 1560cc, turbodiesel; Power 91bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 173lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 5-speed manual
What is it?