Car reviews - Peugeot - 308 - 5dr hatch range
Bold styling, good handling and supple ride, improved interior quality, spacious cabin, good noise suppression, strong diesel/automatic combination
Room for improvement
Premium price, no ESC in the base model, poor interior storage, increased weight, sluggish performance figures for base model
12 Feb 2008
THE 308s at the national launch in Canberra gave a good impression of how Peugeot has substantially improved its small car.
It was not a complete picture by any means, with both entry level engines missing from the launch fleet.
It is not unusual for a brand to leave the base models at home for a launch, and Peugeot has promised base cars will be available for the media test fleet, but it does mean we are unable to tell you what the 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel models are like.
When you look at the underwhelming performance stats of the base petrol engine and the car’s extra weight, we suspect it will feel darn slow, but we will have to wait and see.
With the cheaper 308s cooling their heels away from the media spotlight, the cars at the test launch started at $30,590 for the turbo manual petrol car, which is not cheap.
For that money you could get an entry level Ford Mondeo, which is also European, is a full-size larger and comes with a six-speed automatic as standard.
That said, many Peugeot customers would not dream of stepping into anything as common as a Ford and they are very likely to be impressed with the 308.
It looks striking, with such bold styling that no nation other than France or perhaps Italy could get away with.
With so many cars in the small car class competing with similar levels of specification, similar chassis settings and the same basic shapes, such visual distinction is important.
But the appeal of the 308 goes further than the sheetmetal. It is actually a lot of fun to drive and the strength of the steering and suspension is a real highpoint.
The first thing you notice is the impressive cornering speed and limited bodyroll. It just keeps hanging on and seems happy rushing through the turns.
Such road-holding is usually linked to a firm, or just plain harsh, ride. That is not the case with the 308.
Its suspension setting means the ride is very comfortable, with bumps that could cause a rattle or crash in some competitors being taken care of without fuss in the Peugeot.
In fact, you would not want the suspension to be any softer, with some slight floating detected on a concrete highway with repetitive undulations on the drive program near Canberra.
The drive program included some poorly maintained minor country roads that were peppered with bumps and ruts.
Mid corner bumps caused some rattling through the steering wheel (known as rack rattle), which is off-putting, but the steering otherwise feels well-sorted, with good weight and good feel.
The 308 also performed well on winding dirt roads. Not only did it feel sure-footed on the slippery surface, but the effective electronic stability control also stepped in when things got loose to bring the car back under control.
The turbo 1.6-litre petrol engine was adequate. It is not strong below around 2000 revs, but does just fine above that.
While the smooth and hard-revving turbo 1.6 is a hoot in smaller cars like the Mini Cooper S and the Peugeot 207, it has to work much harder in the larger and heavier 308.
Next up was the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. This engine is gem and the fact that it comes with a six-speed automatic means it is well-suited to Australian tastes. For a diesel, it is reasonably quiet, either at idle or on the run.
The diesel engine is very strong and, thanks to the vast torque on demand, the automatic does not have to work hard to keep things moving along.
If you want a diesel and you do not want a manual, the 2.0-litre is your only choice as the smaller oil-burner is not available with an automatic.
Both diesel and petrol models were impressively quiet at speed. The 308 seems to generate much less road noise than models like the Ford Focus and Mazda3, even on coarse-chip country roads, and the wind-noise is not too bad.
The interior of the 308 is both a high and low point of the car.
In general it is a high point, with Peugeot lifting its quality levels, improved surfaces and implementing well laid-out simple-to-use controls. Metal-look trim sections lift the feel of the cockpit and most of the plastic surfaces are soft to the touch.
A real highlight is the optional satellite navigation system. It pops up from the top of the dashboard above the centre console, just below the windscreen, which means it is in the best position possible for the driver.
While most systems require you to take your eyes off the road and look down to the middle of the console, the sat-nav screen in the 308 is very close to your line of sight.
The bad news for the interior is that the two cupholders, which are very shallow, are located behind the gear-shift, right where your forearm goes when you change gears. You simply cannot change gears in the manual with bottles or cans in the cupholders.
Frustrated by the cupholders, you go to put the bottle or can in the door bins, which in most cars have a shaped part that can double as a cupholder. The 308 does not have these and your bottle or can will slide up and down in the door bin whenever you start or stop.
And they do not fit in the centre console bin or the chilled glovebox. The useable space in the glovebox is miniscule as half the volume is taken up by a fusebox.
There is a slim tray under the front seats in the higher grade models, which is good for hiding thin items, but in general the storage inside is poor.
Boot volume is down in the 308, but it is still quite good and should be big enough for most owners.
The seats are quite comfortable and the headroom and legroom in the rear is generous.
We also like standard features like cruise control, which is a must in Australia these days.
Apart from the omission of ESC on the base models, the safety credentials of the 308 are very good, with front, side and curtain airbags included as standard.
It is now up to the salespeople to convince entry level buyers to spend the extra $450 for ESC.
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