Vive le différence.
French car giant Peugeot continues to be a small player on Australia’s rich new-car-market stage, and certainly in terms of sales volume. It’s a little confounding, certainly when looking at the 2020 Peugeot 308 hatchback – a sleek and stylish take on the formula.
But, it also plays in a crowded small-car segment where choices abound, both from Europe and Asia, and that makes standing out from the crowd difficult. So, how does the Peugeot 308 differentiate itself from a slew of rivals?
One thing the French brand has done is to remove confusion from its 308 range, and trim the line-up down to just three variants – two hatchbacks and one wagon. All are petrol-driven, the diesel engine consigned to the 308 history books in Australia.
Getting things underway is the entry-level 308 Allure hatch at $30,490 plus on-road costs, while the Allure wagon asks for $32,490 plus on-roads.
That leaves the car we have here, the GT Line, as the range-topper. It’s priced at $34,990 plus on-road costs, and that means it faces some stiff competition from a host of other well-specced hatchbacks likes the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline ($36,990), the $34,090 Mazda 3 GT, and for those looking for trim fuel bulls, the Toyota Corolla Hybrid ZR hatch that asks for $34,695 (plus on-road costs). And that’s just a small sample from an ultra-competitive segment. Tough competition, then.
|2020 Peugeot 308 GT Line|
|Engine||1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||96kW at 5500rpm, 230Nm at 1750rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.6L/100km|
|Boot volume (min/max)||435L / 1274L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$36,040|
The 308 certainly delivers in terms of standard equipment, mostly. Key highlights include 18-inch alloys, a 9.7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth compatibility.
There’s native satellite navigation, DAB+ radio, dual-zone climate control, a panoramic roof, LED headlights and tail-lights, as well as LED fog lamps, power-folding mirrors, and a colour-coded bodykit comprising side skirts and front and rear aprons.
There are no options to be had bar premium paint. Our test car wore a $1050 optional coat of Ultimate Red paint, bringing the as-tested price to $36,040 plus on-roads.
The Peugeot 308 is certainly a good-looking hatchback from the outside; a nicely blended marriage of proportions and elegant lines. Whereas some rivals are all sharp angles, the little Pug offers a softer countenance, and it’s all the better for it.
It’s a similar story in the cabin despite the presence of cloth seat trim. There’s an understated vibe inside, with plenty of yielding surfaces and some nice brushed-aluminium accents tempered with a smattering of piano black. Plenty of contrasting red stitching adds a hint of racy.
Peugeot’s small steering wheel – found in just about every vehicle in its line-up, and not always with ergonomically sound results – actually works in this application, looking and feeling pleasingly sporty. Analogue dials nestle a colour driver display that offers a smattering of information. Peugeot’s digital driver display found in other models would be a welcome addition to the 308.
Storage options are noticeable by their absence. There’s just a single cupholder up front, for instance, while the door pockets remain small and the central storage bin is laughably small.
Another minor gripe? Climate controls are buried inside the infotainment touchscreen, with no physical dials or buttons. It’s annoying to use while on the move, and a little distracting. Still, there is a physical volume knob, so that’s something.
The cloth-trimmed seats are anything but low-rent, at once comfortable and supportive, and with a nice textured design adding some panache. It’s much the same in the second row, again with comfortable and supportive seats. Back seat passengers get two cupholders and a single USB charging point, although no air vents.
It’s spacious enough in the second row, certainly behind my 173cm driving position. It’s not the last word in roominess, but toe, knee and head room are adequate, despite the presence of that full-length panoramic roof eating into the roof line. Still, that same roof adds a pleasingly light and airy feel to the cabin – no bad thing.
The Pug’s boot space is good measuring in at 435L with the second row being used by actual people. Stow the second row and there’s a pretty decent 1274L of available storage. A space-saver spare lurks under the boot floor.
Under the bonnet, a 1.2-litre (1199cc) turbocharged inline three-cylinder petrol engine is good for 96kW at 5500rpm and 230Nm at 1750rpm. A six-speed automatic sends those outputs to the front wheels.
The 1.2-litre triple’s numbers might not seem like much on paper, but the Pug remains surprisingly tractable and engaging. That’s partly down to maximum torque available underfoot quite low in the rev range, and partly thanks to its very svelte weight, the 308 tipping the scales at just 1122kg (tare). For context only, a VW Golf 110TSI is over 100kg heavier than the sleek French model.
There’s a pleasingly gruff engine note, too, typical of three-cylinder mills, while moving away from standstill is brisk and predictable.
It feels rapid, although there can be moments of hesitation, aka turbo lag, when too much is asked of the drivetrain from standstill. A hint of torque steer, too – not bad by any stretch, but worth pointing out. Drive it normally, though, and those foibles are pretty much eliminated.
On-the-move acceleration is linear and predictable, with a surprising surge of speed accompanied by that lovely engine note. You find yourself accelerating on a freeway on-ramp faster than you might usually, just to listen to the engine growling away. Well, I did, anyway.
The Peugeot’s ride errs on the side of firm, although is happy to gobble up crap roads without too much fuss. The payoff comes on some rural back roads, where the 308 is surprisingly engaging and charming despite having no warm-hatch pretensions. Hustle some bends and the little Pug remains composed and predictable, feeling far more capable than it probably should. The transmission works away well enough, rarely left floundering in the hunt for the right gear, even if that hint of turbo lag is exasperating when having some fun.
The steering is pleasingly predictable and accurate, and dialling up sport mode adds a little heft to the experience. Its small diameter comes into its own here, too, if only for the racy vibe it exudes.
Peugeot claims the 308 will need just 5.0L/100km of 95RON premium unleaded on the combined cycle. Our week with the little Frenchie, encompassing urban trawling, highway runs and a nice dose of spirited driving through some rural bends, returned a reading of 7.6L/100km. The caveat here is that figure was reading mid sixes before the sudden urge to explore its ‘GT’ aspirations hit. So, an acceptable return in our eyes. And worth the extra expense at the bowser, if only to listen to that three-pot growling away.
In terms of safety, the 308 in petrol guise is unrated by ANCAP. The regulatory body did award diesel variants five stars way back in 2014, but the oiler line-up has been, a little sadly, discontinued in Australia.
That said, the 308 carries a decent if not altogether comprehensive suite of safety tech. There’s autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and a driver-fatigue alert. It misses out on adaptive cruise control, though, as well as rear cross-traffic alert.
Peugeot covers the 308 with its five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Peugeot guarantees servicing costs, and currently five years or 75,000km worth of trips to the workshop will set you back a total of $2504, so a smidge over $500 a year.
So far this year, the French brand has shifted just 140 of both the hatchback and wagon in Oz. That makes it something of a rarity on our roads, and that could appeal to a certain type of buyer.
It’s a shame Peugeot doesn’t sell more 308s in Australia, because it’s a stylish and sleek take on the European hatchback formula. With an engaging drivetrain belying its on-paper numbers, the Peugeot 308 surprises on the road. It is, in a word, fun.