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Car reviews - Peugeot - 308 - GT BlueHDi

Our Opinion

We like
Fuel consumption, fun handling, mostly pleasant ride, great driving position, effortless engine performance
Room for improvement
Clunky infotainment system, inaccurate sat-nav, one road uncovered serious ride quality flaws, lack of rear legroom, visibility

Peugeot logo28 Jul 2015

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

PEUGEOT pitches the diesel version of its 308 GT at $42,990 (plus on-roads costs), around twice the price of a base-spec 308 and squaring up to oil-burning big hitters like the Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI Ambition ($45,500), BMW 118d (recently reduced to $40,300), Mercedes-Benz A200 CDI ($42,300) and Volvo V40 D4 Kinetic ($40,490 manual/$42,490 auto) – although compared with the Peugeot their inferior engine output and equipment levels are the trade-off for premium badge cachet.

The diesel 308 GT also competes on price with the petrol-powered Volkswagen Golf GTI ($40,990 manual/$43,490 auto), which of course walks all over the Peugeot in performance terms.

But the most direct 308 GT competitor comes from Japan, in the shape of Mazda’s excellent Mazda3 XD Astina ($41,290 with six-speed auto), which with 129kW of power and 420Nm of torque, is 4kW down on the French car but has an extra 20Nm up its sleeve from its 10 per cent larger (but significantly thirstier) 2.2-litre turbo-diesel powerplant.

Creating a compelling value package around the grunty 133kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission, Peugeot has loaded the GT up with luxuries including adaptive cruise control, emergency collision alert, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and assisted parking plus a 9.7-inch touchscreen providing access to the satellite navigation, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth with audio streaming and a 6.9GB multimedia storage system.

There are also full-LED headlights and indicators, front and rear parking sensors, massaging and heated front sports seats, red upholstery stitching, interior mood lighting, anthracite and aluminium trim, paddle-shifters, automatic headlights and wipers, rear privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres and a body kit featuring dual tailpipes.

A Sport mode activated by pressing and holding a button turns the instrument cluster illumination red, pumps artificial engine sounds into the cabin, displays power, torque, turbo pressure and G-force gauges and alters throttle, transmission and steering settings for a more enthusiastic driving experience.

Interior

First impressions of the GT’s attractive, sporty and snug interior are positive, especially with the optional leather upholstery fitted to the car tested. After a week behind the wheel, we remained impressed with the quality feel.

The polarising Peugeot layout of tiny, low-set steering wheel below a high-set instrument cluster worked well for this tall tester and significantly shorter co-driver, providing a purposeful and comfortable driving position for both with no drawbacks in terms of instrument visibility. In fact the 308 was one of those rare cars that required few adjustments to seat, steering and mirrors when swapping between physiologically different drivers.

News from the rear pews was not so great, where it was almost impossible for a six-footer to sit in tandem with a similarly tall driver. The poor interior lighting, combined with a high-set bench seat, black headlining and dark rear window tints added to the feeling of claustrophobia back there.

The 308 GT was much more useful with the split-fold rear seats stowed – although there is a step up where the boot floor meets the folded – as it happily swallowed the result of a visit to IKEA.

It is a good job a reversing camera, parking sensors and parking assistance are fitted, for the rear windscreen is tiny and high-set, while the C-pillars are massive. Without the tech, reverse parking would be guesswork.

Peugeot clearly needs to try harder with its clunky, unintuitive infotainment system. It took ages to pair a smartphone via Bluetooth and program a sat-nav destination – and the GPS seemed way out of whack, telling us one moment a turn-off was 400 metres away then suddenly changing its mind and telling us in its amusing Welsh accent to make a turn about 10 seconds too late.

The touch-buttons flanking the central screen to access various functions use hard-to-decipher icons and the steering wheel controls leave a lot to be desired. It took some time to get used to this stuff, making our first journeys infuriating. The graphics look dated and ugly too.

We understand the bid to minimise switchgear, but it leaves an ugly, cheap plastic bulge beneath the touchscreen containing a CD player slot and a couple of randomly-placed controls instead of making more sensible use of this dashboard real estate.

Which brings us onto the lack of cupholders. Just one in the centre console and two in the fold-down rear armrest. The centre console one is too deep for all but the biggest takeaway coffee cups, meaning the lids get knocked off. For the facelift, we suggest extra cupholders should be placed where the aforementioned plastic dashboard bulge resides.

On a more positive note, while the analogue speedometer is cramped and hard to read, the central display is crisp and clear with a large digital speed readout – beside a mostly accurate and highly useful current speed limit notification – with options to marvel at the low fuel usage on three trip computer screens and geek out at turbo boost, engine power/torque and G-force screens available in Sport mode.

Mind you, if driving in the way Sport mode is intended, it is better to keep one’s eyes on the road.

Apart from the flimsy feeling volume knob beside the CD player slot, all switchgear had a quality feel. Overall, the 308 interior is a great improvement over Peugeots past.

Engine and transmission

Under the bonnet is where the party starts on this car, at least if you are celebrating fuel-efficiency. We averaged 5.6L/100km, which included motorway driving, urban congestion, waves of red suburban traffic lights and a blast along some twisting country lanes.

Resetting the trip computer to see what it did while negotiating Brisbane’s clogged inner suburbs revealed 8.5L/100km at an average speed of 25km/h. Urban and suburban driving also revealed this engine to have one of the smoothest, quickest and most seamless idle-stop systems on the market. We were never tempted to turn it off.

These figures may be way off Peugeot’s official 4.0L/100km combined and (frankly ridiculous) 4.7L/100km urban figures but they remain impressive for the real world.

Standing-start and low-speed roll-on acceleration feels punchy, the 400Nm of torque on tap capable of pinning occupants into their seats. Once above 70km/h it simply feels effortless and muscular, which is deceptive as it still piles on speed rapidly, but the sensation is muted and it reduces confidence when overtaking. It is almost always better to lean on the engine’s low-end torque than change down a gear or two to build up some revs.

For a diesel, throttle response is great from any RPM, especially in Sport mode, but the hesitant and slow transmission undoes much of the engine’s good work if for example a kick-down is called for, or the driver uses the paddles – a good dual-clutch transmission would transform this car in that regard, as would the (absent) option of a proper manual.

The quicker throttle in Sport mode often uncovers the transmission having a nap and the driver has to learn to wait rather than increase pedal pressure if they are to avoid an unwelcome surge of acceleration at the wrong moment.

At low speeds there is no mistaking this engine for a diesel, for its clatter and grumble is not as suppressed as we’d like. In Sport mode it is drowned out somewhat by the rather unconvincing but entertaining fake engine note piped through the audio system, which funnily enough has an offbeat sounds much like an old Subaru WRX and if you listen carefully, even has fake turbo blow-off sounds on the overrun.

During a motorway cruise there is an ever-present low and distant drone from the engine, like that of a large ocean liner. That said, the engine and transmission are generally smooth and refined, efficiently getting on with the job during the simple A to B driving that will make up 95 per cent of usage.

Road and wind noise are impressively absent, too.

Ride and handling

With one notable exception, we were mightily impressed with the 308 GT’s balance of ride comfort, road isolation and driving pleasure.

That exception was the stretch of Pacific Motorway between the Brisbane suburb of Logan and the Gold Coast. The concrete surface uncovered a serious inability of the suspension to cope with repeated undulations, to the point where it became unbearable and we could not wait for the section of road to end. We did not experience the problem anywhere else, not even on the northbound side of the same road, but if you have to do this journey regularly, we seriously recommend that you consider another vehicle.

At all other times, the 308 behaved impeccably. The ride is undoubtedly firm but exceptionally well-damped, never crashing or bottoming out. As a result, it is well tied-down when enthusiastically attacking corners and roundabouts.

There is plenty of grip available and, to our delight, the 308 GT becomes highly communicative when that grip eventually starts to run out. Its tiny, perfectly sculpted and leather-clad steering wheel provides plenty of information despite the electric power assistance that otherwise never totally overcomes the slightly artificial feel of such systems.

The little wheel provides sharp and accurate direction changes, while the messages coming through it encourage the application of more steering angle to overcome the 308’s gentle onset of understeer while giving plenty of notice that adhesion to the road is beginning to break away, at which point a gentle relaxation of the right foot helps to bring the nose into line.

If the driver takes no (or incorrect) corrective action or is really pushing hard, the electronic stability control intervenes in quite a heavy handed manner. But deactivate the nanny (on the GT off means off) and the driver is able to wield a fair bit more control before any chance of being cast off into the nearest hedge, revealing a pleasing level of chassis finesse. That said, the GT has plenty of fun to give on the average public road with all the safety nets in place.

Sport mode adds heaviness to the steering and little else. Ideally the steering would remain the same and the throttle and transmission responses would remain heightened with this button activated, but in the Peugeot it is all or nothing.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP gave the 308 a maximum five-star safety rating, with an overall score of 35.82. The frontal offset test score was 14.82 out of 16, while full points were awarded for its side impact and pole tests. Whiplash protection was deemed “good” and pedestrian protection “acceptable”.

Dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control and seat belt reminders for all seats.

Maintenance under Peugeot’s five-year capped-price servicing plan comes in 12 month or 15,000km intervals, while the warranty lasts three years or 100,000km.

Verdict

Often, and particularly in the mainstream small-car segment, we find entry- or mid-level variants to be the sweet spot of the range. Extra features, performance or both can often take away more than they add to the driving experience and the most expensive model is not necessarily the best.

European – especially luxury – brands are usually the most adept at placing the sweet spot some way north of the entry level.

The 308 is a great car and a towering achievement for a company facing deep financial difficulties, but is the GT really worth roughly double that of the excellent base model?Initially we felt the infuriating touchscreen and firm ride detract from the elegant simplicity and flowing gait that make the wider 308 range so successful. But the GT looks and feels both classy and expensive inside and out, possessing a feel-good factor that is hard to put a price on.

The feel-good vibes flow through to the driving experience too and we regularly found ourselves smiling behind the wheel of this car. It has character and flair like an Alfa Romeo Giulietta but is far less flawed. Apart from cabin ergonomics and transmission technology it runs the VW Golf close for European small car class leadership.

Most of all, the 308 GT Blue TDi brings something different to the party, especially since Alfa Romeo dropped the diesel Giulietta from Australian showrooms.

Until the 308 GTi arrives – and what a car that promises to be – the GT satisfies the head by being so fuel-efficient (beating all rivals in that department) while warming the heart with its charm. And there are only minor flaws to dull the glow.

But were it our money and our heart was set on diesel power (if petrol was an option we’d go for a Golf GTI), it would be very hard to walk past a Mazda dealership with the Mazda3 XD Astina parked behind the window. And we’d drive the hatchback from Hiroshima until Peugeot addressed the 308 GT’s flaws as part of a mid-life facelift.

We can live in hope...

Rivals

Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI Ambition from $43,200 plus on-road costs
Roomy, practical, understated and ever the smooth operator, the Audi A3 is almost the default premium hatch option and justifiably so. While it runs the French car close on efficiency, that sticker price is meaningless if you want to even come close to the Peugeot on equipment.

BMW 118d from $40,300 plus on-road costs
Unique in its class for having rear-drive dynamics and a silky smooth eight-speed automatic transmission that helps it overcome a distinct on-paper engine performance disadvantage compared with the Peugeot. As fuel-efficient as the Audi and equipment levels aren’t bad, either.

Mazda3 XD Astina from $39,290 manual/$41,290 auto – plus on-road costs
If a European badge is not a pre-requisite the Mazda makes the Peugeot sing for its supper against a fully loaded equipment list, sharp handling, stump-pulling performance and the option of a slick-shifting manual or excellent six-speed automatic, all for less money than the 308 GT.

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