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Peugeot reinvents its family hatchback with a sharp new look and the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain

When the second-generation 308 was launched in 2013, it spearheaded Peugeot’s design reinvention with a bold new look. But in the relentless world of the family hatchback, what then appeared progressive now seems a bit dated.

Even beyond the styling, while the 308 was thoroughly decent, it had the misfortune to exist in a class with not one but two household-name default options – the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf – and didn’t really stand out as a compelling alternative. Still, it did seem to renew Peugeot’s design swagger, helped by the PSA Group’s efforts to really differentiate the brand from Citroën after years of quasi-badge engineering moved both into the mushy middle of the road.

Peugeot is offering a range of 3D-printed accessories for the 308, including a phone holder and a sunglasses holder that clip into the cupholders in the centre console

The likes of the 3008 SUV took the design of the 308 and pushed it further, and so the new Mk3 308 effectively closes a loop by building further on the models it inspired with the latest Peugeot design language, including the ‘textured’ front grille and bold ‘lion’s claw’ LED headlights. It’s also the first model to sport a new-look (but retro-inspired) badge, which has been introduced as part of Stellantis’s ambition to turn Peugeot into an “inventive high-end generalist” brand. Which is focus-grouped marketing speak for ‘a bit upmarket but not really premium’, I think...

Seriously, though, when did a Peugeot family hatchback last look this good? It has been a while, eh? It was certainly before the spinning number wheel for the third digit in the model’s name became jammed at eight. Are we going back to the 306? I think we are.

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While the new 308’s lovely design is a big leap, the underpinnings are more evolutionary. It adopts the latest version of the EMP2 platform introduced with the Mk2 308 and also used by the 3008 (and a host of other Stellantis models, including the forthcoming new Vauxhall Astra). For those not keeping score, the EMP2 can house combustion engines with or without electrification. So at launch, the 308 offers a choice of 1.2-litre turbo petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines and a plug-in hybrid powertrain in two states of tune. A ‘traditional’ hybrid will follow, as will an electric 308 (probably on the EV-focused STLA Medium platform that will succeed EMP2) in 2023.

The plug-in hybrids use a 1.6-litre petrol engine (producing 177bhp or 221bhp) and a 109bhp electric motor that is powered by a 12.4kWh battery, which offers an electric-only range of 34 miles. On our Hybrid 180 test car (the lower-powered of the two, which Peugeot expects to account for the bulk of PHEV sales), that – along with official CO2 emissions of 25g/km – equates to an 11% BIK tax rating.

Inside, the new 308 features the latest version of Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, which is frequently described as ‘controversial’ and ‘divisive’ but actually retains enough physical buttons that it might seem quite conventionally pleasing to those put off by the touchscreen-and-haptic- panel-dominated dashboard of the Golf. It can still be difficult to see the digital displays at times, but once you’ve become familiar with it, you shouldn’t find too much to fault.

It helps that Peugeot has made a number of useful tweaks, with a revamped layout for the steering wheel binnacle controls and the ability to customise both the digital instrument display and the 10in infotainment touchscreen. On higher trim levels, the digital display features a 3D effect, which is neither as bad as it sounds nor quite as good as Peugeot possibly thinks it is.

The touchscreen looks slick but it isn’t as intuitive or well laid out as the Golf’s (at least when Volkswagen’s software works properly). Notably, the 308 has been designed to take over-the-air software updates.

The interior is perfectly practical for family use, with comfortable seats and reasonable space in the back, thanks in part to the wheelbase having been stretched by 55mm. There’s also a competitive 412-litre boot, although that shrinks to 361 litres in PHEV models. Peugeot also claims 34 litres of storage in various in-cabin cubbies.

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The hybrid powertrain proves well integrated, starting typically silently and smoothly in EV mode, with minimal jolting when the ICE kicks in. The combined 266lb ft of torque means progress is brisk, and unless you really attack the throttle pedal, the ICE shows strong refinement.

In a competitive class, the 308 can certainly hold its own when it comes to ride. On 17in wheels, it’s excellent, soaking up bumps with aplomb and combining with the smooth, quiet powertrain to offer a smooth ride and generally pleasing drive. The additional weight of the PHEV system (which makes our test car more than 300kg heavier than some 308s) doesn’t seem to overly burden the car, thanks in part to the extra power. In fact, it rides better than the lighter 1.2 Puretech petrol we tested on 18in wheels.

The steering is responsive, and the 308 can be genuinely rewarding to thread down the right kind of road. It can’t match the Focus for driver engagement (its slightly floaty, light steering is better compared to that of the Toyota Corolla), but it’s certainly no slouch, while remaining easy to drive in urban areas and capable ofeliciting a smile on faster roads. The 308 very definitely feels rejuvenated, with a verve and spirit that the model line has been lacking for some time and which moves it firmly back towards the sharp end of the C-segment hatchback market.

The Hybrid 180 version is certainly competitive within the growing PHEV hatchback ranks. While it won’t be class leading in every regard, its useful real-world EV range, lower running costs and low BIK tax are all comparable to key rivals’, so the numbers should add up pretty well.

More generally, if you were in the market for a family hatchback and looking at these things totally objectively, you would probably still go for the Focus or Golf. But car buying is, of course, never really a totally objective process, and if you’re attracted by the sharp styling, I can absolutely see why you might choose the 308. And if you do, you’ll probably be very happy with your decision.

First drives