If I didn’t get moving in a few minutes, I was a certainty to miss my flight and that wouldn’t be a good thing if I liked the idea of continued employment with CarAdvice.
But my self-inflicted tardiness was about to get a whole lot more critical, when I switched on the ignition and saw the fuel warning light beaming back at me. That’s the moment when a sense of doom overcomes you and nausea kicks in just for the hell of it.
Had I found myself in most family cars capable of seating seven people, I would have started looking for a new job in Abu Dhabi or gone for a surf and contemplated life, but here’s where diesel engines can literally save one’s career.
Even better was the fact that I was sitting in a Peugeot 308 Touring XSE HDi (RRP $$37,190) and apart from the V8-like velocity this thing delivers when confronted with any degree of incline, fuel consumption is downright miserly and 25 kilometres on a near empty tank, isn’t worth a mention.
You see, Peugeot do small capacity diesel engines better than anybody else on the planet, and so they should. They’ve been building them since 1928 and lead the way in diesel technology for the masses. They’re compact, powerful and sip diesel fuel at an astonishingly slow rate, despite the sports like performance across the range.
Take this humble 308 HDi compact family wagon that has joined the CarAdvice long term fleet, its 2.0-litre turbo-diesel produces just 100kW of power, which is less than many of today’s high-powered motorcycles, but with diesels, power is not so important. What we’re looking for here is that extra low down torque or pulling power, and this car has heaps of the stuff, 320Nm at 2000rpm to be precise.
This means that you can climb steep hills – fast, without the need to punish the poor thing, as you would need to do with many naturally aspirated cars of the same engine capacity. You might also need some noise-cancelling headphones just so that you could hear yourself speak above the wail of the engine.
However, this diesel is quiet too, once you get moving there is less noise than you would get from the 1.6-litre, turbo petrol unit, not quite as smooth, but honestly there isn’t much in it.
Acceleration off the mark is swift with just a hint of turbo lag, but once the rev counter nudges 2000rpm, progress is rapid and the 308 is hard to hold back and a lot of fun behind the wheel.
Put that down to HDi (High-pressure Direct Injection) and common rail technology, which offers a whole range of benefits including less noise and vibration.
After filling up with just on 53 litres of diesel I absolutely hammered the Peugeot to get an idea as to the worst consumption you could possibly get from a tank in a purely urban landscape, and I’m happy to report a range of 542 kilometres. On the next report, I will attempt to drive the car with fuel economy in mind and report the findings.
Peugeot have a long held reputation for building cars that drive well, and not just in a straight line. Its cars handle as well as anything on the road, and for a family wagon like the 308 Touring, that’s one hell of a bonus.
You can punt this diminutive wagon into a series of sharp bends, and there is absolutely no body roll, none whatsoever, and I pushed it hard. The car feels utterly planted, almost sportscar-like it its behaviour. This is not how family wagons normally behave, but I for one, aren’t complaining.
The brakes are in keeping with the superb handling dynamics, perfectly progressive pedal feel and very little brake fade down the Kangaroo Valley decline, which usually has your brake discs on fire with some enthusiastic steering. You forget how good these things go until you get behind the wheel.
The six-speed automatic transmission is a smooth shifting unit, with plenty of ratios to ensure plenty of go in most situations. However, if you need to hold a gear for an overtake, you can flick the shifter to the left and engage the sequential mode, which I use quite frequently.
I suppose after the accolades for handling you’re expecting a harsher than average ride quality from this ‘big’ little Peugeot, but not so. In fact, even more praise must go to the suspension compliance. You barely need to slow down for those annoying speed bumps, and as for those evil little metal versions you find in your local shopping mall, which normally cause a violent reaction to anything but a Rolls Royce Phantom, the 308 Touring just soaks it up without even so much as a clunk.
Then there’s that perfectly weighted steering, a little less assistance than you will have been used to in anything from Asia (Hyundai i30 is the exception), but you’ll enjoy the driver feedback through the steering wheel, more than ever.
If anyone knows the importance of style in the consumer world, the French do. Standing out in the crowd is a prerequisite in France and whether we’re taking shoes, clothes or cars, they seem to blend style and function better than most.
French cars are almost always distinctive, and the 308 is no exception. I happen to like the shape of the Touring over the hatch, it looks more streamlined although, stylistically, they’re very similar.
The current Peugeot corporate nose has grown on me too, but the rear of the car, as on the previous 307 model, seems plain and lacks that same sassy look.
However, that may have something to do with everyday practicality, which this diminutive station wagon has got in spades.
For a start, those additional two seats, which make up the third row, are not only proper comfortable pews (for under 10 years only), but they can be removed in less than a minute.
With only two kids in our family, I have done just that, which has exposed an enormous luggage area, as deep as it is wide. A full size mountain bike and short board are easily consumed, when all rear seats are folded forward.
In fact, the press kit says that there are up to 50 different rear seat configurations and while I have little doubt about that, I won’t be doing a position-by-position audit.
Essentially, you can move or remove each and every rear seat (that includes second and third row pews) to suit any and every known luggage-carrying job you can possibly think of.
The beauty of this system is of course, if we occasionally have to collect my mother-in-law on the way to Sunday Yum Cha (baked beans at home can be the better option), it will take me seconds to install just one of these extra seats so that everyone is comfortable. It’s child-like easy and wonderfully convenient, although it is an optional extra but well worth the $1180 asking price.
Our test car has fabric seats and frankly, with the cold weather well and truly upon us, I’ll take these over the leather option. They’re comfortable, exceptionally supportive, and won’t scorch you in summer or freeze your butt off in winter.
Like most European small cars, the interior appointments have a quality feel and touch to them and Peugeot are ahead of the game in the small car class.
There are metal look highlights everywhere you look inside the 308 Touring, while the centre stack is nicely angled which provides a roomy cabin feel up front.
There are no remote audio buttons on the well-shaped steering wheel and unless the Peugeot salesperson shows you specifically where these oddly placed stalks are located behind the wheel, you simply won’t find them.
You get used to this peculiar design strategy after a while, and I’ve actually come to find it strangely liberating to have a clean and driver-focused steering wheel to grip rather than the overly cluttered variety, which is common place these days.
While the white-faced instrument cluster is a nice sports touch, they make for easy reading at night, which I consider a safety feature given the constant need for speed checks by drivers in Australia.
As for convenience, there are way too many storage areas to list, suffice to say that you will run out of bits and pieces to store in the endless cubby holes located throughout the 308’s cabin.
Winter days and nights are a treat with the standard fit panoramic glass roof, which is exactly as it says; the entire roof is tinted glass, which the kids (and you) will love.
And if the sun gets too hot, just hit the one touch electric button and presto, it’s completely covered in less than 10 seconds.
I can’t be so complimentary with the standard six-speaker stereo unit. I don’t mean the audio bass and clarity, that’s better than average, but in order to use your iPod, you’ll have to open the glove box and buy a special two-pronged RCA jack lead for $29 and that’s annoying in this day and age.
Safety wise, it’s all there, seven air bags, ABS, EBD, EBFD, ESP, automatic door unlocking in an accident, even activation of hazard lights under emergency braking.
I can’t think of a more complete family package than Peugeot’s 308 Touring, it’s a master of all trades and perfect for small families or sports minded singles who want something special.
You can actually climb into your own 308 Touring for as little as $31,590 for the 1.6 XS with automatic transmission but my suggestion is go for the 1.6 XS HDi for $33,590 as that will save you a trip or two to the petrol station while offering more torque than its petrol powered sibling.