The new Peugeot 308 steps up to the plate

With its radical interior makeover and impressive engine performance, Peugeot’s new 308 is taking on Ford and VW in the competitive small family car segment

Make: Peugeot

Model: 308

Year: 2013

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: September 17, 2013

Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 18:14

   

Motor industry technocrats call it the C-segment, while the rest of us know it as the small family car segment. It accounts for more than a third of all car sales in Europe and two of the top three selling cars in Ireland – the other being simply a crossover variation of the segment – belong to it. It is therefore a very profitable area for car companies, one in which they invest heavily and one in which they guard their position with zeal.

Given the mainstream names that currently dominate this part of the market – the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus – companies aspiring to take them on face a serious challenge, and inroads are not going to be made overnight.

The arrival of the new Peugeot 308, therefore, represents one of the greatest challenges for the French manufacturer. Peugeot does not only have to move upmarket – it also has to prove itself as a competitor to some of the most reliable and best-value cars on the market.

Given Peugeot’s lacklustre performance and image in recent years, it has much to do to convince buyers that the 308 is a credible alternative. Price, of course, will come into it but as we don’t have a price for the 308 yet, we will have to wait to see how Peugeot manages that first hurdle.

In the meantime, the company has to be given credit for making one of its best-ever efforts at innovation and improvement. The 308 feels more solid, better engineered and more thought-out than comparable cars over the year. It is certainly a major step up from the older 308.

The platform for the car is new, but has already been used for the Citroën C4 Picasso, and there are a number of styling cues from the latest Citroën line-up. There are also styling cues from the Golf that are particularly noticeable from the side. But imitation involves more than flattery – it is also a smart move to remind people that they are getting something they associate with established reliability. And it all adds up to making the 308 seem a different and stronger presence on the road.


Fiddly instruments ditched
But while the exterior styling is hardly radical, the interior makeover is. For Peugeot, at least. Those waves of dull plastic and fiddly instruments and buttons have finally been ditched. A binnacle above the steering wheel now houses the dials, but functions such as telephone connectivity, heating and air-conditioning controls and audio system have been combined in a touch-screen. Getting rid of familiar controls is a brave move though in tune with the times – but how will people adjust to it? Those who are at ease with touch-screen technology will welcome it, but those who are familiar with the near-perfect responses of an Apple or Samsung device won’t find the same precision or smooth response. The touch-screen response in this car is simply not at that level and can be downright frustrating at times.

Some drivers will also find the binnacle for the instruments an issue in that it restricts the view of the bonnet and therefore the view of where the exterior front limit of the car is.

There is also the matter of the smaller-than-average steering wheel which
Peugeot is now making a feature of. Yes, it does reduce the requirement for a big steering wheel that can dominate, but can also
makes you feel you are at the dodgems.

The ride is really good, though, and an impressive development by Peugeot, but the handling is not as sharp as that of either the Golf or the Focus, and the steering can be a little light at times. Cars like this are mostly used for average driving and in this regard the 308 ticks most of the boxes.


Good comfort levels
The comfort levels are impressive and things like the strength of seat construction are noticeable. When it comes to overall interior design and comfort you have the impression that Peugeot has, for once perhaps, really taken on board what Volkswagen and Ford have achieved and why they hold on to their customers. The 308 also has a good boot, with storage compartments beneath the boot floor.

Where the 308 comes into its own is with its engines. The 1.6 HDi diesel shines, with pretty much instant feedback from start, and it is smooth, quiet and efficient. There will be a choice of 11 engines, and the ones available next spring will be even more efficientthan the ones on offer from December on.

The initial basic 1.6 diesel engine has an output of 92bhp and produces 93g/km of CO2 but the bigger engine coming in spring will have an output of 120bhp with only 82g/km.

The 308 is an impressive car and a much-welcome improvement from Peugeot. While it is not yet up there with the Golf or the Focus it does mark a serious turn-around.