I bought my (what has proven to be) trustworthy 308 amidst all the usual small car options. I surveyed Mazda 3s, the Ford Focus, and the CarAdvice all-rounder Volkswagen Golf. Due to the kilometres I travel, a diesel seemed like the best option. One thing that PSA has always done very well is diesel!
I took the ‘risk’ of buying my first car, an ‘unreliable’ French car. Yes, before you ask, the fuses are mounted in the glovebox – it’s not the end of the world. After all, the French are known for their questionable ergonomics and designs. To me, it all adds to the quirkiness. You can’t compare the looks to anything else in a sort of bizzaro way.
Starting with the engine, I purposely opted for the 2.0-litre HDi paired with the Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox. The smaller 1.6-litre HDi was out of the picking, as it only comes with the automated manual option. Riding in one proves that AMTs aren’t the end of the world, but the gearbox and transmission combo on higher-specced Pugs is a winner for me.
While power outputs are measly at just 100kW, torque figures rival some older 4WDs and utes on the market. Its 320Nm at just 2000rpm means no matter a merge or a gentle acceleration, speed is more of a gradual change rather than a violent event. Put your foot down and it’ll thrash and scream. There’s a timed over-boost function, but I find it to be generally unnoticeable.
Mid-throttle acceleration is where this car performs best. It delivers power in such a way where you don’t really have to accelerate, you just watch the needle bounce around from 1500–2500rpm before eventually hitting a cruising speed. Registering 2200rpm at 110km/h is a bit high – really it could do with a seventh gear, as did many of the TDI Volkswagens I also looked at.
Steering feel is smooth and surefooted; I like the fact the steering has good weight without being lethargic. It irons out everyday driving, but can become unsettled along the poorer-kept roads of Northern NSW. The back suspension appears to be on its way out, tending to sometimes crash and bump, but still has life left.
I like the large steering wheel with grip bolsters and its leather trimming (even though it has all peeled off. I call it rustic French patina). The stalks that take place of traditional steering wheel controls are actually much easier to use once you get a feel for their placement. The cruise control allows you to jump up speeds in increments of 5km/h or 10km/h if so desired – a great feature for rapid speed-limit changes as opposed to holding down the button and hoping the needle lands somewhere close to where you actually want it.
The interior is tastefully furnished. A centre screen houses parking sensors, a configuration menu where you can adjust little things such as time for the automatic lights to turn off, a diagnostic log that shows you any faults, as well as full RDS text from the rather average single-DIN head unit and six-speaker set-up. Climate control is automatic and dual-zone.
There are also nice little touches such as auto up/down windows on all four doors (Seriously, why is this not standard on every car these days?), a rear vent for the back-seat passengers, as well as a nifty trip computer that houses three different trip computers. The gauges take some time to get used to being incremental in odd variants, but this is just one of those typical French things: 50km/h and 130km/h are highlighted red, as per French motorway limits.
The front seats straddle the line between supportive and firm, despite the foam collapsing on the driver's side. Rear passenger leg room is very disappointing, and the clumsy collapsing seat system is terrible. Seven-seater wagons have a much more practical MPV-style seating system, however.
Now, on to running costs. Fuel economy is this car’s main selling point. Unlike petrol engines that lose their economy when pushed, this thing will happily be driven by people like myself (a P-plater, and a delivery driver at that) and still return a combined 6.2L/100km. On the highway it’s easy to beat the claimed highway figures. I’ve recorded 5.0L at 110km/h with AC, and as low as 3.9L during 90km/h economy runs without use of any interior niceties.
Servicing is cheap, provided you hunt parts online. I order my parts from eBay, and generally parts are easy to find due to the wide application of PSA engines. I service the car every 20,000km and have had no issues in doing so since I purchased it at 100,000km. Now 83,000km later and the car is still running fine.
Replaced parts are as follows: a main engine mount at 150,000km. A $50 crank position sensor (Which caused all sorts of unusual error messages and OBDII codes), and a fuel pressure sensor was also replaced shortly after, which fixed the common 'Depollution system fault' error, amongst other issues with stalling. This car gets driven hard, and arguably not as well looked after as some may prefer. Reliability for what is essentially a 200,000km car is faultless, as no parts had been replaced prior to my ownership, albeit perishables such as tyres and bulbs.
On the topic of bulbs (and lighting), my main gripe comes with the appalling wiring within the headlight modules. It appears the electrical wiring in the rest of the car is surprisingly well insulated and non-French, whereas as soon as you get to the front lights, it's déjà vu: constant blown bulbs and the occasional shortage. My next port of call will be eBay replacements, after I get sick of taping up the existing wires.
All in all, I’m glad I took a risk with Pug. She’s been a fine workhorse, but also with great character and driveability. Provided you’re lucky enough to (like myself) not get a lemon, the Europeans have plenty to show for those wanting something just a little bit out of the box.