Well, you’re clearly not listening. It’s not like we haven’t tried. It’s not like we haven’t said, repeatedly, that if you’re looking for a usefully practical car with some style, and one that remains enjoyable to drive, you really ought to buy an estate.
Yet for all our persistence in this area… crickets. Tumbleweed. The sound of someone distantly coughing. You’ve all gone out in your hordes and continued to buy SUVs, even though we all know – for a fact – that they’re the worst kind of car for the environment. Studies have shown that if you took SUVs out of the equation, CO2 emissions from cars would actually have fallen significantly over the past decade. With SUVs, they’re still rising…
Will this convince you? Will this new Peugeot 308 SW actually turn around Irish car buyers’ preference for buying vehicles that are needlessly tall and heavy? Probably not, but one must try.
The 308 SW is, as you’d expect, the estate version of the new and broadly well-received 308 hatchback. It is a considerably larger car, though – the hatchback 308 is 4.3m (14.1ft) long with a 2.6m (8.5ft) wheelbase. This SW is 4.6m (15ft) long and has a 2.7m (8.8ft) wheelbase.
That opens up considerably more space inside. Where the hatchback version is a tiny bit tight in the back seats, this SW is adequate. True, it’s not as out-and-out roomy as an SUV would be, but come on – how often do you actually carry people in the back and how tall actually are they? My kids are more or less the same height as I am and they fit perfectly well into the back seats of this 308 SW.
Better still, there’s a considerable load space out the back. In the hatchback 308, you get a 412-litre boot, or a miserly 361 litres if you get the plug-in hybrid version. Here in this diesel-engined SW you’ve got a whopping 608 litres to play with, or 548 litres if you get the hybrid. That’s proper, useable space. That’s room for two weeks’ luggage for all occupants, or one very tall dog and some shopping. It’s more space than most SUVs offer you, incidentally.
Now, I did mention the dreaded D word – diesel. Having once commanded 75 per cent of the Irish car market, diesel’s popularity, in the face of the emissions-cheating scandal and the growing climate crisis, has unsurprisingly waned. Where once Peugeot might have offered two or three different diesel engine options, now it offers just this one – a 1.5-litre BlueHDI engine with 130hp and 300Nm of torque.
In one sense, this is an excellent engine – that sense being how economical it is. In spite of a fair amount of right-foot provocation on my part, the 308 SW stubbornly refused to return economy figures any worse than 4.8 litres per 100km. On a carefully driven longer journey, I saw 4.2 litres per 100km. These are very, very impressive returns and at a time when fuel prices remain stubbornly high, they are rather reassuring.
Of course, you could potentially do better with the plug-in hybrid version, as long as you plug it in regularly and make the most use of the electric driving potential, but there’s another reason to go plug-in – as a thing to drive, this 1.5 diesel is rather lacking. Drive it in Eco mode (which prudence and propriety suggest you ought to) and while there’s solidly impressive acceleration up to about 60km/h, after that the engine starts to feel pretty breathless and unenthusiastic. Drive it in Sport mode, and it feels a bit more up-and-at-’em, but not by all that much to be honest. Unless your only driving is done in the outside lane of the motorway, then the hybrid or the 1.2 petrol versions are probably a better purchase.
The good news is that whichever engine you choose, the 308 SW is a delight to drive. The steering, accessed through that small, hexagonal wheel, feels alive and the chassis is remarkably adept. There’s an occasional jolt from a ride quality that sometimes feels a shade too firm, but for the most part the 308 SW feels way more fun and engaging to drive than you would expect. It’s not quite so fluent as the Ford Focus, but it’s not far off – and it’s miles better in this respect than any SUV we can think of that’s not a Porsche.
Inside, the cabin is awash with swoops and angled panels, but it’s largely successful. The twin-digital screen layout works okay, with just enough in the way of shortcut buttons – both physical and digital – to make using the central screen easy enough, and the quality and clarity of the graphics are a quantum leap ahead of Peugeot’s older touchscreens. It can still be a bit glitchy, though, often reluctant (and once downright obstructive) when it comes to connecting to your phone. Overall build quality is excellent, though – this 308 is pretty much a match in terms of material quality for anything Volkswagen and Skoda can throw at it.
Oh, and it’s gorgeous. Sure, it’s a bit over-styled in some places, maybe a bit busy from some angles, but it’s handsome and striking especially in the delectable Avatar Blue of our test car.
Not much of which will likely matter. You may well read this piece. You may well read the bit about the big boot, the enjoyable driving experience, the handsome lines and the frugal engine. Your eyes may well have even reached this part of the page. But you’ve gone already, haven’t you? From the moment I said “estate” you’ve drifted off and you’re already contemplating putting down that deposit on a new SUV. Well, it’s your loss. Yours, and the planet’s.
Peugeot 308 SW Allure 1.5 BlueHDI: the lowdown
- Power: 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine developing 130hp and 300Nm of torque, driving an eight-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive.
- CO2 emissions (annual motor tax) 118g/km (€190).
- Fuel consumption: 4.3l/100km.
- 0-100km/h: 10.6sec.
- Price: €38,330 as tested, 308 starts from €31,765.