The 308 is a handsome-looking car in a kind of understated way. There are some neat crimps in the metalwork of the bonnet, and either side, the headlamps are topped by a row of neat LED daytime running lights. There’s another neat crease running down the middle of the doors, while the rear light clusters, which look like they’ve had a notch cut out of them at the ends, also feature LED technology. It’s all very effective, giving a smart – if not exactly daring – appearance. Be warned, though, that entry-level Access trim misses out on alloy wheels. Things get smarter as you move up the range, with more styling goodies provided, and high-end GT cars have a unique grille that includes the company’s Lion logo, 18-inch wheels, a bodykit and a lower ride height. In fact, the GT models look just as sporty as the range-topping GTi model, which for some hardcore hot-hatch enthusiasts, might look a little tame alongside rivals like the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS.
Peugeot is trying to move its cars upmarket, and in the 308, the company has been very successful. The quality of materials is very good, and the clean, uncluttered design of the dashboard makes it look even more sophisticated. The shortage of buttons and knobs does little for the car’s ergonomics, though. Most functions are controlled through the touch-screen system that is standard on every model except the most basic Access, and navigating through the various screens and menus is just too confusing. Perhaps more of an issue for some people will be the driving position: you look over the steering wheel – rather than through it – to see the dials, and it means many drivers will find themselves having to set the wheel much lower than is comfortable.
The 308 is a spacious family hatchback, with adequate seating for four adults – or five at a pinch – and, while headroom and legroom aren’t class-leading, they’re perfectly acceptable. The 470-litre boot is among the class best, offering more luggage space than found in the Volkswagen Golf, although it’s worth noting that 35 litres of this is in an underfloor cubby. A low loading sill and a wide opening allow access for large items, while the rear seats fold with the press of a button, giving a maximum load space of 1,309 litres. Up front, there’s a 12-litre cooled glovebox and flip-out cup holder, along with door bins that can accommodate a 1.5-litre water bottle.
Ride and handling
The car handles capably, with crisp body control and plenty of grip
The 308 doesn’t trouble the class-leaders in either area, but it’s not all that far behind, providing a good mix of both attributes. It provides a comfortable ride at pretty much any speed, and it’s only on the worst lumps and bumps that the suspension struggles to cope. The car handles capably as well, with crisp body control and plenty of grip, but it’s the steering that takes the shine off things. It’s very responsive around the straight-ahead, and the small steering wheel gives the rack the impression of being quite quick. However, it’s actually pretty slow, taking three full turns to get from lock to lock, and it makes for a strange mix of characteristics. The range-topping GT model has a lowered suspension to give sharper responses (and a slightly firmer ride as a result), but again, the steering means it can’t rival the best fast hatches for driver engagement. To make matters worse, the heavy weight of the diesel version means it’s not as agile as many rivals. The GTi version has a suspension that’s fettled even more comprehensively, and the most powerful one also comes with a torque-sensing differential to help you get the power down. It helps give the GTi lots of grip, but it still doesn’t have as much as its best hot hatch rivals. It rides very smoothly for a hot hatch, but ultimately, the rather anaesthetised nature of the main controls mean the driving experience just feels a little too sombre and sensible compared with more hardcore rivals.
It might sound like lunacy in a car this size, but petrol buyers need not look beyond the turbocharged 1.2-litre engines. We haven’t tried the entry-level 81bhp version, but the 108bhp and 128bhp versions have all the gutsiness you need for getting around briskly and easily, provided you’re prepared to keep the revs on the bubble. The little engine is also impressively smooth and quiet, adding refinement to its list of virtues. The GT model has a 1.6 turbo with 202bhp, and it gives strong, warm-hatch pace, while the GTi model comes in two flavours, one with 247bhp and the other with 266bhp. So, far, we’ve only tried the latter, and it accompanies it’s devastating pace with a consistent, linear power delivery. This makes it very flexible, but it also means the acceleration doesn’t feel as bonkers as it does in some rivals. If you’re a diesel buyer, you’re also pretty spoiled, but again, it’s best to keep your choice of engine modest. We’ve tried most of the entry-level 1.6-litre units, the 91bhp one being the exception, but the ones with 113bhp and 118bhp have enough flexibility and refinement to make the bigger 2.0-litre units – with 148bhp and 178bhp – look like needless fripperies. That said, both the bigger engines are pretty sweet, with a strong, smooth power delivery and good cruising refinement. However, in the range-topping GT HDi 180 model, the engine’s considerable power is hamstrung by a standard six-speed automatic gearbox that never quite reacts in the way you would like, whether it’s in standard or Sport mode.
It’s only the most powerful petrol engines that fail to dip below the 120g/km mark
This is an area in which the 308 really impresses, especially in the case of the Blue HDI engine. This 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel unit is capable of returning a CO2 output of just 82g/km, a figure that’s good enough to beat the eco-focused versions of most rivals, and most petrol-electric hybrids as well. The official fuel economy figure of more than 91mpg is just as impressive. Most of the other diesels in the 308 range do almost as well – even the GT has CO2 emissions of just 103g/km – and it’s only the most powerful petrol engines that fail to dip below the 120g/km mark. However, purchase prices aren’t especially cheap compared with those of rivals, and resale values aren’t particularly strong, either. So, you’ll need to barter hard with your dealer for a big discount to help offset your depreciation losses.
According to figures from Warranty Direct, Peugeot couldn’t be any more average when it comes to reliability. That said, the previous version of the 308 was one of the company’s better-performing cars in the study, and most – although, admittedly, not all – of the owner reviews on our site are very complimentary. The car comes with a three-year warranty, which is reasonable, but not a patch on what you get with Korean rivals such as the Hyundai i30 or Kia Ceed.
With five stars and a 92% score for adult occupant protection in Euro NCAP crash testing, the 308 has proved its safety credentials. It’s not quite a best-in-class performance, but it’s right up there with the chasing pack. The standard roster of safety kit includes six airbags and stability control, and more gadgetry is available on the options list. An optional pack includes cruise control with a speed limiter, a collision alert system and collision braking aimed at avoiding or reducing the impact of a collision.
It’s worth upgrading to Active trim for climate control, alloys and the touch-screen infotainment system
The 308 range has a wide variety of trim levels to choose from. Access trim comes with air-con, electric front windows, remote locking, cruise control and a DAB radio with a Bluetooth phone connection, but we reckon it’s worth upgrading to Active trim for climate control, alloys, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, a leather steering wheel and the touch-screen infotainment system including sat-nav. Allure trim adds front foglights, a reversing camera and power folding mirrors, while GT Line adds a whole bunch of sporty styling enhancements and massaging seats. GT cars have similar design touches, plus keyless entry and a safety package that includes autonomous braking. GTi models have a few more styling goodies thrown in on top.
You might well be attracted by the 308’s sophisticated styling and lavish interior, but you might well be sold once you experience how punchy and refined the engines are, and once you realise how little it’ll cost you to run. Granted, some rivals are better on the road, and some of the 308’s ergonomics run the risk of driving you potty. Overall, though, the 308 has a lot going for it.