In Australia, the small passenger car segment has long been amongst the most competitive, despite a recent slide in volume as customers continue to migrate to SUVs. More than 20 different models compete in this market dominated by the top-selling Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, and Hyundai i30.
One of the smaller players – at least in terms of volume – in this class is the Peugeot 308, which was refreshed at the end of last year after first going on sale locally in 2014.
While it's never quite had the same sales success Down Under as its arch nemesis, the Volkswagen Golf, the Peugeot aims to bring the premium look and feel of its German competitor with a touch of French flair.
Here on test we have the 308 Allure, which is priced from $31,990 before on-road costs. Our vehicle has a couple of options fitted, including the lovely Ultimate Red premium paint job ($1050) and 18-inch alloy wheels ($700), bringing the as-tested price to $33,740 before ORCs.
For your spend, the top-spec 308 hatchback gets standard kit like 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry with push-button start, front parking sensors, an automated parking assistant, automatic folding mirrors with courtesy lighting, full-LED headlights, active blind-spot monitoring, and sports front seats trimmed in an Alcantara/leatherette combination.
That's on top of the base-model's 9.7-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear-view camera with rear parking sensors, LED tail-lights, speed sign recognition, lane-keep assist, driver-attention monitoring, and automatic high-beam.
Safety kit comes in the form of six airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and your usual suite of electronic aids like stability control and brake assist. The 308 wears a 2014-stamped five-star ANCAP safety rating, though this only applies to diesel versions.
Overall, it's pretty well specced, which you'd hope for a vehicle that's pitched as somewhat of a premium offering. However, there are still some things missing.
No 308 in Australia offers adaptive cruise control – largely due to the fact it's offered with a powertrain and transmission combination not available locally – while a panoramic sunroof will set you back another $1000.
Should you want leather trim instead of the Alcantara/leatherette upholstery included as standard, you'll have to fork out another $2500 for the optional Nappa leather trim.
Beyond the optional features, you can also specify the 308 Allure with a 110kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel (our tester is a petrol, more on that later), which raises the base price to $35,990. Should you want a wagon, there's the diesel-only Allure wagon priced at $37,990 – also the only wagon specification available locally.
In terms of presentation, the Peugeot certainly presents like a premium vehicle. The clean lines, chrome trims and large (and optional) alloy wheels combine well with the lovely metallic red exterior finish on our tester, making it look more expensive than it is.
Hop inside and it's a similar story, with a minimalist approach to physical buttons and dials, upmarket-feeling upholstery, and prominent use of soft-touch materials giving the 308 a very premium cabin ambience indeed.
There are some sections with harder plastics, though the proportion of those compared to the more yielding variety is more skewed towards the latter than most rivals in the segment.
Many will complain about the dashboard layout – which places the driver's instruments higher than your standard car, with the small steering wheel positioned below so you look over the rim rather than through it – though this tester was able to find a comfortable driving position with perfect visibility of the binnacle.
Unfortunately, the 308 continues to miss out on the latest iteration of Peugeot's i-Cockpit design, meaning it doesn't get digital instruments or a higher-set touchscreen like the new 3008 and 5008, though you have to remember the 308 has been on sale a lot longer than its SUV-bodied stablemates.
The 9.7-inch infotainment system offers in-built navigation and smartphone mirroring, though it lacks a DAB+ digital radio tuner. Some will find the integrated climate controls and lack of physical switchgear frustrating, though the system offers quick response to inputs and the interface presents well.
Seat adjustment for both the driver and front passenger is a manual affair, but there's plenty of movement including lumbar, so most people should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.
The storage up front is a little lacklustre, though. A single cupholder resides between the front seats, which can be folded away to reveal a small storage cubby.
A larger bin under the centre armrest offers more ample storage space, though the skinny door pockets and tiny glovebox – the fuse box is still located there – mean there's not a great amount of places to store your stuff. The shallow area at the base of the centre stack isn't cut out for holding even normal-sized phones either.
In the second row, meanwhile, the accommodation isn't quite as accommodating as the front. Peugeot has favoured luggage space in the 308 (we'll get to that in a bit), meaning rear passenger space is adequate, but nowhere near class-leading.
Taller occupants will find limited leg room, particularly behind a driver measuring over six-foot tall. Headroom is good, however. There are no rear air vents or charging points, either.
However, unlike many competitors in the segment, the rear doors in the 308 get the same premium-feeling soft-touch materials as the front – something worth calling out while numerous manufacturers, even 'premium' ones, cut costs in this department.
Behind the second row is a 435L boot, which expands to 1274L with the rear seats folded. That's one of the largest boots in the class, and the space itself is nice and square.
Those who regularly frequent the snow will appreciate the ski port that's built into the centre rear seat, while a space-saver spare wheel lives under the boot floor.
On the road, the Peugeot offers a drive experience in keeping with the company's premium pitch.
Power in our tester comes from a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine making 96kW of power at 5500rpm and 230Nm of torque at 1750rpm. Drive is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed torque-converter automatic sourced from Japanese firm, Aisin.
The Peugeot's petrol engine offers great low-down response and linear power delivery for smooth progress around town, which is likely where this vehicle is going to spend most of its time.
While the petrol-powered 308 claims a rather leisurely 0–100km/h time of 11.0 seconds, it rarely feels underpowered, particularly when getting to 60km/h or 80km/h, and the three-pot motor has that characterful thrum common to engines of this configuration.
The six-speed auto does a good job at finding the right gear at the right time, while also changing through cogs in a snappy fashion. Interestingly, we found the engine and transmission combination in this car far more refined than the similar set-up found in our Citroen C4 Cactus long-termer, which features the 81kW version of the same engine mated to a six-speed Aisin automatic.
At low speeds, the Peugeot never feels jerky, and is quick to engage once the idle stop/start system fires the engine up after a stop in traffic.
While getting up to highway speeds doesn't feel as 'leisurely' as the claimed 0–100km/h time suggests, this is where the 308 could use a little more grunt. Considering European rivals, such as the Golf, offer at least 110kW and 250Nm for similar money, it's a shame Peugeot didn't include the peppier 1.6-litre turbo four that powers the larger 3008 crossover locally.
Once you're at around 100km/h, though, the 1.2-litre mill settles into a quiet hum, with the tacho needle sitting at around 2000rpm.
For those who want some extra grunt and do a lot of freeway driving, there's also the 110kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel (from $35,990), though at that price you're really pushing into premium territory.
In terms of refinement, the petrol engine rarely gets loud or thrashy, even under hard acceleration. Wind noise is also kept to a minimum at higher speeds, and tyre noise is well suppressed for the class, even with our tester's optional 18-inch wheels.
Speaking of those larger wheels, if comfort is one of your first priorities, we reckon you should do without them. While the ride on the optional rims is far from bone-crushing, it can get a little jittery over Melbourne's bumpy urban roads and makes larger hits a little more noticeable.
As for the dynamics, the Peugeot handles with a level of maturity and poise that is befitting of a more expensive vehicle. The steering is light yet direct, offering a decent amount of feedback in the bends while also being easy to park, and the little steering wheel gives a unique video game-like feel to the overall experience.
We found it really hard to match Peugeot's fuel consumption figure during our time with the 308, managing an indicated figure of 8.3L/100km after 300km of mixed conditions favouring urban driving. With that economy, you can realistically cover over 600km per fill from its 53L tank.
For reference, the manufacturer claims the petrol-powered 308 will return 5.1L/100km on the combined cycle. Good luck trying to achieve that unless you mainly do highway commutes on flat terrain.
Those concerned about long-term reliability will be reassured by Peugeot Citroen Australia's recently introduced five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which also includes five years of complimentary roadside assistance.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, with the first five visits priced at $380, $610, $451, $615 and $385 respectively.
While the $2441 figure is one of the more expensive in the segment, Peugeot's 'Service Price Promise' includes consumables like the air filter; something other manufacturers don't include in their capped-price servicing quotes.
All told, the Peugeot 308 Allure is an impressive package. It looks classy, features a really refined cabin, while offering a comfortable drive experience.
The boot is also above average for the class, though it does come at the cost of rear passenger space – so whether you generally cart around people or stuff will determine how practical it is for you.
It's not without its drawbacks, though. The Peugeot lacks some of the more upmarket driver-assistance features that are offered by rivals despite its premium pricing, and is outgunned in the performance stakes by numerous competitors with more powerful engines for similar money.
Add to that the tight rear seat, premium pricing and unrealistic fuel claims, and it becomes more of an 'also consider' rather than a 'top pick'. There's a lot to love, but there's also a bit to improve on.