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The Peugeot 308 is refined and inexpensive, but it lacks dynamic excellence

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As the 308 enters 2013 in a couple of months, it will mark 80 years of Peugeot producing a mid-size car with a ‘3’ in its title. The 301 of 1933 was notable for its independent front suspension.

In 1936 the 302 was introduced but the trail goes cold during and following alterations to the map of Europe and Peugeot didn’t introduce another ‘3’ car until the late 1960s, when the range was into ‘4’ generation.

The 308 has spawned hatchback, estate and convertible models

Dutifully the 305 followed, but then in 1986 Peugeot released the 309 (the only model in the range to then go to ‘9’), but replaced that with the 306, 307 and now 308.

The latest Peugeot 308 competes in a hot market sector. There are the perennial favourites, the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. Vauxhall’s Astra is as strong as ever. The Toyota’s Auris is a decent, if boring entry. Then there’s the interesting Nissan Qashqai.

More significant still for Peugeot, and fellow French firms Renault and Citroën, is the continued strength of the new-breed of excellent opposition from Korea, the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d. It is no longer to ignore the quality of these products, as well as their value and lengthy warranties.

The 308, the first of Peugeot’s ‘8’-monikered cars, launched into a segment more crowded than ever with cars that are, frankly, massively more competent than they’ve ever been before.

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Traditionally, small Peugeot family cars have sold well against perhaps half a dozen mainstream competitors because they’ve been pretty, have driven quite well and come from a well-known and trusted manufacturer. The 308 will have to do all of that and also rather a lot more besides.

DESIGN & STYLING

Peugeot 308 front grille

The 308 might have been the first Pegueot to move the range from ‘7’ into ‘8’ territory, but its roots still lie firmly with its 307 predecessor, with which it shares its architecture.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Recent automotive history is filled with revised versions of platforms producing vastly improved products. The current Twingo is a reincarnated second-generation Clio, while the not-half-bad Mk5 Ford Escort revolutionised the very-bad-indeed Mk4.

The 308 still retains Peugeot's huge gaping grille, but it has been toned down

Also, given that new-platform introduction has been driven by safety improvements in recent years, and considering that so many cars already achieve top NCAP scores, it’s no surprise that more new models than ever end up sharing their basic architecture with their predecessors.

In the 308’s case it means that the semi-tall design layout still applies. The 308’s windscreen is well forward and the car is tall overall. The result? A light, airy and spacious cabin. At 1498mm tall, the 308 is actually a touch lower than the 307, but it’s wider by 53mm, longer by 74mm and has a wider track, although the 2608mm wheelbase is unchanged.

Also the same is the suspension layout of MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, while the steering is still hydraulically assisted. In fact, when it comes to dynamics the changes are very much focused around details, not revolutions.

The 308’s body structure is 10 percent more rigid than the 307’s, the suspension mounts hae been redesigned and, as well as the track increase, the wheels are wider and the centre of gravity is down by 5mm overall. In the process, there’s a claimed 72kg weight increase over the car it replaced.

INTERIOR

Peugeot 308 interior

Although much about this Peugeot 308 is continued from the previous car, there’s no mistaking the interior for anything other than being all-new.

The increase in perceived quality is massive. Materials, textures and fit and finish are much better than they were in the 307. Dials and vents are nicely trimmed, the switchgear operates with precision and the forward-located windscreen with its large glass area makes the 308 feel pretty airy inside.

A 'curry hook' is one of those features you wish all cars had

The driving position is generally good. The steering wheel has a broad level of rake and reach adjustment , and the driver’s seat is positioned 15mm lower than the 307. There’s plenty of headroom, too. The seats themselves are fine – large enough, if a touch flat.

Driving controls mostly operate with a very Peugeot-like feel: a soft if progressive clutch, slightly over-servoed brakes and a degree of vagueness to the gearchange. But the steering itself is much improved in general feel – much more responsive and positive than before, accurate and nicely weighted.

The semi-tall architecture means four adults will find the 308’s cabin anything but a squeeze. Rear-seat accommodation isn’t as spacious as in the front, and more significantly it feels less airy because the window line and roof fall towards the rear, but it’s up to class standards.

Boot space and oddments storage are reasonable too, and there are a couple of neat touches: there’s a retractable ‘curry hook’ on the centre console and the rear parcel shelf has a hidden compartment that hinges to open from both the front and rear.

In the SW estate version, there are as many cubbies, luggage nets and seat-back picnic tables as you could want. There’s also the seat flexibility you’d expect of an MPV. The second-row seats can slide back and forth or even be removed.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Peugeot 308 front quarter

Peugeot offers a decent spread of engines in the 308. Petrols include 97bhp 1.4 VTi, a 118bhp 1.6 VTi, and the more potent 1.6 THP with either 154bhp or 197bhp in the GT.

The performance of the 1.4 is no more than adequate, a trait that’s shared by the more powerful 1.6. The problem is that with either engine, the 308 never really shows any true determination to make progress, even towards the thick end of 6000rpm, and despite also owning some of most respectable performance figures in its class.

The 308's engines lack sparkle

The more powerful 1.6 THP unit also has the tendency to feel a bit lethargic thanks to the 308’s hefty kerb weight, a problem that isn’t helped by the long-throw gearbox. 

A smile isn’t really raised driving a 308 unless you put you foot down in the 197bhp 1.6 THP. Its 7.7sec 0-62mph performance is the perfect tonic to the rest of the range, but the engine also has the kind of mid-range urgency lacking in other petrol-powered 308s.

A 1.6 HDi with 91bhp is the base diesel in an oil-burning line-up that also includes 110bhp 1.6 e-HDi (the ‘e’ referring to its stop-start system) and a 148bhp 2.0 HDi.

The lower powered 97bhp diesel doesn’t feel lacking in power thanks to the readily available torque, and although it is noisier than the 110bhp version on a motorway run, the engine note is never really intrusive. In truth the 1.6-litre unit gives away very little the more powerful 110bhp version in everyday use.

The 2.0-litre HDi isn’t worth the extra outlay; it isn’t especially brisk either, its weight dulling the effects of a pretty solid slug of torque.

 

RIDE & HANDLING

Peugeot 308 front quarter

In road test terms, this is the toughest test of all for the 308. We want it all: a comfortable ride and entertaining handling from suspension that doesn’t impact excessively on packaging or push the price out of reach. It's a tough task for the Peugeot, or indeed any manufacturer.

In truth, we’re now spoilt for choice as multi-link rear axles have become the norm, not just in the like of the Volkswagen Golf, but also in the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30. So what for the hope for the 308, which perseveres with a torsion beam rear axle? Not much, as it turns out.

The 308 pales in comparison with the joyous 306

At first the ride appears pretty competent. The problem, as is often the case with torsion beam arrangements, comes when the suspension needs to multi-task. Hit a transverse ridge mid-corner and the resulting thud is more noticeable than it would be in a Golf or i30.

Similarly, if the obstacle is more extreme the 308 is more likely to be thrown off line than its independently suspended rivals.

In handling terms, the 308 is peculiar mix of attributes. There’s a reasonable amount of body roll, which in isolation isn’t an issue. But over an undulating B-road the 308 struggles to keep its body movement in check, so it adds to the problem.

The steering is accurate enough but no match for the best in class for feedback.

Ultimately though, we found the 308 difficult to gel with, not providing the level of control and information that allows its driver to gain any real satisfaction. 

It’s slightly better news in the SW estate version. Peugeot estates tend to ride better than their hatchback counterparts, and the 308 SW doesn’t buck the trend. Where the hatch feels controlled but crashy over broken surfaces, the extra length and weight of the SW makes it feel both more composed and fluid.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Peugeot 308 2007-2013

If there’s one area where the advantages of taking existing components and refining them comes to the fore, as has occurred with the 308, it should be here. And that should be welcome news indeed for Peugeot owners because the 307 was, according to customer satisfaction surveys, anything but a delight to own and drive.

Still, it is well priced and well equipped compared with its European rivals, while depreciation is par for the course for a car sold to fleets in big numbers. What the Peugeot cannot match is the pricing or warranty offered by Kia and Hyundai.

The 308 is cheap, but its warranty can't compete with the Koreans

It’s safe, though: most versions come with seven airbags as standard and the 308 was awarded the maximum five Euro NCAP test stars.

That safety should also make the 308 a cheap car to insure; in its entry-level 1.4 VTi form in base Access trim, it can be found in Insurance Group 10. The most basic Hyundai i30 is two groups higher.

Prices start from around £15,500 for the base 1.4-litre petrol model, the cheapest diesel coming in at almost £17,000 for the 91bhp 1.6 HDi version. 

The frugal flagship is the e-HDi version, with an economy figure of 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 104g/km. That latter figure is disappointing, given how many of the 308’s rivals have dipped below the magic 100g/km threshold. 

But most worrying about this version is the cost: it’s alarmingly close to VW’s Golf Bluemotion, which is also cleaner on CO2 emissions.

VERDICT

3.5 star Peugeot 308

One observation stands clearer than any other: Peugeot’s 308 is unquestionably more refined, better finished and dynamically tauter than the 307, or any other Peugeot family hatchback, before it.

And yet the fact that the 308 so readily reminds us of an overhauled version of its predecessor is, ultimately, a disappointment. Bettering the old car is simply not enough when faced with such accomplished rivals.

Not a bad car, but not exceptional either – which makes it an also-ran in this class

While the 308’s weaknesses are individually not enough to warrant damning criticism - the performance lacks a little enthusiasm, the ride is occasionally troubled and the handling lacklustre - most of its competitors just do it all better.

To its credit, the 308 is spacious, well equipped, well priced and has a quality feel, but these positives can’t cancel out the negatives. There are plenty of other hatches we’d rather buy.

It’s luck then that the SW estate version is a saving grace for the 308. Estate-bodied variants of a C-segment hatches tend to get a bit lost among the hordes of headline-grabbing mini-MPVs and the like, but in truth there’s no reason to rule it out.

It may not be the first choice for the driving enthusiast, but the 308 SW is a refined, economical and pleasant enough small estate that’s also practical and, with those optional third-row seats added, exceptionally versatile.

Mark Tisshaw

mark-tisshaw-autocar
Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Peugeot 308 2007-2013 First drives