Car of the Year 2014. That’s quite an accolade for the new Peugeot 308 and something that the French manufacturer can be rightly proud of. They’ve invested heavily in the architecture that underpins this all-new model and they really need it to be successful, so a high profile gong is a fantastic start.
The new 308 shares nothing with the old model other than the name. Peugeot have decided to drop the incrementing numbers from their range and the fact that they’d already used the 309 name on their 80s model will have influenced this decision.
Franco German Relationship
From the outside the new 308 certainly is a winner. It’s a traditional 5-door hatchback but is well proportioned, much more so than the old model. The looks are understated but smart and it’s no coincidence that there’s a Germanic hint to its styling – Peugeot admit to targetting the Golf as a key rival.
Look closely and you’ll find tight panel gaps and light clusters that fit incredibly snugly against the surrounding metal. It’s a sign that build quality has been significantly improved.
There are some nice features too. The distinctive ‘claw-mark’ back lights, the LED lighting at the front, and the chrome trim that adorns front and sides.
The feeling of understated quality continues on the inside. The main touch points are all covered in soft-touch materials and the controls all have a feeling of solidity. The flimsy, sharp-edged plastics of old have been banished to the skip around the back of the Sochaux factory.
Top-level Feline specification comes with leather and alcantara seats as standard. They’re comfortable and reasonably supportive, giving a comforting hug rather than the iron grip of a set of sporty Recaros. The ambience is further improved with the standard-fit panoramic glass roof, a feature I always like to see as they really do make cabins feel lighter and bigger. Kids love them too as they enjoy being able to see through the roof.
One of the highlights of the 308’s cabin is the way in which the instruments sit over the small, slightly oval wheel. It’s the same setup that Peugeot used in the 208 but there were some who complained the top of the wheel blocked their view of the dials in the smaller car. The 308 seems to have it nailed, with more adjustment available on the wheel offering a clearer view of the instruments, including an unusual rev counter that sweeps anti-clockwise.
The centre console is surprisingly clear of buttons. On all but the entry-level model the heater controls have been moved into the large 9.7-inch touchscreen, leaving a slab of black plastic below that presents a few remaining heater controls, a dial for the sound system’s volume and a decorative chrome strip. Very minimalist.
But why did Peugeot leave the window demister and air-recirculation buttons? And what about that volume dial? The steering wheel has volume controls so it could have been removed without causing problems, and then the centre console could have been reduced in size and made far sleeker. It seems like a very odd thing to do.
The steering wheel also houses controls for the Bluetooth phone connection, while the cruise control and speed limiter controls sit on a separate stalk on the steering column. Other luxuries on this top-spec model include keyless entry and start, dual-zone air-conditioning, automatic lights and wipers, parking sensors all round, a reversing camera, DAB radio, sat-nav and USB connection.
There’s a host of safety kit too. Collision avoidance tech should hopefully save you the embarassment of a low speed shunt in town and, should the worst happen, there are also driver and passenger front and side airbags with curtain airbags front and rear.
Oh, and there’s an electric handbrake. It works about as well as you’d expect one to work but give me an old-fashioned lever any day.
On The Move
The engine is the familiar turbocharged 1.6 THP unit that’s seen service in various Peugeots in different states of tune (including the 270bhp RCZ R) but here it pushes out 156bhp and 180lb/ft. It’s a 26bhp jump over the newer 3-cylinder 1.2-litre e-THP 130 and puts the 308 in warm hatch territory with a 62mph time of 8.4 seconds. The new car has shed an average of 140kg across the range during its makeover and this benefits performance, economy and CO2 emissions.
The THP is an eager unit and revs quite happily but here it seems quieter than I remember, proof that this new 308 has achieved greater refinement. What it lacks in aural excitement it makes up for with relaxed cruising abilities and reasonable economy (48mpg and 129g/km). It won’t be the first choice on the company car buyer’s list, with the frugal diesels offering the all-important low CO2 rating, but for driving thrills this is as close as we get until the anticipated GTI model arrives.
The ride is on the firm side but that can be partially blamed on the 18-inch Saphir wheels fitted to the Feline as standard. Try it on rubber with more generous sidewalls and the 308 is a pleasant car to travel about in, with low cabin noise too. Body control is reasonable thanks to the stiffer chassis underpinning the 308.
The steering is a bit hit-and-miss. For a start it’s surprisingly direct for a car that has no serious sporting pretensions and the nose darts about eagerly to every input. On it’s own that would be fine but when combined with a complete lack of tactile feedback it makes it very difficult to judge how much grip is available under the front wheels. On familiar roads in damp conditions I knew the 308 was letting go long before I could feel any sensations through the steering wheel. Fortunately for Peugeot most buyers will rarely push the limits of grip so won’t be troubled by this but it left me disappointed.
It’s Good, But …
So the 308 is good but a few niggling features stop it from being great. The first, and biggest, is that move to touch-screen technology. It wouldn’t be so bad if the user interface in the touch-screen was up to scratch but sadly I find it’s design to be uninspiring, the layout messy and the responses occasionally slow. Peugeot were so busy admiring the Golf’s panel gaps and materials that they clearly forgot to look at its brilliant touch-screen system, one that uses good design and logic to great effect.
There’s also the lack of tactile feedback from a smooth plastic screen. You can’t instinctively reach down and turn the temperature dial, you have to take your eyes off the road to make sure you’re pressing the right part of the screen to find the appropriate sub-screen, which may or may not respond promptly to your stabbing digit. Annoying at best and potentially dangerous until you get used to it. Call me a Luddite if you wish but heater controls should remain as buttons and dials.
Another problem is a by-product of that delightful panoramic roof. With the sun shining through from the wrong angle it can make the screen almost impossible to view. There is a powered blind you can use to block the light but that defeats the point of having the glass roof.
I also had an issue with the Dynamic Cruise Control. Despite the fancy name it doesn’t work like other adaptive systems. Rivals will use the brakes to trim speed if the car in front slows suddenly, or even bring the car to a halt if required, but not the 308. No, it panics, lifts off the throttle and shouts ‘over to you’ with a high-pitched beep. If you’re used to other adaptive systems don’t let the 308 lull you into a false sense of security, it won’t save your no-claims bonus if your attention is elsewhere.
Another electric system that failed to impress was the speed limit recognition. On several occasions it displayed the speed limit in km/h in the instrument cluster while showing the correct speed in mph in the sat-nav screen. Without the distance unit for reference you’re presented with a tempting 80 instead of a sedate 50. To be fair it only did this on a handful of occasions but little things like that affect confidence in the 308’s electrical systems.
Then there’s the glovebox. It’s something that you’d think is difficult to get wrong but the conversion to right-hand drive has seen the air-conditioning unit encroach into the space. It’s now too narrow to store the smart leather folder that holds the 308’s manuals and service book. If you want to keep them in the car they’ll have to slide about in the door pocket. Perhaps this is 21st century payback for Agincourt.
Another minor criticism is rear legroom. Tall passengers will have their knees pushed up against the back of the front seats, but the reward for that is a class-leading 420-litres of boot space, making the 308 a very practical choice.
The 308 Feline costs £20,940 with the THP 156, the cheapest engine choice. It compares well against a similarly equipped Golf GT (£23k) and the step up in build quality should give rivals something to worry about, particularly at Ford, Vauxhall and Renault.
129g/km puts it in Band B for Vehicle Excise Duty while the insurance group is a reasonable 20, helped by the auto-braking technology.
While this flagship Feline model has many tempting features the 308 makes most sense in lesser Allure trim with the low-emission BlueHDi engine. With 84g/km and average of 88mpg this represents a big threat to the other ‘green’ diesels on the market, and Allure comes with most of the toys you want but shaves £1,600 off the asking price.
The Final Reckoning
It’s clear that the new 308 is a huge improvement over the old model and continues the progress that Peugeot made with the move from 207 to 208. It looks good, has build quality to match the premium feel of the Germans, is well equipped and is a comfortable place to ride around in. The over-the-wheel driving position is also brilliant.
It’s not perfect though. The steering feel could be improved but many drivers will accept the current setup without complaint. The small glovebox is irritating but is also something that owners could learn to live with. After all, how often do you open yours?
What I really struggle with is Peugeot’s decision to move so many of the controls into the touchscreen, almost as if they wanted to be different for the sake of it. A more intuitive interface would certainly help but the lack of tactile feedback is an issue. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was an optional upgrade but unless you pick the base model you’re forced to accept it.
The 308 is a great car let down by a few questionable design decisions. Car Of The Year? The 308 is certainly very good but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not that good.
Peugeot 308 Feline THP 156 Specs
|Performance & Economy|
|Engine||1,598cc 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, front-engined, front-wheel drive|
|Power (PS / bhp)||158 / 156|
|Torque (Nm / lb.ft)||240 / 180|
|0 - 62 mph (seconds)||8.4|
|Top Speed (mph)||130|
|Kerb Weight (kg)||1,165|
|CO2 Emissions (g/km)||129|
|Combined Economy (mpg)||48.7|
Peugeot 308 Feline THP 156 Rating
|Understated but smart exterior|
Great driving position