With fresh styling, exceptional ride and handling, plenty of practicality and strong performance, the 308 is the perfect excuse for a French daily driver
2012 Peugeot 308 Active Hatch Petrol: 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo with six-speed auto transmission, 115kW/240Nm. $31,490 (Manufacturer's List Price)
Any idea how many 308s Peugeot sold up to September this year, remembering the company only launched the car in 2007 and has recently released the first revision of the model? The answer is one million.
It’s a pretty good effort, and after driving around in the latest Peugeot 308 hatch for the past week, Peugeot Australia will need to shore up its supply, because my guess is that they’ll sell a whole lot more 308s based on the new styling effort alone.
Gone is the gaping mouth that critics thought resembled the giant plankton-eating whale shark, although I saw it as a typically avant-garde design from Peugeot’s in-house stylists.
That said, if I had the choice, I’d be going with the new design in a heartbeat, as it still retains the ‘oh so French’ styling of the previous 308, but at the same time it’s also non-polarising and downright attractive.
It retains the floating grille, but the central intake is smaller and more refined. The new 308 appears wider from both ends, but in fact the overall dimensions are exactly the same. You’ll also notice there are fewer accentuating lines on the new skin for improved aerodynamics and the LED daytime running lights round off the car’s premium look.
Apart from the cleaner lines, there’s another significant update to the 308, but only noticeable at first glance to the more serious Peugeot aficionado. It’s the latest lion symbol that will more than likely grace the next decade of Peugeot grilles. The redesigned 'king of the jungle' emblem might well be considered avant-garde too; certainly it’s more curvaceous and more contemporary than the previous iteration. Peugeot has been using the lion symbol on its production cars ever since it launched the Type 3 in 1906. On the latest 308, the lion sits on a black enamel base with a chrome bead, which we first saw on the Peugeot RCZ sports coupe and the new 508.
The rear of the 308 looks less frumpy than the previous model, due mostly to a smart chrome line above the logo that does that wonders for the rear end. There’s more chrome marking out a black diffuser of sorts too, which if finished with chrome edging for the stylised exhaust outlets. All in all, it’s much cleaner look and exactly what was needed if Peugeot wants to open up sales of the 308 to a broader market.
Inside the 308, it’s hard to notice any significant changes, but in my opinion there wasn’t a lot wrong with the previous model. The entire dash is covered in soft touch material and there are plenty of faux metal highlights used on the trim to give the car a premium look and feel.
There is, however, some cheaper-grade plastics used around the instrument stalks on the steering wheel hub and glove box area, but that’s not uncommon in the small-car class. What is disappointing is that the centre stack has been largely left untouched. Despite what I said earlier, it would have been nice to see higher quality materials used here instead of the metal look surface, which is in need of a refresh.
Like with all Peugeots, the seats are superb and that goes for the fabric-upholstered versions too. It would be an injustice not to call these pews ‘sports’ seats, as the level of side and seat-base bolster is better than those in some of the more performance-oriented cars we have driven. The same goes for the leather clad three-spoke steering wheel, which is beautifully tactile and decidedly sporty. Don’t expect to find the normally confusing array of remote buttons on this tiller. It’s not that this level of 308 doesn’t come with that functionality, it’s just that Peugeot likes to hide them away in stalks behind the wheel, which takes some getting used to. The rationale behind the idea is that it’s safer, given you operate the controls through touch and feel rather than having to look at the steering wheel to alter the volume, change tracks, or operate the cruise control.
In the mid-spec variant in the 308 model range, you can expect a large inventory of creature comforts and kit on board the Active petrol turbo variant. Features include one-touch electric windows with anti-pinch (that’s all four windows), electronic parking assistance for the rear (optional up front), heated folding door mirrors, location of car via an audible ‘plip’, quality audio system with six speakers and Bluetooth phone and music streaming, dual zone climate control with air conditioned glove box, pollen and charcoal filters, auto on headlights and wipers as well as auto-dimming rear vision mirror, and that’s just the highlights.
The options list isn’t overly extensive on the 308, nor are they what I would call expensive. Take the panoramic glass roof, it’s a winner with kids of any age and at $1000 it’s pretty good value for money, especially given the full length electric blind. You might also want to upgrade to 17-inch alloys (from 16s); that will cost you $350 - again, great value.
It might be classed in the small car segment, but like many such cars, the 308 can comfortably transport four adults in comfort, or five not so comfortably. The ‘semi-tall’ architecture of the 308 ensures that passengers have a tonne of headroom and there’s decent legroom in the rear to provide comfort for those longer family trips. There's no shortage of boot space either along with a wide aperture and plenty of depth.
While the latest 308 is both stylish and well appointed, these are not the only reasons why you would put a Peugeot 308 on your shopping list along with it’s closest European competitors. With Peugeot, especially in the hatch department, it’s as much about the experience behind the wheel as it is with any other aspect of the car. In fact, until the 308 was first released in 2007, it could be said that Volkswagen’s iconic Golf didn’t have a competitor in the premium small car class. At least not when it came to ride, handling and general performance, it didn’t.
Let’s start with the engine shall we. Don’t concern yourself that it’s only a 1.6-litre petrol and that it’s going to be a struggle climbing those steeper inclines or overtaking on the highway. Just keep telling yourself that under the bonnet sits a version of the engine that powers the MINI Cooper S. There’s plenty of punch from the 1.6-litre turbo despite producing 115kW of power. There’s also 240Nm of torque from 1400rpm, so keep your right foot planted and it feels like a hot hatch. There’s a bit of lag if you jump on the throttle, so it's best to ease the power down before you bury the right foot.
The optional six-speed auto is a smooth-shifting unit that will quickly find top gear in the interest of reducing your fuel bill. Drive it with some intent and this transmission will understand the need to hold the lower gear ratios longer before shifting up. You can also use the power button, but I found more driver engagement from using the sequential shift function which works quite well as the shifts themselves seem faster than in the previous model.
Naturally, not all 308 owners will want to drive their cars with such enthusiasm. In fact, most will be looking for the best possible compromise between fuel consumption and performance, which Peugeot offers in spades. All diesel and petrol engines in the 308 range are rated as Euro 5 and as such, offer the best of both worlds. The 1.6-litre turbo with auto transmission will return a combined fuel consumption of just 7.4L/100km and emissions of 171g/km. Those numbers are reduced significantly if you go with the six-speed manual box (6.6L/100km and 153g/km).
If strong performance out of small engines is one of the technologies that Peugeot has perfected over the years, another of its cars' principle attributes is how they go around corners and handle the bumps; both of which they do very, very well.
From the moment you turn in to your first corner in the 308, you’ll understand the very essence of that well-worn phrase ‘good road-holding’. The steering isn’t overly sharp or sensitive, but the car goes exactly where you point it. Moreover, it feels utterly planted through the bends. That’s down to the suspension tuning talents of Peugeot engineers and the added benefit of an average 25kg weight loss program across the 308 line-up. There’s also a nice weight and feel to the steering too, right from dead centre to lock that stiffens up appropriately at speed. There’s not a huge amount of power assistance for parking speeds compared with some Japanese and Korean cars, but it’s certainly not uncomfortable.
I’m not so supportive of Peugeot’s changeover to tyres with low rolling resistance from the superb Michelin Pilot Sport 3 rubber that the previous model 308 was shod with. It’s not that they lack any grip on the tarmac, on the contrary, there’s plenty of that, but there’s a decidedly dull feeling from them over bumps. They’re just don’t provide quite the same degree of pliancy that you get from the standard, but less green, variety of tyres.
Push the 308 hard and there’s no shortage of stopping power from the ventilated 302mm front rotors. The pedal pressure is reassuringly progressive and the brakes responded well even after repeated applications down some very challenging downhill bends.
As you would expect from a five-star Euro NCAP car, Peugeot’s 308 comes standard with a full suite of active and passive safety kit, including six airbags and electronic stability control. That’s additional to the use of high-strength steel in key areas resulting in a rigid structure and what Peugeot call a “triple force channel” at the front, able to absorb a severe impact.
While it’s still avant-garde, the latest 308 is far more appealing than the previous model on the styling front alone. Add to that exceptional ride and handling, plenty of practicality and strong performance from its gutsy little turbocharged four, and you’ve got the perfect excuse for a French daily driver.