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Peugeot 308 First Drive

By raccars Published

Peugeot has completely redesigned the 308 to give it a fighting chance in one of Europe’s most competitive new car sectors. Bigger, lighter, greener and better looking than ever, not only are hopes high, they are justifiably so, too…

Price: From £14,495 (test 1.6 e-HDi 115 Active: £18,695)
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
MPG: 74.3mpg
CO2: 100g/km
On sale: January 2014
Insurance group: TBC

Three UK Peugeot 308 facts

1: Four trims and 11 engine variants will be sold in the UK
2: The greenest 308 averages 91.1mpg and emits 82g/km CO2 – a new record for the sector
3: Retained values are up to 9% better than the outgoing car

What is it?

This is Peugeot’s Volkswagen Golf rival. They all say that, don’t they. Only Peugeot is more serious than most – it’s really eyeing up the high-quality, semi-premium appeal of Europe’s best selling family hatchback… and reckon the 308 has got what it takes to beat it.

It’s been designed from the ground up to do this: unusually for the sector, this really is an all-new car. It’s based on a new, lightweight architecture that Peugeot says saves up to 140kg over the old one. It’s thus sharper and more nimble, faster yet more fuel efficient.

Even so, it’s clear which car the 308 is aiming at, from the level of quality and finish that’s been engineered in. This is its latest model built to the new strategy of taking the brand slightly upmarket and in terms of showroom appeal it’s certainly in with a shot of challenging the Golf.

There are new engines in the line-up, including downsized 1.2-litre turbo petrols, although most will still be sold with the 1.6-litre HDi. Big gains in efficiency mean there’s a big selection of cars emitting less than 100g/km, while some well-stocked trim lines again show the detailing and level of standard equipment needed if Peugeot’s to move the 308 on.

A pretty comprehensive effort at first glance, though. Can the rest of it stack up?

Styling and interior

The Peugeot 308’s exterior styling is a grown up evolution of the look introduced on the neat, pretty 208. It’s more understated but, compared to the old 308, looks in a different class entirely. Peugeot says this car in theory skips a generation, so big are the changes.

The strong shouderlines and squared-off rear end attract the eye, enhanced by those super-long rear side windows. Up front, the new 308 has more substance than the droopy-nose old one, with a high-tech look added by the option of full LED headlights.

It’s the interior that’s the real draw though. Both in terms of appearance and tactility, it’s top notch. It makes a Ford Focus look downmarket, it’s that good. The sector’s finest interior? Many’s the Golf owner that may prefer this…

Not that it’s easy to use at first. The same downsized steering wheel from the Peugeot 208 is fitted: get used to looking over the wheel for the dials, not through it. The centre console ditches most controls for a high tech touchscreen too. It feels modern to use it but it’s not easy at first.

The driving position is much better than before and the very firm seats are supportive and ample. Rear space is better (but not as good as it should be – footroom is too tight), and the boot is much larger than before. Factor in Peugeot’s typically generous spec levels and you’ve something that, on showroom appeal alone, you’d rank as a sector front-runner.

Performance

Drivers of the old Peugeot 308 will be pleasantly surprised by the 1.6-litre HDi turbodiesel they already know so well. It’s just as effective as it’s always been… just, somehow, that bit smoother, faster and more spirit.

Thank lighter weight and better installation for that. It means a 1.6 HDi will be all the engine most need, although the reduced weight does mean the trade-up to the 2.0-litre HDi delivers appreciable extra shove (although the larger engine isn’t as smooth).

New petrol choices are centred around the 1.2-litre units, whose turbochargers (on all but the base engine) mean they work better than you’d expect, while the 1.6-litre turbo is a bit of a hot hatch in disguise. Smooth and refined, it’s got just as much pulling power as it has top-end spark.

Handling

The Peugeot 308 has had a helpful improvement in agility, courtesy of that cut in weight. It grips very well and is a very accomplished machine on all roads; it’ feel stable and reassuring at all times, with very little body roll in corners.

Ride is good too – particularly good, in fact. It’s not as soft as some older Peugeots, but the blend of absorbency and control is excellent, smoothing away rough roads without allowing passengers to float and roll about in their seats.

Newly designed suspension gives a more sophisticated feel too – indeed, the only thing you may not like at first is the feel of steering it, due to that small steering wheel. Trust us, you do get used to it.

Price and value

Peugeot 308 prices start from £14,495, an eye-catchingly low sum for a mainstream family hatchback five-door. This buys a 1.2 VTi 82 Access model; the punchy turbo 1.2 e-THP 110 costs £1,250 more and is worth the extra. The cheapest diesel costs £16,445.

Base Access models don’t get the cool central touchscreen and, although it’s a bit fiddly to use, we still think it’s worth choosing. The minimum trim is thus the Active – which, impressively, actually comes with standard sat nav! Allure adds more tech equipment and the range-topping Feline includes standout style features, but we’d be happy with the Active.

The choice Peugeot 308 is thus the punchy 115hp 1.6 e-HDi 115 Active: at £18,695 and with CO2 emissions of just 95g/km CO2, we really can’t find much to fault with the offer. With prices and value like this available, Peugeot deserves to win fans…

Fuel economy

As we’ve hinted, another benefit of light weight is improved fuel consumption. CO2 emissions as low as 82g/km for the BlueHDi diesels are eye-catching, but it’s the fact most 1.6-litre HDis emit less than 100gkm CO2 that really impresses us.

The regular 1.6 e-HDi 115 that we tested officially averages 74.3mpg, which is small car fuel economy from a swift, refined car from the class above. Even that punchy 1.2-litre turbo petrol can average nearly 59mpg, and for those who fancy some hot hatch like pace, the 1.6 THP 156’s 48.7mpg average economy will ensure they don’t have to pay for it.

Verdict: Peugeot 308

The new Peugeot 308 is a real step on that the firm deserves to succeed with. It’s leagues ahead of the old one and, in some areas, vies with the best in what’s a very competitive sector.

If you've always bought a Golf but fancy something with, dare we say it, a bit more interior quality and sophistication, the 308 may well be worth a look. Bet you didn't expect us to be saying that…

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