It’s not been an easy few years for Peugeot in the family car sector.
Those of us old enough to remember the boxy 309 will think fondly of it as a slightly more stable version of the much celebrated 205 hatchback and the 306 had fans all over the world – not least from its motorsports showings.
The 307 was a sharp fall from grace though, despite a European Car of the Year award, and the first bite at a 308 model – little more than a facelifted 307 – also fell flat.
This all-new 308 has precious little to do with its predecessor except the name, and that’s only due to a new Peugeot standard naming system which sees cars for emerging markets ending in -1, while major markets’ cars get an -8 suffix.
Has Peugeot hit the mark this time round, or are we doomed to another six years of mediocrity?
There’s really only a limited amount one can do with a traditional hatchback-shaped family car and from most angles you’d have a hard time picking the 308 out from its peers. That said there are a few attractive little details that, once seen, are hard to miss.
For a start it wears Peugeot’s new corporate nose, and it does so distinctly better than its smaller 108 and 208 brethren. This face, it seems, suits the larger end of the Peugeot range – we also like how it looks on the RCZ we reviewed last week. The mid-headlight bump is delineating too and provides a welcome break from the large trapezoidal units favoured by mainstream rivals.
It’s more of the same at the back with a kind of staid handsomeness. There’s a neat tie-in between the ridge in the middle of the rear lights and the chunky swage line that breaks up the side of the car, though this disappears into a seemingly random point in the front wheel arch – it would have been nice to see it roll into the top instead.
Those striking alloy wheels are a nice touch and come as standard on the Feline trim tested here, though at 18 inches they’re something you might want to consider carefully when it comes to a ride quality payoff.
It’s a study in minimalism in the front of the 308, with a very odd-looking centre stack almost entirely devoid of buttons. There’s a handful of essential switches – including those for the hazard lights and rear screen de-mister – and a completely out-of-place audio volume button, but the majority of other controls are relocated to the large LCD screen above it.
This works well if you’re reasonably tech savvy and can appropriately guess which functions sit in which submenu, but if you’ve successfully avoided the Noughties tech revolution, it’ll be absolutely baffling. You also can’t do two things at once, such as turning on the air-conditioning and switching off that awful Taylor Swift song, because you’ll need to hop between menus. One massive plus point goes to the angle of the screen though – it’s tilted towards the driver by about ten degrees and this makes a world of difference for clarity and operation.
Space all round is fine but not class-leading. There’s enough head and legroom for everyone – even the unreasonably sized – for most journeys but it’s likely you’ll want to sit up front for longer journeys. A child seat is easily accommodated, but it’s well within kicking distance with an averagely sized driver’s seating position, so it’s best put behind the passenger.
The half-Alcantara trim interior is pretty special but all of the materials in the cabin are of a fairly high quality in any case, so even if you’re not up for the expense of a top specification model you shouldn’t be disappointed.
The boot is, like the rest of the interior, a fair size for the class and the only way you’ll struggle to fit a week’s shopping in is if you have a larger family than the car can accommodate. There’s a useful ski hatch in the middle of the rear seat to allow longer items to poke through from the boot, along with a traditional 60:40 folding rear bench. Less impressive is, again, the glovebox which isn’t even big enough for the car’s manual.
Given how disappointing the 307 and previous 308 were to drive, the new car is a breath of fresh air. While other cars in the class have hot models that are more satisfying to poke down a country lane, there aren’t many models with ordinary engines that come close. There’s a little hint of understeer (when the front wheels push wide in fast corners) if you ask too much, too quickly of it, but the electronic stability programme will keep you safe – it reacts quickly to (unintentional or intentional) hooligan behaviour.
The ride quality isn’t bad either, although those attractive 18-inch alloys do make matters a little stiffer than they ought to be. Motorways are effortlessly and comfortably dealt with though – it’s a pretty neat companion whatever road you’re on.
One key feature of the 308’s cabin is the tiny steering wheel – it’s about the size of the wheels you’d use if you were a keen player of driving computer games. It makes every journey feel that little bit more special, but it’s not without drawbacks. It can be quite difficult to adjust to a comfortable position without obscuring the lovely counter-rotating dials, you’ll need a bit more effort when you’re dawdling about a car park and if you’re on a long motorway run you won’t be able to rest your elbow on the door and still hold the wheel unless you have two-foot long forearms.
The car we tested is one of the new generation of three-cylinder turbocharged petrols, the 1.2 eTHP 130. This produces, as the name would suggest, 130PS (128hp in real money) and 230Nm (170lb ft) and in a car this size that’s plenty. On paper figures suggest a 0-60mph sprint in under 10 seconds and a 127mph top speed and while we didn’t get a chance to test either of those things it proved a great performer both through the gears and accelerating in gear.
The engine provides enough acceleration for a spot of overtaking and it makes a sweetly gruff little sound when you rev it – it’s almost V6 like.
However, despite being given the best opportunity to live up to its claimed economy figures, we didn’t get anywhere near. The official 57.6mpg combined rating suggests a range of 670 miles from a tank of mixed driving and even with a pretty long drive away from stop-start traffic we were nearly out of juice at 450 miles – that’s just 39mpg.
Value for Money
This Feline model sits at the top of the 308 range, and it costs just over £21k before the optional extras that were fitted, such as the panoramic glass roof. It’s actually pretty good value considering the quality of the interior, the sweetly potent engine and the smart infotainment system. Even at £24k with all of the options fitted, there’s nothing you’d feel wanting for.
Still, if you can do without some of the less necessary things we think you can find better value further down the range, and the Allure model’s standard equipment list is particularly… well, alluring.
The 308 is easily forgotten about in a part of the car market populated by big names from Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen particularly. In truth this is partly of Peugeot’s own doing thanks to the tediousness of the 307 and the previous 308, but to skip over the latest 308 when picking your new family car would be to make a mistake.
Virtually every competitor in this sector makes a compromise in one or more areas in order to be the very best at something, to aim for a unique selling point over its rivals. The 308 is a rare exception – it isn’t the best in class for anything that it does, but it’s second best in class for just about everything that it does. As one of the most consistently good cars out there, it’s well worth a look before you set your cash down elsewhere.