In my day-dreamy, 25-year-old mind, one of the highlights of one day having kids is going to be buying a station wagon something like the Peugeot 308 Touring.
While acknowledging that it may not be the most conventional inspiration for procreation, I’m saddened that the traditional family hauler is today so often overlooked – and in many cases not considered at all – in favour of the ubiquitous SUV.
If you’ve never weighed up the pros and cons of buying an SUV or a wagon, it may help to answer these few quick questions:
Is a raised driving position more desirable to you than car-like dynamics? Is a higher hip point to ease access to child seats more important than a bigger boot? Is a chunkier, more intimidating stance your preference over sleek, low-slung looks? And how much will you really take advantage of the all-wheel-drive and seven-seat options that SUVs offer but wagons don’t?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of the first three questions and ‘probably not a lot’ to the fourth, a wagon could suit your lifestyle significantly better than any soft-roader.
Tested here is the newest addition to the French brand’s compact wagon range and the cheapest of the bunch: the Peugeot 308 Touring Allure petrol, priced from $35,490 plus on-road costs. Specified as you see here it’s $37,180 thanks to its optional 18-inch alloy wheels ($700 over the standard 17s) and metallic paint ($990).
That pricing puts it bang on with its most natural rival, the super-impressive Volkswagen Golf Wagon, as well as myriad mid-sized SUVs including the top-selling Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, and the likes of the Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail.
A look at the 308 Allure’s extensive equipment list shows it’s an impressive value proposition, however – more so especially than the base 308 that’s underdone in terms of standard spec.
Allure Touring highlights include auto LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, aluminium roof rails, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera, auto-folding side mirrors and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electric park brake, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and a 9.7-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, 6.9GB music storage, and two USB ports.
The $3700 step up to the flagship Allure Premium spec – which adds active cruise control and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, keyless entry and push-button start, semi-automated reverse parking, tinted rear windows, 18-inch alloys, panoramic glass roof, alcantara/PVC upholstery and electric massaging front seats – arguably boosts the value-for-money equation even further, though all are features you can quite comfortably live without.
Arguably just as important as all the stuff you get is the enormous void behind the 308 Touring’s rear seats. The Peugeot’s boot measures a whopping 625 litres, which is more than 40 litres bigger than the Golf Wagon’s, and embarrasses the 403 litres of the CX-5.
It also has a low loading lip, which makes it easier to fill it with heavy items, and adjustable rails for tying down cargo that’s likely to roll about. You can also cleverly stow the cargo cover beneath the boot floor and flip the 60:40 split-folding rear seats forward with handy levers on the boot walls to expand carrying capacity to 1740L. A ski port through the middle seat is a good thought, though it has limited practical use as it’s very tiny.
Two adult passengers can ride comfortably in the back of the Peugeot 308 Touring, with enough headroom and legroom on offer in the outboard seats. The seats are upholstered with padded fabric, though the seat base could be a touch short for some thighs. Soft-touch materials line the rear doors; a premium touch rarely seen in the compact class.
The lack of rear vents is the 308 Touring’s biggest oversight as a family hauler. You’ll find them in the Golf and most mid-sized SUVs, though to keep the comparison going, not in the CX-5.
Front storage space is perhaps the other disappointment of the Peugeot’s cabin. The glovebox and centre bin are tiny, and there’s only one cupholder that folds out of a compartment in the centre tunnel.
That’s where the whinging ends about the 308 Touring’s cabin, however. The dash layout feels bespoke and premium, with beauty in its simplicity. Brushed metal and soft and silky plastics abound, while all but the essential controls are accessed via the high-resolution touchscreen. Tapping through menus to switch between media, navigation and climate control takes some time to master, though we found a week behind the wheel has you feeling comfortable with it.
The high-mounted instrument panel seems to suit most driving positions and the inward-scrolling speedo and tacho needles are unique, while the chunky little steering wheel wrapped in smooth leather is simply a treat to hold.
It’s quite special to steer, too. There’s some play around the centre position, though from there it’s reactive while still being pleasantly light and predictable.
The Peugeot’s steering is only bettered dynamically by its sensational urban ride, which even on optional 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres is supple and cloud-like, smoothing everything from coarse surfaces to bigger potholes and speed humps.
The soft suspension set-up causes it to roll more once you leave the suburbs and hit some flowing country roads, however; something that was particularly evident when we drove the 308 Touring back-to-back with the Golf Wagon earlier this year.
Where the Volkswagen feels impeccably composed, the Peugeot’s back end shuffles around over mid-corner bumps, and its nose is also a touch skittish – something that doesn’t seem to affect the heavier 308 Touring diesel we tested late last year. Its wide tyres also throw up a bit of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces.
Under the 308 Touring Allure’s bonnet is Peugeot’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine producing 110kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm at 1400rpm (the diesel mentioned above costs an extra $2500). It hauls the Pug’s light 1315kg frame effectively and is quiet and refined, though it lacks the character of the 1.2-litre three-pot available in the hatch and the meaty pulling power of the diesel.
It also forms a less convincing partnership with its standard six-speed automatic transmission than either of those two. Enthusiastic prods at the accelerator pedal are met by a moment’s hesitation, while there’s less certainty in its shifts, at times dithering between fourth, fifth and sixth gears and too eagerly grabbing lower gears under light throttle.
As with all of these criticisms, however, they’re minor marks against what is one of the best dynamic packages in the class – albeit one that’s headed by a certain German that’s raised the bar to incredible heights.
Peugeot claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, and we achieved a respectable 9.0L/100km across a mix of driving conditions.
Capped-price servicing will set you back $1246 over three years/45,000km and $2295 over five years/75,000km. All Peugeots come with a three-year/100,000km warranty.
There’s a lot to love about the Peugeot 308 Touring, and everything from the way it looks and rides to the spaciousness and style of its cabin and its impressive equipment list should make you question whether you really do need that SUV.
While we recommend paying the extra for the torquey and efficient diesel engine, even with the petrol engine the 308 Touring is a thoroughly capable, practical and desirable family car.