This 308 is Peugeot’s second stab at the medium hatch and in every way improves, often drastically, over the car it succeeds. First unveiled in the latter stages of 2013, the French automaker clearly set the bar very high with the T9, the car’s internal project identifier.
It competes with other small family hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf, Holden Astra, Ford Focus, Mazda3, and Renault Megane. This time, emphasising strengths in design and build quality in a way that the older car just couldn’t muster.
In fact, its arrival (along with the earlier 508) helped cement the newfound gusto that Peugeot has been embodying lately, backed up by some innovative engines that found their way into the smaller 208, 3008, and 2008.
It’s now a far classier car that can truly compete on the level of the class-leading Volkswagen on premium interior feel and even aims to keep pace with the Focus in terms of on-road dynamics - both are tall orders in their own right, and the 308 trying to be a jack of all trades will quite likely result in a compromise on one end. Astonishingly, though it comes tantalisingly close to pulling it off.
In late 2016, Peugeot Australia decided to trim the 308 line-up to just 6 variants in total where previous there were 17. The streamlined ensemble now starts with the Active before moving up to the Allure, and finally the sportier GT. It can be had either as a 5-door hatch in any of those aforementioned grades or as a more spacious 308 Touring, but only in the mid-level Allure trim.
“Peugeot's abandonment of bulbous, carbuncled cars has done it the world of good. While the 308 hatch is a bit too Golf-ey, the wagon is much more its own car.” - CarsGuide
We reckon that many would be hard pressed to object to the conclusion that this is a very good looking car, especially in comparison to its most direct competition and definitely when considering the visual missteps of recent Peugeots.
The fascia starts with the more squared jaw, less pronounced grille, and the swept back headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Even at the rear, the high bumper and narrow hatch give it more presence and hints at a sporting guile we haven’t seen from the French automaker up until that point.
The car’s inherent aesthetic appeal doesn’t try too hard to garner any unwanted attention. The shape is sleek and elegant, with only subtle flourishes that further reward the keen observer. It’s quite comparable to the stylistic conservatism of the Golf in this regard, but is fashionable in that French way that the dapper but somewhat drap VW just isn’t.
Underneath, though, we find the now-familiar EMP2 platform that’s also being used - among others - to underpin the Citroen C4 Picasso. In the 308, with the aid of the more cleverly constructed shell, helps to shave approximately 140kg over the older model, essential to make sure the PureTech petrol and BlueHDi engines work to their optimum efficiency.
The car clearly looks best with the gorgeous 18-inch Sapphir alloy wheels fitted, though the smaller 16-inch rollers in the base Active don’t disappoint either.
Engine and Drivetrain
“The basic 1.2-litre petrol Peugeot 308 isn’t very quick. However, the engine is smooth and quiet and feels gutsier than it really is.” - CarBuyer.co.uk
The 308’s engine line-up has now been trimmed to two engines, both are turbocharged and both offer commendable fuel economy and emissions levels, mated to a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission We kick off with the PureTech, PSA’s branding for their 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol, available in the 308 Active and Allure.
It kicks out a very respectable (for its size) 96kW and 230Nm and by all indications is quite a nippy little motor for urban dashes to highway cruises, all while chasing a claimed 4.6-litres/100km consumption figure. Peak torque is ready as early as 1,750rpm - very handy for spur-of-the-moment acceleration and overtaking.
Though, if it’s torque that’s sought after, the 2.0-litre BlueHDi four-cylinder turbodiesel wins hands down with 370Nm of twist. The 110kW motor is available in the Allure and GT variants and is more refined than other diesel-powered rivals, even managing a more frugal 4.0-litres/100km (claimed).
“The 308 has a modern, hi-tech interior that's packed with features, although it's not the easiest to use.” - WhatCar
Step into the 308 and it’s evident just how much effort was placed into the cabin experienced. Everything feels rather plush yet modern like a Swiss airport, especially in the GT with its Alcatara and leather-accented seats and trim.
The dash layout may take some getting used to though as Peugeot’s i-Cockpit instrument cluster is meant to be viewed from above the smaller sized steering wheel instead of through it. Taller driver may find this ideal position tough to reach, but it nonetheless makes for a very minimal and uniquely stepped layout.
Dual zone climate control comes as standard now, as does satellite navigation on the mid-spec Allure, controlled by the wide touch-operated central infotainment screen. It’s angled slightly toward the driver, too, which may pose some issue to passengers wanting to take temperature and media controls into their own hands. In right hand drive markets like ours, Peugeot left the fuse box on the left side of the car, leading to a glove box that’s around half of the size it should rightly be.
Touch controls operate nearly every interior function the car has but while it looks very hi-tech, it isn’t as intuitive to operate as some other infotainment suites, which we’ll expand upon later. Even quick toggles to the HVAC settings take a longer time as a result of having to tap into menus.
The 308 is actually noticeably more petite than the Ford Focus, at least in 5-door hatch guise, but somehow manages to extract a comparable amount of rear passenger space. Still, it’s behind class leaders in this regard and some larger passengers may find legroom to be at a premium. The middle seat is flat and relatively wide a passenger sat here will hampered by an intrusive transmission tunnel hump.
As a trade for the less-than-stellar rear space is a larger boot. Though, at 435-litres with the seats up and 1,274-litres with them folded, all this extra cargo room it isn’t exactly the fairest of compromises as we’d rather Peugeot take passenger comfort as a larger priority. The larger 308 Touring takes it to 625-litres of boot space or a whopping 1,740-litres with the seats down.
It doesn’t help either that the high bumper which, while visually imposing, does lead to an unhelpful load lip. It’s also a shame that the boot floor cannot be raised because with the seats down, isn’t flat at all either.
Behind The Wheel
“This 308 is really very comfortable, cossetting, and refined. The NVH has been suitably buttoned down, it doesn’t bob and weave around on the road, and it remains settled.” - Top Gear
It may look like a sportier car to drive than the Volkswagen Golf, but in truth this car is only marginally sharper than the older 308. That’s not a knock against it, really, as its predecessor did have some commendable dynamics. But there’s no mistaking this car’s leaning toward comfort than being a toned-down hot hatch.
Refinement on the road is impressive and very nearly up there with the best of them, though it’s slightly let down by a surprising amount of wind noise at high speed but otherwise, the cabin is well isolated. The softer, more pliant suspension is also quite adept at smoothening out the kind of road jitters that might upset other cars, even on the larger 18-inch wheel option.
Despite not being particularly sporty, the 308 does feel quite sophisticated on the road. And what it lacks in outright effervescence through the corners, it makes up for with plenty of mechanical grip and a very predictable chassis balance.
Potential owners will really have to judge for themselves whether the i-Cockpit steering wheel and instrument cluster positioning will impede visibility to important gauges within the binnacle. If it doesn’t, then a novel and even sometimes markedly better driving interface is on offer here.
Speaking of visibility, that narrow rear windscreen coupled with the thick C-pillar design does mean that the 308’s rearward view is weak, and it doesn’t help that the reversing camera isn’t standard fit on the base Active variant.
Safety and Technology
“This is because Peugeot has packed as much as it could into the infotainment screen. So to start with, the climate control features are all a touch-screen away, which is where the trouble starts.” - Motoring
Peugeot brings a strong set of safety credentials with the 308, leading it to a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating when it was launched initially and a subsequent 5-star corroborative score from ANCAP when it landed on our shores.
There are 6 airbags as standard, stability control, cruise control with speed limiter, LED headlights in the Allure and up. Actually, many of the features trickling down into lower price points in competitors are still reserved for the more expensive 308 Allure and GT such as the reversing camera, park assist, blind spot monitoring.
Sadly, when Peugeot axed the Allure Premium grade, so too was the radar assisted adaptive cruise control system with emergency collision alert and emergency collision braking system. Shame, as radar-enabled features such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are quickly becoming a feature more and more buyers are insisting on.
As we mentioned above, the tight integration between the infotainment system with the car’s cabin functions mean that the number of tactile buttons on the dashboard itself can be counted with just two hands, though the drawback is that the system isn’t the easiest to use nor is it the most responsive.
Cluttering though it may be, sometimes an old school button works best. Interestingly, Peugeot advertises it as a 9.7-inch display but the LCD panel itself measures roughly 7-inches diagonally. Although, there are touch-sensitive buttons on the side of the screen itself, but how this is factored into the same ‘touchscreen’ area measurement is beyond us.
Honestly, there’s a lot to like about the 308, probably more so upon first impressions than most of the Peugeot’s we’ve been accustomed to before its 2014 arrival. The interior persists as the shining example of this with its haute ambiance as well as vastly improved materials, build, and finish.
It’s also one of the best looking cars in its class as well as being very composed on the road. There are some areas, though, where it stumbles in the sprint to outdo the competition, leading to some curious compromises. The commodious boot, for example, could stand to be a little smaller if it meant more room for rear passengers, and the exclusion of autonomous emergency braking at the high end is a glaring feature omission here.
Those aren’t necessarily things that should turn away potential customers from shortlisting the 308. In many areas, it shows the way forward and highlights areas where class-leaders can be improved. Where it counts, though, the Peugeot comes achingly close to taking the small family hatch crown.
Motoring - 75/100 - “The 308 was a surprisingly good tow vehicle and holiday tourer. It puts paid to the notion that a small displacement three-cylinder engine is not enough. It is more than enough, and despite its few annoying quirks, the 308 is the best Peugeot to come from Socheaux in a long time.”
Top Gear - 8/10 - “This is the best family hatch Peugeot has ever made. Smooth, refined, and comfortable.”
AutoExpress - 4/5 - “The 308 is relaxing to drive, and its pleasant ride quality and fluid handling inspire confidence. Nearly every engine is excellent, too, with the latest Peugeot PureTech petrol turbos being right on the pace of the traditionally fine BlueHDi diesels.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “The suspect ergonomics are where it falls down and plenty of people took one look at the dashboard arrangement and said, "Nope." Which is a pity, because you can and will get used to it while the rest of the package will put a smile on your face,”
CarBuyer.co.uk - 4.2/5 - “The Peugeot 308 hatchback is an attractive alternative to rivals that’s comfortable and spacious.”