Peugeot’s 308 estate bashes its hatch

More spacious 308 SW makes far more family sense than the smaller hatchback

The more spacious 308 SW makes far more family sense than the smaller hatchback. Video: Reuters

Make: Peugeot

Model:

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: April 25, 2014

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 01:00

   

Honestly, why does anyone still buy hatchbacks and saloons these days? Speaking as a family man (and these days I am realistically little else) there is simply no substitute for that estate car effortlessness. That feeling of being able to flip up the tailgate and shove all the chattels your offspring need into the back. Buggies and travel cots at first, graduating to scooters, bikes, sports bags and, eventually, huge bags of mouldering laundry when you pick them up from college. Trust me, if you have kids, you need an estate.

That is especially true if you’re in the market for a Peugeot 308 – something that an increasingly large number of European buyers are. However, while the standard 308 hatch is handsome, well-made and pleasant to drive, what it isn’t is spacious.

Peugeot’s engineers are quite candid about the fact that centimetres were trimmed from the chassis to keep the weight (and therefore the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions) as low as possible, and the price for that was titchy rear legroom. It’s tight for an adult in the back of a 308 hatch, and tight too for the kids in their bulky, space-consuming safety seats. Tight, too, for the front seat occupants who inevitably have to crank their seats forward to appease the squeals of those in the rear.

Not so the 308 SW, the estate version of the European Car of the Year award-winning 308. For the SW, the engineers have found the missing 11cm from the car’s length (and crucially the 3cm that was robbed from the rear seat legroom) and put it all back. The result is actual room for actual people and the total penalty for CO2 emissions is just 3g/km or thereabouts.

There’s also a staggeringly spacious boot out the back, under that neatly-styled extension. It’s big, square and deep, and Peugeot says that, with a space-saver spare tyre, you can fit 660 litres of luggage under the tonneau cover, or a massive 1,700 litres if you flip down the rear seats (sorry kids, daddy has to play van-driver today ). Certainly, it was big enough to swallow your 17st, 6ft correspondent with apparent ease, so it should hold all of your family’s needs.


Refinement
Back up the front, there is a new range of engines to play with. There is a whole family of high-pressure turbo 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrols. Peugeot, as with most car makers, is predicting a return to petrol sales as diesels become more expensive to make and petrol emissions and fuel consumption catch up. Certainly, the 130hp 1.2-litre pulls the 308 SW along with conviction, making a pleasingly raspy noise as it does so, but it remains to be seen if it can really match the diesels for day-to-day economy.

For our diesel-centric market, the most important engine will be a new 1.6-litre diesel, dubbed “BlueHDI” by Peugeot. It replaces the old 115hp 1.6 oil-burner and develops a very respectable 120hp and a positively whopping 300Nm of torque. It grunts enough to call into serious question the wisdom of ordering the otherwise excellent 150hp 2.0-litre HDI, yet its official CO2 emissions are pegged at just 85g/km. It’s also nicely refined.

Sadly, refinement is a bit of an issue in other areas of the car. Peugeot makes justifiably proud claims about saving 140kg of weight on this generation of 308 SW compared to its predecessor, but about 7kg of that was sound-deadening and you can hear the effects of that. At speeds of about 100kmh and on anything less than a perfectly smooth surface there is quite a lot of tyre roar coming up from the front wheel arches, and that combines with a slightly fidgety ride quality to make the SW feel rather less refined than it ought.


Compensation
Still, there is compensation to be found in the dynamic performance. The steering is a little artificial and occasionally a touch distant, but the 308 SW is very sure-footed, turning in obediently and sitting stably at high speeds.

There’s more compensation in the interior where you’ll
find impressive build quality and a massive 9.7-inch touchscreen on all but the basic model. Ignore the silly internet-based apps (the technology is clever but the reality is just too frustrating) and
make sure you don’t tick the box for full leather trim – the seats are over-stuffed, so you sit too perched up. The standard, basic cloth seats are far comfier and more supportive.

There are some other nice options. There’s a Sport function that sharpens the throttle response and pipes more aggressive engine noises into the cabin through the stereo, as well as turning the instruments an alluring shade of carmine red.

There is also a new six-speed automatic gearbox that makes for a relaxing companion and which Peugeot promises will not increase any engine’s CO2 emissions by more than 5g/km. Prices and final specs for the car are still being decided, but expect a rough premium of about €1,000-€1,200 over an equivalent hatchback 308.

Good looking, practical and sophisticated, the 308 SW is also shooting at something of an open goal. VW Ireland is not importing the estate version of the all-conquering Golf, and against such rivals as the Skoda Octavia Combi or Ford Focus wagon, the Peugeot looks and feels a grade higher. For space, if for nothing else, it’s the best 308 for families.