What is it?
Peugeot’s mid-life facelift for the 308 hatchback is one done mostly by the book: a tweak of the grille, bumper and headlight styling here, an upgrade for the infotainment system there, and the cramming in of more safety kit and standard equipment, all for a slightly reduced price.
If the 308 seems to have jumped up a long way in price, it may be because the old entry-level trim, Access, has been deleted, because very few Brits, as it turned out, wanted an £18,000 308 with steel wheels, ‘workout’ rear windows and no alarm as standard. Prices across the rest of the range have falled by an average of £650, which is quite generous given the extra kit you’re getting (we'll come to that later).
The most significant part of the 308’s ‘mid-cycle update’ is a new engine never used in any PSA Group product before: Peugeot’s DV5R 1.5-litre BlueHDI 130 diesel. With a combustion chamber design derived from that of the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP diesel Le Mans racer, the 128bhp engine will eventually replace the 1.6-litre BlueHDI diesel across the 308 range. And like the updated 128bhp 1.2-litre Puretech turbocharged petrol and the 178bhp range-topping diesel, the new 1.5-litre unit is already compliant with tight 'Euro-6c' emissions legislation. Due to be fully enforced in 2020, this clamps down on emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) measured in real-world tests, rather than in a laboratory.
The new downsized diesel uses urea injection, selective catalytic reduction and a particulate trap to clean up its exhaust gases. If you’ve been worried about diesel emissions and want to buy as futureproof an oil-burning hatchback as possible this year, the 308 should probably be on your list.
What's it like?
The 1.5-litre diesel is a more refined engine than the outgoing 1.6-litre, proving more quiet at cruising revs and when accelerating. Like most small diesels, it feels a bit peaky at low revs, responding with some hesitancy to the accelerator, but it does rev a little more keenly than its predecessor, albeit still with noticeable diesel-typical wheeziness above 4000rpm.
Mid-range torque feels usefully strong, with the only thing occasionally spoiling your interactions with the powertrain being the disappointingly baggy, notchy shift quality of the six-speed manual gearbox, something that we’ve become so accustomed to from PSA Group cars over the years.
Peugeot hasn’t changed that which it deemed unbroken about this car, so the quirky i-Cockpit instrumentation and control layout is untouched, as is the suspension and steering. If you're of average height or above, chances are you'll be able to see over the steering wheel to the instruments just fine; if you're shorter, you may not. Taller drivers might also find the car's slightly short front seat cushions bothersome.
On 18in wheels, our GT Line test car actually rode better than other 308 variants we’ve tested recently, being compliant and fairly well isolated over sharper bumps. It also steered with more coherent control weight than we’ve noted from other trim levels, though still not with enough feedback for our taste. But on the road, this 308 adopts the agile, malleable handling and supple gait of a classic European hatchback, and does a creditable job of engaging its driver more vividly than plenty of rivals might have.
Peugeot’s new infotainment system offers no larger a screen than the old one, but it is better-looking, faster-acting and marginally more usable. It’s also standard on all UK trim levels, and includes MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring - which the 308 desperately needed.
Should I buy one?
The 308’s new crash mitigation, lane-keeping assist, speed limit recognition and adaptive cruise control safety systems don’t make up for the fact that it’s still considerably less spacious than most of its competitors; and also that, even after this revision, it could still be better value for money and a little bit better to drive.
Still, the new 1.5-litre diesel engine is an improvement over its predecessor, and this, along with the rest of Peugeot’s updates, should nonetheless ensure that the car continues to figure towards the sharp end of our family hatchback rankings for the next few years, just as it has for the last four.
This is a good-looking hatchback with plenty to recommend it, and in an increasingly busy class, for a recovering French car maker, that’s no bad result.
Peugeot 308 1.5 BlueHDI 130 GT Line
Location Salzburg, Austria; On sale September; Price £23,840 Engine 4 cyls in line, 1499cc, turbocharged diesel; Power 128bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerbweight 1180kg; 0-62mph tbc; Top speed 124mph mph; Economy tbc; CO2/tax band tbc Rivals: Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI 115 GT, Seat Leon 1.6 TDI SE Dynamic Technology