The new Peugeot 308 has cruised into the medium sized hatchback segment with a smart new look and the European Car of the Year crown for 2014. It certainly has the looks to compete at the very top of this segment but will we want to drive it?
The 308 is a design triumph for Peugeot. It has the sort of understated, timeless style that works so well for German rivals. It sits lower than the car it replaces giving it a natural sporty look and the test car looked particularly well finished in white. The distinct front grille and headlamp clusters are unmistakably Peugeot and the “lion claw” effect rear lights are an interesting feature at the back of the car.
Inside it is all about innovation and the 308 features Peugeot’s unique driving position where you look over the wheel at the instrument dials rather than through the wheel. The dash is refreshingly minimalist and a 9.7” touchscreen on all but entry level models removes the need for a lot of buttons. The materials used inside the cabin look good and give the car a feeling of quality.
Space up front is good as you would expect from a car of this size. Space in the rear is not class leading but still perfectly acceptable. Useful little storage bins are dotted around the cabin and there are door pockets on the inside of all four doors. There’s one cupholder between the two front seats and two cupholders fitted in the central armrest in the rear. The boot is a generous 470 litres and has a flattish low loading sill and a full size spare wheel included.
The test car was fitted with a 1.6 litre eHDi diesel producing 115bhp. Peugeot knows a thing or two about producing good diesels and this one has enough flexibility and power not to leave you scrambling around the gears all the time looking for the oomph. The 308 is a supremely comfortable car and rides really well over poor surfaces. The 1.6 litre 115bhp diesel engine choice would be ideal for a driver who needs a car for long motorway sprints. It’s still quiet and smooth enough to make it a pleasure to drive around town. The 308 is lighter than the car it replaces so it feels much more agile with good body control around corners. Sharper steering with more feel would be appreciated as the feedback coming from the wheels to the steering wheel was inconsistent at times.
The 1.6 litre 115bhp diesel is fitted as standard with fuel saving start stop technology. The official economy figure is a whopping 74.3mpg but in real world driving you will definitely get over 60mpg. CO2 emissions are just 98g/km.
Cruise control, air conditioning and Bluetooth are standard on all models. The test car was in middle of the road Active trim and it has all the kit you could ever need including programmable cruise control, four electric windows, fog lamps, alloys, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, hill start assist, driver’s lumbar support and automatic dual zone air conditioning as well as the 9.7” touchscreen.
The touchscreen is like a smartphone at the centre of the dash and controls temperature, fan settings, telephone, multimedia and vehicle settings. Touchscreens can be controversial but I got used to the one in the 308 very quickly. Switching between screens is a little bit tedious on the move but with the audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, there really is no need for that.
The 308 is a huge step forward for Peugeot and in terms of looks and quality of finish, it’s a very convincing package. The level of equipment you get for your money is also impressive and the 1.6 litre 115bhp diesel engine delivers on power and performance. The Ford Focus still trumps it for overall driver engagement but for a stylish, alternative choice in this segment, the 308 makes a good argument for your money.
What happened when I pitched the Peugeot 308 against key rivals, the Ford Focus and Honda Civic? Read my diesel hatchback triple test here.
Model tested: Peugeot 308 1.6 eHDi Active
Price: €24,390 (Range starts at €18,990)
Engine: 1.6 litre four cylinder turbo diesel
0-100km/h: 10.2 seconds
Economy: 74.3mpg (3.8/100km)
CO2 emissions: 98g/km
Tax band: A2 (€180 per year)