All-new family hatch is set to play a vital part in Peugeot’s attempted resurgence
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CAST YOUR MIND back. At the turn of the millennium, Peugeot was still a force to be reckoned with in the all-important C-segment. The 306 might have been made to look long in the tooth by the Ford Focus, but age hadn’t tarnished its handling delicacy or capacity to engage. More than 445,000 examples were sold in the UK. It was a position of strength that the firm ultimately treated as a cliff from which to jump.
The outgoing 308, on sale here for around five years, has barely limped over the 120,000 mark – poor numbers in a market that makes up a third of all car sales in Europe. Its replacement, wearing the same badge but new from the ground up, is perhaps the most important (and expensive) step in Peugeot’s quest to reassert itself as a credible rival to Volkswagen at the premium and profitable end of the mainstream. In check with its ambitions, the firm has underpinned the new 308 with its own take on a modular platform: the EMP2. It is largely thanks to this meticulous blend of aluminium, steel and composite that Peugeot can claim a 140kg weight saving, an impressive 0.28Cd of aerodynamic finesse and a more compact design (attributable to shrunken overhangs).
Next year the car will receive the right brand of Euro6-ticked engines to go with it, including a BlueHDi diesel unit reportedly capable of 91mpg and CO2 emissions of just 82g/km. For now, it has to make do with Euro5 carryovers, most notably the 1.6 e-HDi, which is still good for a claimed 74.3mpg and 98g/km on tyres with a low rolling resistance.
While the contents of the engine bay resemble its predecessor’s, what’s contained inside the cabin most certainly does not. Here, the most stinging and unexpected blow to its rivals is landed; even with the instrument cluster still poking over the steering wheel like a lemur perched on a bin lid, the dashboard is a minimalist triumph. Most of the 308’s functions have been swept on to a beautifully integrated and surprisingly coherent 9.7in touchscreen, leaving the user to revel in the prettiness of the otherwise sparsely populated dash.
It’s a shame, then, that such a clever use of space doesn’t extend to the rear seats, where larger adults are liable to feel cramped by the model’s newfound compactness (odd, when the boot is 435 litres big).
Nevertheless, the afterglow of the 308’s perceived quality bump initially transfers unruffled on to the road. It’s well mannered and easily manageable out of the blocks. A 10.4-metre turning circle makes it manoeuvrable, and the diesel engine’s clatter is well disguised by a new soundproofing material.Only by turning it up a notch – as one would unthinkingly do in a Focus or a Volkswagen Golf – does it tend to come unstuck. The engine’s strangled shortcomings should be overhauled by its scheduled replacement, but the steering is an enduring disappointment. Offering no real hint of bite or progressive weight to the artificial resistance, it unfairly inhibits a change of direction already numbed by the body’s tendency to roll early on its sympathetic suspension settings. While it will settle to find a decent adhesive balance thereafter (even on lowresistance rubber), driver confidence is liable to have already ebbed away. Such a foible does obviously not vanquish the 308’s overall appeal; this is a quantifiably superior car to its predecessor, and with it being respectable to look at, great to sit in, cheap to run and affordable to buy, it will tick off most items on a great many people’s must-have list. But it is only adequate to drive, especially at that brisk and ingratiating threequarter pace at which its rivals excel, and it is also arguably too short both on space in the back and, for now, oomph under the bonnet. A marked improvement, then, but not the game-changing, podium-placing one Peugeot was striving for.
PEUGEOT 308 1.6 E-HDI ALLURE
Top speed 119mph
Economy 74.3mpg (combined)
Kerb weight 1160kg
Engine 4 cyls, 1560cc, turbodiesel
Installation Front, transverse, FWD
Power 115bhp at 4000rpm
Torque 199lb ft at 1750rpm
Gearbox 6-spd manual
Boot 435 litres
Wheels 16in, alloy
Tyres 205/55 R16
An improvement on the old 308, but not a big enough one to convince
— Relaxed ride quality
— Decent refinement
— Elegant interior
— Elderly engines
— Dreary steering
— Lack of rear space