Want the greenest and most frugal version of Peugeot's second generation 308 family hatch? Then you want the 1.6 BlueHDi 120 diesel version. In choosing it, you'll be getting the most efficient car in its segment. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
With their second generation 308, Peugeot have finally built a middleweight hatchback that needs no excuses. That's right; you could quite happily buy one of these over a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra and not feel as if you'd missed out. Especially if you go for the frugal 1.6 BlueHDi 120 diesel version that manages over 88mpg and 82g/km of CO2. Yes, you read that right.
Consider what Peugeot's MK2 model 308 family hatchback has to do. It not only has to make the numbers against huge sellers like the Ford Focus and the Vauxhall Astra, it's also a crucial component in Peugeot's quiet bid to move out of the mainstream and be considered a notch above the usual company hacks you see ploughing up and down our motorways carrying photocopier spares. Is that a risky strategy? Not if the kind of technology fitted to the variant we look at here, the 1.6 BlueHDi 120 diesel, is any guide. This is the most eco-conscious of all the diesel derivatives in the 308 line-up - more frugal even than the cheaper, feebler BlueHDi 100 model.
There's a lot of very considered engineering in this 308 that has a very real effect on the way the car drives. The EMP2 platform that shaves off so much weight (140kgs) for example. Then there are aluminium-alloy chassis members in the front that help to keep weight low and improve turn-in. That's the detail, but how does the 308 feel? Pretty good actually. There's a slight softness to the ride but it's not that sloppy, portliness that affects many bigger French cars. In fact, this degree of comfort built into the suspension settings is just about perfect for British roads. Like most cars in this class, the ride is better if you can manage to resist the big alloy wheels and go for a more modest rim diameter.
As for performance of this 1.6 BlueHDi 120 variant, well 62mph from rest takes 9.7s en route to 122mph. A modest bit of body movement lets you feel the car settle into a corner and clearly signals how much grip you've used and how much you've got left. The front end grips tenaciously if you do drive the 308 hard, and you'll enjoy the car's fundamental suppleness around town where the suspension does a good job in soaking up potholes and speed bumps. Even the turning circle has been reduced by a full 30cm. The steering also feels admirably quick-witted at city speeds. It's not quite so brilliant at speed. Yes, it's accurate but as with many of these electrically-assisted systems, there's not a huge amount of feel just off-centre. It takes a few days to get used to and it'll be something that most owners will soon filter out.
Design and Build
According to Monsieur Gilles Vidal, the director of Peugeot design, this 308 has "a highly-refined and technological exterior design." He then went on to get a bit French on us but I can see what he's driving at. This is handsome piece of design work.
Drop in and you're greeted by that trademark low and tiny steering wheel with a relatively high seating position. The clocks are all clearly visible unless you go for a semi-reclined, straight armed driving position. A large 9.7-inch LCD screen dominates the fascia and by marshalling many of the minor controls into the touch-screen system it means that the rest of the dash isn't festooned with buttons and switches, resulting in a very clean look.
Quality appears very good. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics and cool chrome finishes. If you start delving into the nether reaches of the dashboard you will find some scratchier plastics but then you'd find the same in a Golf or an Audi A3. Overall it's hard to be disappointed with the fit and finish of this interior.
A 2.62 metre wheelbase seems to promise a big passenger cell with good rear legroom but Peugeot seems to have prioritised luggage space over rear legroom. The back is a bit pinched for space and the middle of the three seats is hard. Still, the 470-litre boot is the best in class and that includes a 35-litre underfloor section.
Market and Model
BlueHDi 120 prices start at just under £20,000 and there's a choice of five-door hatch or SW estate bodystyles. There's a choice of 'Active', 'Allure' or sporty 'GT Line' trim.
All BlueHDi 120 models get LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, a DAB digital radio, Bluetooth 'phone connectivity, a USB connection, an alarm and a large 9.7-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation.
Top of the range versions include features like a reversing camera, full LED headlights, an enormous panoramic Cielo sunroof, some very nice half Alcantara sports seats, keyless entry and electrically-folding door mirrors. They also get the Peugeot Driver Assistance Pack which includes Dynamic Cruise Control that maintains you at a safe distance from the car in front, Emergency Collision Braking System and Emergency Collision Alert.
Cost of Ownership
If you're really looking to keep a cap on running costs, look no further than the BlueHDi 120 versions of the 308. This Euro-6 emissions compliant diesel engine features a 99.9 per cent elimination of harmful diesel particulates. More relevant to many will be the fact that the 1.6-litre 120bhp unit we're looking at here can get 88.3 miles from a gallon of diesel on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions of a mere 82g/km. That's better economy and emissions than a hybrid Toyota Prius.
Residual values weren't a big draw of the old 308 which probably suffered from its predecessor's reputation for casual build quality, but it appears as if the tide is turning in that regard. Industry experts CAP reckon this car's going to retain a significant nine percent more than the old 308 over a typical three year/36,000 mile ownership period, which makes it better than the class average. Given that prices are lower and residual values are better, it makes this 308 a car you can buy with your head as well as your heart. It's also helped by the fact that it has either 16,000 or 20,000 mile service intervals, where between 10,000 and 12,000 are the class average.
This BlueHDi 120 308 diesel model gets a lot of things so right. French cars in this class haven't always been able to justify themselves either in terms of quality or in the harder discipline of pounds and pence running costs. They drove well and were priced keenly but you paid when it was time to trade in. That's no longer the case. In this regard at least, this particular 308 does especially well in realising Peugeot's upmarket aspirations.
Drawbacks? There aren't too many at all. It might disappoint if you hanker after a sharp, sporty drive and rear legroom isn't the most generous but other than that we're just scratching around a bit. That should tell you that this is an extremely good car and one that looks set to restore Peugeot's reputation for building elegant, comfortable and understated vehicles. If you appreciate a certain subtlety and style without it costing you the earth, Peugeot has something you'll like right here. It's been a long time coming but the 308 is right back in the game.