You can’t expect to instantly feel at home in every new car you get into. Different manufacturers do things differently and each has their own style or flair in terms of interior design and ergonomics. And when it comes to being ‘different’, Peugeot as a brand, is often king.
The all-new Peugeot 308 GT is not easily mistaken for anything but a five-door French hatchback. It’s not an Alfa Romeo, not a Ford nor a Volkswagen. It’s French and it’s form over function every time.
Most of us at one point or another have had to adjust to having indicator and wiper stalks swapped around as result of switching marques. Finding an engine start button in a new car can take a second, as can locating an electronic parking brake or working out how to adjust the climate control system or tune the radio to your favourite beats distribution hub.
Well, combine all that foreign feeling-ness into one well sized and smartly specced five-seat hatch and you have the Peugeot 308 GT.
Having already steered the $1000 cheaper manual-only petrol version of the non-GTi 308 – with its 151kW/285Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder – I was quietly chuffed to get the keys to the $42,990 308 GT diesel.
Strictly available with a six-speed automatic transmission, the flagship GT spins its front wheels with the aid of a 133kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
With less power but more torque than its petrol twin, the 120kg heavier diesel claims a slower 8.4-second 0-100km/h time but a sharper 4.0 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel consumption figure.
Matching the petrol, the 308 GT diesel comes standard with keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and programmable cruise control and speed limiter functions. All good things.
Likely to further win favour with buyers in the small car segment are emergency collision alert and brake, park assist and blind spot monitoring.
Walking up to the car, the eye is drawn to the GT’s chrome grille bars, automatic LED headlights with integrated LED daytime running lights and lower intake-mounted LED indicators. There are also electrically folding black wing mirrors with puddle lamps, rear LED tail-lights, dual chrome exhaust tips and neat 18-inch wheels. A handsome unit no doubt.
Inside looks and feels equally premium, with our test car fitted with super comfy red-stitched heated leather seats (a $2500 option) teamed with a basic massage function (standard).
Steering column-mounted shift paddles, drilled aluminium sports pedals, stainless steel door sills, an Anthracite-coloured roof headliner and red-stitched ‘GT’ floor mats accentuate the model’s sporting slant.
A highly capable six-speaker stereo does a commendable job at hassling eardrums, with the pièce de résistance for tech-heads being the Peugeot’s 9.7-inch in-dash touchscreen.
In charge of displaying satellite-navigation data, the system also houses controls for climate, phone, vehicle information and settings as well as providing access to a 6.9GB ‘Jukebox’ internal hard disk music storage device. Audio volume is still handled by a single rotary dial, but the screen’s multi-faceted role allows for an ultra clean and sparse centre stack.
Initially viewed as a clever and tidy move, hours into the first drive, minds change as brains begin to hurt… Nothing, and I mean nothing, is where you’d expect it to be.
Fans of the brand will likely rush to its defence with cries of eccentricity, but I don’t care. Here are some of the things that made my head near explode.
Scenario One: You’re listening to the radio so you are in the touchscreen’s radio display. You decide you’re feeling slightly chilly and want to raise the temperature. Easy, I’ll just reach over to the… No! A simple dial isn’t there. You have to take your eyes off the road to find the climate control button located on the side of the screen, then alter your temperature once the correct menu is displayed.
Scenario Two: You’ve just saved your favourite radio station into the ‘stored’ list displayed as a grid. A song comes on you don’t love so you click on another station to start the rounds. Bang! The grid view with all the stations disappears and you’re back to the tuning display with only the station you are currently listening to displayed.
It’s not just the touchscreen either. For almost anybody, the steering wheel will block some portion of the main instrument binnacle. Whether it’s the speedo, tacho or small central display screen, with your trip and odometer info, the top of the wheel will obstruct something.
The shift paddles are half-sized and aren’t long enough to be ideal. They are mounted higher on the column than the wheel’s thumb cut-outs, meaning many ‘manual’ gear change attempts are met with an air swing by the last three digits.
Although James Ward is a big fan, myself and others found the Pug’s chunky cruise control hub to be fiddly to learn and get used to. And, while it works well enough once familiar, it’s still far from intuitive or class-leading in terms of ease of use.
The two scroll wheels located on the left and right of the steering wheel (left for volume, right for tuning) don’t light up at night, and nor do their instruction image telling which one does what. The respective buttons below the two scroll wheels (left for source, right for list) do, however, light up.
The reversing camera isn’t bad but half the view shown is of the bottom of the number plate and the system’s ‘guidelines’ don’t really ‘guide’, instead a static box display remains unchanged in the face of steering inputs.
Now here’s one for the real trainspotters out there. I know the French like to be ‘unique’ but… The climate control rises by one-degree increments between LO and 18, then for some unknown reason switches to 0.5-degree increments between 18.5 and 23.5, before returning again to one-degree increments between 24 and 28 degrees. Who’s actual job was that? And how much wine and cheese did they have?
So while the early days with the car weren’t going quite to plan – I twice accidentally switched the car off right after starting it up due to an overconfident finger looking to release the electronic parking brake – time heals all wounds.
By Day Three anger and frustration had diffused into resignation. If this is how they’re going to do it, then I’ll just have to learn. As the position of the engine start/stop button is remembered and the electronic parking brake starts to become third nature (I won’t stretch to second), more and more French-speaking synapses are formed.
Half way down the freeway on ramp, I’ve already got a finger ready on the cruise control button to set the speed. I get a chill, I’m already moving my hand over to the touchscreen. The Pug and I are starting to get along.
A friend jumps in for a look around and backs up some of my early gripes with issues with the steering wheel size, its position in relation to the instruments and paddles, and the monotonous nature of fiddling around with the screen every time you want to do practically anything.
A quick excursion out to the folks’ place and Mum likes it. She likes the exterior and appreciates the 435-litre boot – expandable to 1274L litres with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats down. She’s less of a fan of the rear seating though.
Head and legroom are more than acceptable, but toe room is squishy and the door-mounted armrests creep into the cabin making things feel tighter than they need to. Under-thigh support is also lacking, however, there are door pockets, two map pockets and a fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders to keep second-row guests smiling. Rear air vents are a sore omission.
My last few days with the little Pug are again mixed.
The diesel engine is gutsy and solid performer offering plenty of easy low-down pickup, with revs north of 3000-4000rpm rarely required. It will happily cruise around town at between 1200-1500rpm and over our 400km-plus week averaged 7.5L/100km.
More related to a dim-witted and slow-to-react gearbox, take-offs are often lacklustre and doughy affairs – this is despite Peugeot claiming its GT models feature sharper throttle mapping. A stop-start function that cuts the engine every, single, time you are stationary with your foot on the brake pedal can also accentuate the gearbox lag.
Sitting lower and stiffer than non-GT 308s, the Pug’s firm and busy ride on its standard 18-inch 40-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres is never crashy, but road imperfections and irregularities, as well as surface changes, are all easily transferred into the cabin.
With a city-focused combination of a small 10.4-metre turning circle and quick and responsive (if quite light) steering, the 4253mm-long 308 is super easy to park – especially with the help of the electronic aids on offer.
Vision out is also good, with the exception of the 308’s letterbox rear window – further impeded by the tops of the second row’s headrests.
Storage too is a mixed bag with big door pockets up front, an unhelpfully small glove box, a compact centre console bin, and a small hidey-hole aft of the gated gear lever.
If you’ve owned a Peugeot before, you’ll likely fall in love with the new 308. It’s well packaged and, with a three year/100,000km warranty and capped-price servicing for the first five scheduled services or 75,000km (with prices ranging from $455 to $760), reasonably competitively priced.
It’s different for different’s sake and that will please many. Unfortunately, even after a week, for me, it’s simply too different and too clunky in a great number of ways.
Click the Photos tab for more 2015 Peugeot 308 GT images by Tom Fraser.