That this 308 has the dynamic sophistication to withstand direct comparison with the best-handling hatchbacks in Europe represents a sizeable victory for Peugeot.

The 307 never could, and the previous 308 fell even further away from the prevailing class standard.

The Peugeot's steering needs to be more intuitive and predictable

But things have changed. The new 308 feels like it belongs in the vanguard of the volume-selling compact family car class. It’s a car with a few flaws, but it’s particularly comfortable, more engaging than the hatchback norm and handles keenly and precisely – up to a point.

Peugeot’s ‘i-Cockpit’ downsized steering wheel is at once the car’s primary asset and the cause of its chief weakness. At typical urban speeds and while manoeuvring, it does make the car wieldy and manageable.

At higher speeds, however, that sense of agility is eroded slightly as the assistance ramps down and cloying control weight is introduced. This is done to deliver high-speed stability and to allow feedback through to the driver, but only a limited amount of it actually arrives at the rim.

The fundamental problem is that, while it does deliver quick responses, a small steering wheel makes a poor lever. The 308’s power steering seems to work hard at times to compensate for that lack of mechanical advantage – but at other times, not hard enough.

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And so, even after a long phase of familiarisation, you’re still unsure exactly how much effort you’ll need to put in for any given change of direction.

At low speeds, the lack of weight and feedback never ceases to surprise you; at high speeds, an abundance of weight and sporadic feedback are your enemies, making it hard to guide the car precisely.

Aside from all that, the 308 rides with plenty of compliance, but its advancement here is likewise subject to caveat. Models with 18in alloys suffer from noticeable road roar and don’t glide over bumps quite as smoothly as smaller-wheeled 308s we’ve tested.

Given that larger rims will also exacerbate the steering weight issue we’ve described, we strongly recommend avoiding them. Do that and wider test experience suggests you’ll have one of the most refined cars of its ilk.

Drive the 308 hard and you’ll be acutely aware that Peugeot has tried to pull this car in opposing directions on the dynamic scale. A quick steering rack may add directness at low speeds, but agility and composure at the limit depend on much more – and that’s something the 308’s softened suspension springs can’t quite deliver.

The car doesn’t roll to particularly lurid angles, but its rate of roll could be better controlled. Committing to an apex means pushing through a small but annoying initial portion of sloppiness in the handling, before the same directness you experience at low speeds begins to materialise.

That thin layer of understeer remains to an extent even after lateral load has built into the chassis. As a result, the 308 never really serves the agility when leaned on that it promises when unhurried.

Underneath the smoke and mirrors, it lacks sharpness of response and a perfect balance of grip. And while the ESP works cleverly most of the time, it’s not always with the utmost effectiveness in the wet.