What is it?
A better quality small family hatchback reckons Peugeot, along the same lines as the 307 that it replaces. That means it’s a little taller than the norm, rides on the same MacPherson strut, torsion beam axle platform as before, but carries a collection of engines that include Peugeot’s competitive diesels and the new 1.6-litre petrol engine range it shares with BMW’s Mini.
The 308 is a little longer and wider than before, and disappointingly, somewhat heavier too, but it’s also slightly lower. The body is 10 per cent stiffer, while an extra energy path for the crash structure, a lower drag coefficient and a higher airbag count are all useful improvements. It has just scored five NCAP stars for adult protection, four for children and three for pedestrians.
Richer detailing of the exterior design, from slivers of chrome to a pair of headlamps that are claimed to be the lengthiest in the business, and its extra bulk, are suggestive of a better quality car.
And that impression is confirmed when you step inside, to take up station in a cabin finished to a far higher standard than the 307 has previously provided. Extensive soft-touch mouldings, an attractive bank of air vents and some neat switchgear and faintly retro instruments provide a more upmarket look, as do some of the ambiences created with trim and interior mouldings that are available in an attractive tan, a faintly luminous light grey and the usual black.
What’s it like?
Quieter, softer, more civilised, more spacious and much better to be in. And more French, too, in the way that it carries itself.
The 308’s pliant suspension recalls Peugeots of old, and on the smallest 16in wheels enables it to ride bumps large and sharp with supple, impunity. The bigger 18in rims patter more over small bumps, but the combination of a soothing ride, pretty impressive refinement and decent space – pleasingly amplified, on the test car, by the vast glass roof – as well as those relatively high-end fittings, make this a pleasant car to spend time in.
It’s also good on a twisting road, at least for the driver, who will feel the Peugeot roll less and enjoy its grippy fluency over twisting, rolling tarmac. Passengers will fare less well because they get tossed about if the driver isn’t delicate, while a drive in the best-handling cars in this class – the Focus or Golf – will reveal that their greater poise and superior body control make for a tidier drive.
In the 2.0-litre HDi form that we tested it the 308 isn’t especially brisk either, its weight dulling the effects of a pretty solid slug of torque. Peugeot is now deep into a weight-saving programme for its next-generation models, but it’s a shame the 308 was too far down the track to benefit.
Should I buy one?
This is a family hatch worth short-listing if driver enjoyment is not your absolute priority. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t diverting to drive, because it is, but a Golf or a Focus divert more satisfyingly.
But there are compensations. The ride on smaller wheels is particularly relaxing, it has a better-looking cabin than either of these cars – and one that’s spacious, practical and well-made to boot – it is refined and, despite styling that’s oddly fussy in places, it looks more modern.