Peugeot's 308 features a quite exceptional entry-level BlueHDi 100 diesel powerplant. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The 308 1.6 BlueHDi 100 is a car that offers a winning combination of qualities. A crisp driving experience, fuel consumption of 80.7mpg, emissions of just 94g/km, an interior that's beautifully finished and an asking price that starts just north of £17,000 make it a compelling proposition. Peugeot is back in the game.
There may be some that disagree, but until the arrival of this generation 308, I don't think Peugeot had ever built a truly competitive car in the family hatch class. The 306 drove brilliantly but its interior was about as sophisticated as a Jimmy 'Five Bellies' after dinner speech. The less said about the 307 the better while the earlier 308 models started modestly and improved, while never really being anywhere close to the talents of the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus.
It seemed that bridging this gulf in class was beyond Peugeot. Having driven the latest 308, I'm not so sure any more. For the first time, the French company has a truly top drawer product and in eco-friendly 1.6 BlueHDi 100 guise, it has one that can put a lick on the cars that once kicked sand in its face. Surprised? Me too.
Further surprises come when you get behind the wheel. Although the electrically-assisted steering and supple suspension at first lull you into thinking the 308 is a bit of a confection from the sweet trolley, drive the car a bit harder and it really ups its game. That ability to mirror your mood is a rare quality in mainstream cars which are often a little two dimensional. The Golf has it and so does the Focus. The Megane? Debatable. The 308 joins an exclusive club.
Mind you, this has never really been a car for the hard charger. Instead, it's a family hatchback that's more about refinement and a relaxed gait. The suspension carries no great surprises, with a standard front strut and rear torsion beam arrangement. Peugeot has fitted rear trailing arms that allow greater longitudinal arc in the wheel travel. It sounds esoteric but it makes for a smoother ride when the rear wheels hit ridges or bumps. The electrically-assisted power steering is geared towards ease of use rather than detailed feedback but perhaps that's just as well. It makes the 308 very comfortable around town in the sort of usage it will mostly see. The six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasant system and provides some welcome old-school interaction with an otherwise high-tech car. 62mph from rest takes 11.2 en route to 115mph.
Design and Build
The fact that today's model still retains the 308 name should tell you something. That something is that the 308 badge now has some respectability, something that eluded the previous 307. The first generation 308 had morphed into quite a good looking car by the time it was replaced and the latest model is even more handsome. The front end features a sculpted bonnet and sharky headlights but there's a maturity, a confidence, about the styling. It's not trying too hard. We like that.
Inside, the interior is dominated by a 9.7-inch touch screen. There's a small strip of buttons for locking, demist and hazard lights and then virtually everything else is controlled by the touch screen, making for a very clean-looking cabin. The 308 gets the tiny steering wheel debuted on the 208, but in this instance it's possible for shorter drivers to see the dials over the top of it. The contra-rotating rev counter is a neat touch, the oversized manual gear knob less so. Interior build quality is very good, with some of the interior fittings feeling like they wouldn't be out of place in an Audi or BMW. That's no coincidence as most of the premium German marques source their interior components from Faurecia, a supplier that is owned by Peugeot. Space all round is more than adequate and the 470-litre boot is excellent.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £17,000 for the hatch and you'll need to find around £1,000 more for the SW estate version. Equipment levels look good with all 308s getting air conditioning, remote central door locking, cruise control with speed limiter, DAB digital radio, LED daylight running lights and Bluetooth connectivity. Step up to the Active model and there's standard dual zone air conditioning, an electric handbrake, rear parking sensors, and an integrated 9.7" touch screen with satellite navigation.
The plush Allure spec receives full LED headlamps, 17" alloy wheels, a reversing camera and front parking sensors while the range-topping Feline includes a panoramic Cielo glass roof, Alcantara trimmed sports seats and the Driver Assistance Pack with an impressive collection of driver assistance and safety devices: Dynamic Cruise Control, Emergency Collision Alert and Emergency Collision Braking System.
Cost of Ownership
It's a little hard to believe that such a powerful and sizeable family hatch as this 308 BlueHDi 100 will get 80.7mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle but what's even more incredible is that this model isn't even the most economical version in the range. That's reserved for the 1.6 BlueHDi 120 version which gets an amazing 88.3mpg. Still, over 80mpg can't really be sniffed at and when it's combined with emissions of just 94g/km, you have one of the cheapest cars in the class to fuel and tax.
It's helped to that by the clever stop/start system and Peugeot's assiduous efforts to reduce the excess weight from the 308's construction. To this end, the car is a significant 140kg lighter than its predecessor. It's helped by the fact that it's actually a couple of centimetres shorter than the car it replaced. The 1.6 diesel tips the scales at 1,160kg, which to save you looking is about ten per cent less than the equivalent Volkswagen Golf. The chassis features aluminium and composites and the tailgate is made from thermoplastic.
Although Peugeot has underperformed in this sector for many years, it's hugely gratifying to see the latest 308 come good and realise its potential. It's hard to see how the French company could have done a lot better than this. The proximity of its price to the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion may have raised a few eyebrows, but once you sample the 308, you'll realise that this is a vastly improved car and one that deserves to be thought of in the same bracket as the Golf and the Ford Focus.
Overall, the 308 BlueHDi 100 is a model that offers an extremely finely-judged balance of talents. That makes it easy to wholeheartedly recommend.