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France’s aspirational volume brand rekindles ’90s feel for Golf-fighting hatchback

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It’s been a long time since Peugeot used TV, radio and magazine advertising to crow about the strength of its lion-like models, but those of us who can remember when it did might well see a parallel between its relative commercial tidings of the late 1980s and early 1990s and today.

This company is incrementally shifting itself closer towards pseudo-premium brand territory by launching ever more chiselled-looking cars with inviting, materially appealing interiors, powered by modern engines that keep them relevant.

The 308 is the first model to feature Peugeot’s new lion badge, a reinterpretation of the firm’s 1960s iconography as blooded by the 404. The badge is also big enough to cover the car’s safety transceivers.

In the UK and elsewhere, it has reclaimed much of the market share that it lost to the German brands through the mid-2000s. However, in using compact SUVs and electric offerings to fuel so much of its rise, it has yet to really rejuvenate the spirit that brought us those great-handling hatchbacks and saloons of the 1980s: cars like the 205, 405, 406, 309 and 306.

This week, we find out if the company’s all-new mid-sized hatchback, the Peugeot 308, can bring a clearer dynamic flavour of the old Peugeot back. This is the second time that the firm has recycled the 308 model nomenclature for its VW Golf-segment entrant, and it has also recycled and overhauled the old version’s vehicle architecture, while honouring the 308’s relatively diminutive proportions within a class where much larger cars are now more and more common.

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But even so, this car is no stranger to new technology. It is the first 308 to tout plug-in hybrid powertrains, and will be the first to go all-electric too, in the shape of next year’s e-308. For those who prefer to keep things simple under the bonnet, however, Peugeot is offering both petrol and diesel combustion options – and it’s the more traditional petrol we have opted to test here.

Peugeot 308 range at a glance

Peugeot’s UK-market line-up for the 308 has combustion-engined models from around £25,000. The price jump from a regular petrol to a plug-in hybrid is a hefty £6500, some or all of which you might be able to recoup through lower costs of ownership. An SW estate costs about £1200 more than a hatchback.

Trim levels start with Active Premium, and go up through Allure, Allure Premium, GT and GT Premium. Mid-spec Allure Premium gets you 17in alloy wheels, wireless device charging and smartphone mirroring as standard.

EnginesPowerFrom

Peugeot 308 1.2T Puretech Active Premium*

129bhp£24,635

Peugeot 308 1.5 BlueHDI Active Premium

129bhp£26,035

Peugeot 308 1.6 Hybrid 180Allure

177bhp£33,035

Peugeot 308 1.6 Hybrid 225 GT

221bhp£37,235

*Engine variant tested

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Peugeot 308 RT 2022 side pan

It has become a habit of Peugeot’s to confine itself to the more compact end of the family hatchback market: perhaps since the svelte 306 took over from the blocky-looking 309 in 1993 and, by offering something a little more petite than the norm, showed that smaller could be better in all sorts of ways.

The new 308 isn’t quite that small. Having had 55mm added to its wheelbase, in fact, the hatchback is now 4365mm long, so it’s more than 100mm longer than the car it replaces, as well as wider and slightly taller. If anything, however, slightly lower, wider overall proportions for the car give it a notably more sporting stance than the old 308 had.

The latest design language has plenty of surface complexity, nowhere more evident than on the car’s sculpted bootlid. Wheels are all-alloy, starting at 16in on entry-grade cars and finishing up with 18s as fitted here. A Peugeot badge on the front wing means you are looking at a range-topping GT or GT Premium model

Those who compare it with rivals, meanwhile, will note that it’s still marginally shorter at the kerb than a Ford Focus, Seat Leon and Toyota Corolla, as well as the segment’s practicality-centred offerings (Skoda Octavia, Honda Civic et al).

In a technical departure from the outgoing Peugeot 308 (2014-2021) and the old Peugeot 308 (2007-2013), the new one offers petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid power, with that EV still to come. Stellantis’s updated EMP 2 v3 vehicle architecture is the reason that it can do so, having been quite widely redesigned for this application, but also for service under the new Vauxhall Astra and DS 4, among other cars.

In the 308, it confers front suspension via class-typical MacPherson struts with a torsion beam axle featuring at the rear, currently irrespective of which engine you opt for.

The Peugeot 308 Hybrid 180 and 225 options are both front-wheel drive, combining a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a 109bhp electric drive motor and offering a tax-relevant official electric range of more than 40 miles in some cases.

But if you stick with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine instead, you save more than £6000 on the list price and more than 300kg on vehicle kerb weight, getting Peugeot’s now well-established Puretech engine with up to 129bhp and 170lb ft on tap. Our fairly high-end test car weighed 1358kg fully fuelled, against a minimum kerb weight claim of just 1288kg: light indeed for a modern C-segment contender.

INTERIOR

7 Peugeot 308 RT 2022 dashboard

Peugeot’s i-Cockpit control regime has been with us a decade this year, and is now present throughout the firm’s model range including this Peugeot 308. Consisting of a highish driving position, a lowish-set downsized steering wheel and a high-placed set of instruments, it was, and remains, Peugeot’s ‘us against the world’ attempt at redefining a normal control layout.

Much time-honoured convention has been sacrificed on this ergonomic altar over the years. When the last Peugeot 308 (2013-2021) came out in 2013, it did do so with speedometer and rev-counter clocks whose normal positions (revs on the left, speed on the right) had been switched around, and with the rev counter now graded in an anti-clockwise direction so as to be more readable in the new i-Cockpit era.That never really felt like intuitive thinking to us, but the orientation of instruments survives into the new 308, albeit on the car’s all-digital dashboard, which comes as standard.

I’m 6ft 3in, so it’s rare that I fit comfortably in the back of any C-segment hatchback. The 308 was just about big enough for my seven- and nine-year-old kids, but I wouldn’t want to cater for an older family with it.

Even after up to a decade of getting used to it, the balance of testers reported that they still found the 308’s layout unintuitive; that the car’s handling seemed to benefit little from being translated through a smaller-diameter steering wheel; and that they didn’t enjoy an unencumbered view of the instruments in any case.

Be that as it may, though, if Peugeot’s designers could have been talked out of their ergonomic coup, it would have surely happened by now. And elsewhere in the 308, notable gains have been made. The car’s cabin is now one of smart, boldly drawn geometric lines, moderately expensive-looking metallised trim finishes and appealing decorative textiles, and it represents a significant upgrade on perceived quality for a car once much more vulnerable to attack from above by the premium brands.

Now, the 308 definitely holds its own on ambient cabin appeal. It offers abundant oddment storage for the front seats also, thanks not least to Peugeot finally making the 308’s fuse box a part of its right-hand-drive conversion, meaning UK 308 owners get a full-size glove compartment.

The car’s front seats offer good support and reasonable comfort, although taller drivers might want a little more headrest adjustment range and lumbar support. Second-row accommodation remains quite lean by class standards – good enough for younger children but certainly not for taller adults, with both head room and knee room in pretty short supply.

Boot space is subject to quite a sizable loading lip, and maximum loading space (in the case of non-hybridised 308s) is 412 litres, which is less under the window line than the old 308 offered, but enough for folded pushchairs, for example.

Multimedia system

11 Peugeot 308 rt 2022 infotainment 0

Peugeot’s latest-generation infotainment system, called i-Connect, is one that you have little choice but to interact with directly. There’s no joystick-style cursor control on the car’s steering wheel or the centre console, and while some voice control functionality helps, that means your screen gets grubby very quickly with all the poking and swiping that are necessary.

Usability is enhanced by the row of ‘i-toggle’ shortcuts sited underneath, but they do rob you of the space you might otherwise use to anchor your outstretched arm, and you can easily jump menus inadvertently if you forget they are there. Their functions are driver-definable via a long press on the relevant ‘button’ and a corresponding confirmation on the car’s app menu.

The system isn’t as responsive as some; it’s quite prescriptive about which functions can be accessed while you are driving; and it will warn you if you’ve been looking at it for too long, rather than at the road ahead. That might sound like a good safety feature, but a less distracting system overall would be a much better one.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

15 Peugeot 308 RT 2022 Side pan

The premium positioning of the Peugeot 308 is apparent from the fact that it is now an automatic-only car in a class in which manuals still account for plenty of sales. So whichever 308 you plump for, you will get only two pedals, and if you go for the simplest petrol option, you will also get only 129bhp, which isn’t hard to beat in this class in 2022.

A good job, then, that this car puts its engine to such good use. Relative to other Stellantis models with the same three-cylinder motor, it is commendably refined, but it also offers a really useful amount of accessible torque, it spins smoothly at high revs and it makes the 308 as fast under hard acceleration as any normal five-door hatchback really needs to be.

Stick with the Puretech engine and Allure Premium trim, everything above which is a bit superfluous equipment-wise. If you must have a hybrid, the cheaper Hybrid 180 has all the poke you’ll need.

Recorded on a dry test day, our 9.5sec 0-60mph time for the car suggests that Peugeot’s own 0-62mph claim of 9.7sec is accurate. Roll-on acceleration wasn’t quite on a par with the Peugeot’s best-performing rivals, but a mild-hybrid Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI is only 1.4sec quicker pulling from 30-70mph through the gears, a difference that is unlikely to matter too much in day-to-day driving.

The closely stacked intermediate gear ratios of the 308’s eight-speed gearbox allow it to feel fairly keen as it picks up speed, and it overtakes on single-carriageway roads with reasonable urgency. The car’s engine likes to rev, but it also has decent throttle response and a useful surge of mid-range turbo boost that you can hook into if you choose to select gears for yourself.

And that’s often the key to getting the best from the car when you’re looking to make quicker progress or simply to enjoy what you’re doing at the wheel. When left to its own devices, Peugeot’s Aisin-sourced gearbox can seem slow to kick down, overly keen to shift up and a little too given to ‘hunting’ for another ratio when it should simply be hauling on.

Braking performance, like acceleration, is good for a fairly lightweight car. Pedal feel isn’t special but stability is good, our 308 stopping from 70mph in less than 45 metres.

RIDE & HANDLING

17 Peugeot 308 RT 2022 front corner

There are appealing senses of fluency and malleability about the steering and handling. The Peugeot 308 strikes you as a car of a particular kind of dynamic poise brought about by ample wheel travel and suspension dexterity; moderate but well-set spring, damper and anti-roll bar rates; and absolutely no more sprung mass than need be carried.

And that combination allows the car to engage in a conversation with a road surface rather than going into pitched battle with it, and to produce a really agreeable, free-flowing dynamic character as a result.

The car has a really agreeable, free-flowing dynamic character. A bit more weight and feel in the steering would finish off the driving experience nicely.

The downsized steering wheel met with some criticism from our testers, mostly because it still obliges Peugeot to ramp up power steering assistance at low speeds more than other manufacturers need to. Doing that makes the 308’s steering weight change quite noticeably as you add speed, and can be a barrier to tactile engagement with the car around town.

But get out onto a winding open road and this car has plenty to offer. That steering rack is actually slower-geared than many in the hatchback class, but it’s hooked up to a chassis that feels naturally agile and that can be flicked and bowled around corners from the wrists, and that comes out of them with an appetite for more that you wouldn’t expect of a mid-range family runaround.

Despite the fitment of Michelin Primacy economy tyres, the 308’s outright grip level is strong enough, and it turns in crisply and with an unaffected sense of zip. It resists body roll fairly well despite its slightly laissez-faire tuning, and sticks to a line under power on exit, leaning on its always-on traction control a little but barely noticeably.

Comfort and isolation

Wider test experience of the 308 suggests that the score for this section might have been higher or lower than we have ended up awarding, depending on which trim level and engine you opt for.

Our 308 GT test car came on 18in rims, and had a pleasingly supple and absorptive primary ride, with just a little knobbliness and noise in the secondary ride over sharper edges in the road. A short test drive in a lower-trim 308 1.2 Puretech Allure Premium suggested that 17in wheels make for an even quieter and more comfortable ride, while a separate test loop suggested that the heavier 1.6 Hybrid 180 sacrifices some of the ride fluency and close body control of the lighter 1.2. The best advice would seem to be (as is so often true) that if you want this car at its very best, keep its specification light and lean, with a smaller fitted rim.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the mechanical refinement of Peugeot’s three-cylinder turbo petrol engine as it is applied here. A little bit of spikiness characterises the engine’s demeanour at low crank speeds, but the absence of second-order vibrations make it feel free-revving and very willing to work above 4000rpm. Our noise meter registered 65dBA for the car at a 50mph cruise and 67dBA at 70mph. Neither is exceptional, but the latter narrowly beats what we recorded in a near-equivalent Volkswagen Golf in 2020.

Track notes

Peugeot 308 rt 2022 track notes

The 308’s handling poise survived the test of the Millbrook alpine Hill Route well. The outright lateral grip and performance of a hot hatchback are predictably absent here, but there is balance and agility in any case, and a natural fluency from turn-in to apex to exit that makes the car both easy and enjoyable to drive quickly.

The car’s suspension allows initial vertical body movements of a fairly large amplitude, and your worry is that the suspension may run out of travel through compressions – but it doesn’t. Body roll is permitted up to a point, but both roll rate and lean angle are contained long before either builds sufficiently to undermine grip levels.

Peugeot’s stability control system is always active; there’s no physical switch to disable it, and no function for that could easily be found within the car’s infotainment system. It is not an intrusive system, though, and doesn’t prevent the car from communicating its limits or hold it back as it approaches them.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Peugeot 308 RT 2022 Lead

Peugeot lists both the Seat Leon and the BMW 1 Series as key rivals for the 308, which suggests that it is going after the premium players without abandoning the heart of the segment – and the car’s pricing reflects that, broadly speaking. Our test car came in GT trim, the fourth of five trim levels, and was priced fairly ambitiously at a shade under £30,000.

But Peugeot expects Allure Premium cars to be the volume sellers, which present both a slightly keener top-level price and a fairly well-stocked standard equipment tally (all-digital instruments, wireless device charging and smartphone mirroring, adaptive cruise control, connected 3D navigation and that automatic gearbox).

I hope Peugeot can find a way to refine the gearbox calibration. Being an ‘efficient auto’ needn’t always mean ‘be in the highest possible gear’.

Relatively strong residual values should help keep monthly finance costs down, at least to begin with. Here, Peugeot is currently offering a £1250 deposit contribution on selected models.

Fleet drivers are likely to see enough appeal in the 8% benefit-in-kind classification of the 308 plug-in hybrids to put any debate about engines to bed. Private owners, however, should remember that our 1.2-litre petrol would not only be £6500 cheaper than an equivalent Hybrid 180 but also seven groups cheaper on insurance. It would return a long-run fuel economy figure that a hybrid would be unlikely to beat, indicating better than 55mpg on our touring economy test.

So if your driving is mostly out of town, your mileage is high, your chances to charge are few and far between and company car tax is not a consideration, you could easily still be better off in the conventional petrol model (and don’t forget there is a diesel, too).

VERDICT

19 Peugeot 308 RT 2022 static

We started this test wondering if we might see a return of the dynamic mojo with which Peugeot made its modern reputation in the 1980s and 1990s. More than any of its other recent introductions, this Peugeot 308 suggests that could be a realistic hope. That, in a family car configured to be sufficiently lean and simple, this company can still set a standard on ride and handling that only a world-class family car can beat. In a market flooded with unnecessary weight and complexity, that’s heartening news.

The third-generation 308 isn’t quite complete enough as a product to top its class overall, but where its priorities lie, it delivers. It’s smart looking and appealing both outwardly and inwardly; refined and agreeable to drive on both good days and bad. It has a powertrain that does everyday drivability and economy well, and still feels relevant even in our efficiency-centred times.

Yet it rides and handles with a distinguishing fluidity, and an elastic energy that’s rare and endearing. Those looking for practicality, value or status can find better, but if you know that a compact, traditional family hatchback is big and special enough for you, this one is made of the right stuff.

Peugeot 308 FAQs

Is the Peugeot 308 available as a plug-in or electric?

The latest Peugeot 308 will be available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain later in 2022. Available with either 178bhp or 222bhp, each version uses the same 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor combination and claims up to 37 miles of electric range. Peugeot has also revealed that an all-electric e-308 will join the range in 2023 and promises a range of around 250 miles on a single charge.

What are the main rivals to the Peugeot 308?

Buyers are spoiled for choice in the compact family hatchback class, so the Peugeot 308 has no shortage or rivals. The toughest of the lot is the Volkswagen Golf, which feels a touch more upmarket, is more composed to drive and has plug-in hybrid options. The Volkswagen shares its architecture and engines with the more spacious and sensible Skoda Octavia and the more stylish and sharper-handling Seat Leon. The new Vauxhall Astra is closely related to the Peugeot but looks more eye-catching, while the agile and engaging Ford Focus is more fun to drive.

How much power does the Peugeot 308 have?

Peugeot has kept it simple with the Peugeot 308 engine line-up, with the result that both the petrol and diesel have the same power output. The turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol and 1.5-litre diesel deliver an identical 128bhp, although the latter has more torque, with 221lb ft compared to 170lb ft. The plug-in hybrid units serve-up the most power, with a choice of between 178bhp or 222bhp, the latter capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in 7.5 seconds. Unfortunately, there will be no hot 308 GTi version of the current car.

What choices of gearbox are there for the Peugeot 308?

Surprisingly for a relatively affordable family hatchback the only gearbox option for the Peugeot 308 is an eight-speed automatic. Unlike the old version there’s no manual transmission, even on the entry-level versions. Known as the EAT8, the gearbox is effective enough, but it lacks the speed and smoothness of the best twin-clutch automatics, serving up slightly ponderous gear changes even when trying to drive quickly.

Where is the Peugeot 308 built?

The current Peugeot 308 only went on sale earlier this year, and so far production is limited to the brand’s factory in Mulhouse, France. However, it’s likely that the car will be built in other plants around the world, as the previous generation machine was built in locations as far flung as Wuhan in China and Gurun in Malaysia. There was even a suggestion that the 308 and closely related Vauxhall Astra could be assembled in the UK.

How many generations of Peugeot 308 have there been?

Now in its third generation, the Peugeot 308 was one of the first models to benefit from the brand’s decision to stick with the same model number, rather than change it for each all-new version. Previously, Peugeot’s compact family hatch had been known as the 309, which was replaced by the 306 and then the 307. The first 308 arrived in 2007 and was replaced by the second generation machine in 2013.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Peugeot 308 First drives