Mid-size hatchbacks are still a hugely important sector of the market, dominated by big-selling models like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. This new Peugeot 308 goes after them with a confident combination of sharp styling, big-car luxuries and a range of engines including frugal petrols and diesels or full plug-in hybrids capable of covering most commutes or regular journeys on battery power alone. Bigger and more refined than its predecessor, this new 308 is a convincing alternative and backed up by Peugeot’s strong reputation for reliability.
“Whether you’ll be better off buying a regular petrol or diesel or instead going for one of the two plug-in hybrid options will very much depend on your circumstances”
On the face of it the 308’s entry price looks more expensive than rivals like the Renault Megane and Ford Focus but when you factor in the tech and fact all models feature an automatic gearbox as standard the like for like comparisons are more favourable. Whether you’ll be better off buying a regular petrol or diesel or instead of a plug-in hybrid will very much depend on your circumstances and the kind of driving you do. The petrol is cheaper to buy while, at this level, diesel looks a bit of a niche choice for those doing big motorway miles. Traditionally that would mean company drivers but, these days, the Benefit In Kind advantages of the plug-in hybrids will likely make these more appealing. As a private owner you may claw back the higher cost of the hybrid versions if you’re able to plug in at home, charge every night and do your regular journeys on electric power alone. But, if not, the more affordable petrol may be the pick.
Expert rating: 4/5
Reliability of a Peugeot 308
“While VW languishes further down reliability tables than you might expect Peugeot consistently ranks at or near the top”
Accepted wisdom has it that the Volkswagen Golf is the premium player in this sector and buyers assume German-built cars have greater reliability. In fact the opposite is true and while VW languishes further down reliability tables than you might expect Peugeot consistently ranks at or near the top. Something worth remembering when friends and colleagues trot out tired stereotypes about supposedly flaky French build quality…
Safety for a Peugeot 308
“Blind spot assistance and rear cross traffic alerts only feature on higher trim levels, while the top spec gets semi-autonomous assisted driving”
As a brand-new model the 308 comes packed with the latest safety tech, some of which we welcome but some of which is rather less convincing. Good news first – all 308s come with cruise control you can switch to a speed limiter for motorway roadworks sections, self-correcting steering to keep you in lane, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear parking sensors and a host of other features modern drivers expect. Blind spot assistance and rear cross traffic alerts only feature on higher trim levels, while the top spec gets semi-autonomous assisted driving. This is nice in principle and feeling the car maintain its distance to the car in front and steer itself in your hands should in theory take the stress out of long drives. But after it attempted to steer us into a truck in an adjacent lane we quickly turned it off and remain sceptical these systems really are the labour saving innovation they claim to be.
Expert rating: 4/5
How comfortable is the Peugeot 308
“We enjoyed the many and various massage settings – especially the ‘Cats Paw’ one inspired by the lion motif in Peugeot’s brand identity”
While the roofline is lower the new 308 is longer overall and in its wheelbase (the important measurement, given it dictates the size of the cabin) than the previous version, which is obvious from the length of the rear doors and room in the back. Those sitting in the middle of the rear bench usually get a raw deal in cars of this size but a grown-up can sit there in reasonable comfort without having to ‘man spread’ too badly. Up front Peugeot’s distinctive low-set steering wheel configuration puts it below the instruments and takes a little getting used to, especially if you’re taller or like to sit lower in the car where it can be a struggle to find a setting that doesn’t block your view of the digital dials. But the seats are comfortable (especially so in the top models, thanks to certification from a respected German ‘healthy backs’ body) and we enjoyed the many and various massage settings – especially the ‘Cats Paw’ one inspired by the lion motif in Peugeot’s brand identity.
On the road the 308 adopts a classically French approach, with softer suspension than that typically found on Golfs, Focuses and others with more sporty pretensions. That’s absolutely fine by us, given the realities of most real-world driving situations and, along with the roominess and refinement, makes this a comfortable car to spend time in.
Expert rating: 3/5
Features of the Peugeot 308
“In the modern way everything – heating and ventilation included – is controlled through the central screen and this can take some getting used to”
It wasn’t long ago that digital instruments and touch-screens were reserved for higher trim levels only but Peugeot has seized this opportunity to include both as standard on all 308s. Opt for the GT or GT Premium and you get the nifty 3D instrument graphics but, on all models, the displays are both clear to use and stylishly executed. In the modern way everything – heating and ventilation included – is controlled through the central screen and this can take some getting used to when a sideways swipe from the nav to bring up air-con or entertainment controls instead scrolls across the map. As such we appreciated the new ‘i-toggles’ below the screen, which you can configure yourself as ‘hot keys’ to take you straight to your favourite functions. While you can use your phone apps through CarPlay or Android Auto on all models we’d go one up from entry level Active Premium to Allure for these shortcut buttons, the built-in nav and nicer upholstery.
Expert rating: 3/5
Power for a Peugeot 308
“More impressive are the hybrids, which seamlessly switch between petrol, electric and combined power in near-silence”
Where some rivals offer confusing combinations and permutations of engines and gearboxes across various trim levels Peugeot thankfully keeps it simple with a standard automatic transmission on all models and straightforward choice of a single petrol or diesel, plus two levels of hybrid powertrain. The 130 horsepower 1.2-litre petrol punches above its weight and feels sprightly, but sounds a little gruff in the process. It’s at least better than the diesel in this respect, which never lets you forget which pump it fuels from. The clatter fades at the motorway speeds it’s most suited to, at least. More impressive are the hybrids, which seamlessly switch between petrol, electric and combined power in near-silence, while maintaining enough get-up-and-go to operate on pure battery power for nearly 40 miles on a full charge. The 225 horsepower option available on GT models is a little down on power compared with the Golf GTE, Audi A3 eTFSI and Cupra Leon but still brisk enough while the 180 horsepower alternative is plenty for most drivers and usefully cheaper to buy.