Peugeot’s new 308 SW is piece three from the French manufacturer’s five-part mid-sized jigsaw. Coming after the three- and five-door 308 hatches launched in late 2007, and arriving before the CC and RC Z version is this estate bodystyle. It offers a high roofline and a stretched wheelbase over the regular 308, which means the SW majors on space and can seat seven.
So what’s new about the Peugeot 308 SW?
In the switch from 307 to 308, the Estate has been abandoned leaving just the SW. But to accommodate buyers of both previous models Peugeot will offer the SW in two distinctive layouts.
Opt for S or SR trim and you get a model more in keeping with the old Estate, and designed for fleet buyers. That means a steel roof and rear bench seats.
Sport and SE spec models come with a frankly enormous panoramic glass roofs and three identical second-row seats. The sixth and seventh seats only come as standard on the SE models, but you can add them separately at £300 for one or £495 for two. Not cheap, but then again it’ll cost you £1000 to add two seats to your Citroen C4 Picasso. In the 308 SW they’re for occasional use only, but row three is still roomy enough that the RSPCA won’t be round anytime soon.
All cars are 117mm longer in the wheelbase than the hatch, so there’s plenty of room inside.
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What’s the really important bit about the 308 SW?
The space. It feels big up front thanks to the large windscreen, and even bigger in the back because of the panoramic glass roof in our test cars. Even those over two metres tall won’t struggle, and that's before you slide the roof shade back which gives more room and makes the cabin feel even more spacious.
Sit in the front and the 308 feels fresher than any of its rivals; only a VW Golf can better the plastics. The dash has a soft-touch moulding, the circular air vents are attractive, and the wheel is lovely to hold. It’s a genuinely decent cabin.
Climb into the second row and you won’t be too short changed wherever you sit. All three seats are identical, and if you sit in the middle you get a glorious view out through the roof and windscreen.
But having three identical seats means those sitting on the left and right are compromised, and you feel squashed against the sides. It’s not perfect for the person in the middle either, with the transmission tunnel being a tad too wide to make sitting still comfortable.
That sounds like a pretty big problem?
It’s not, but in attempting to accommodate five comfortably, Peugeot has comprised the comfort of four. However, all three seats can be removed, and pop the middle one out and those seats either side can slide inwards for more room. The seats also slide fore and aft, and there’s decent legroom wherever you set them.
Lots of clever features help make family life easier though, with a separate glass tailgate, a luggage cover that folds open when extended, a boot light that is actually a torch, and numerous hooks and cubby holes.
So what are the actual problems?
The driving position still isn’t great, you can’t tell where the nose is, you really need a reversing camera, and that windscreen is a pain. Yes it might flood the cabin with light but the sloping A-pillars block any decent view into corners.
The main sat-nav and audio controls are also horribly fiddly. The air-con controls might be brilliantly simple, but you’ll find yourself fumbling around just above them as you struggle with a dash festooned with identical buttons.
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When I’ve dropped the kids off, what’s my drive back over those bumpy B-roads going to be like?
Let's not beat around the bush. The 308 SW isn’t as fun to drive as a Ford Focus. But we knew that already, as the hatch version hadn’t beaten Ford’s equivalent. But the Peugeot isn’t bad either, and everything about the 308 is a lot better than its predecessor.
The electro-hydraulic rack will never be noted for offering any feel but there’s decent weighting on turn in and it never suddenly feels light. The new six-speed ‘box is slick, and inside the 308 it’s all quiet. A full test on UK roads rather than on smooth Sardinian roads will reveal all but the SW is hushed at 70mph.
The ride is smooth and cosseting, with decent body control, and the Michelin Energy Saving Tyres on our diesel test car didn’t feel compromised. Shod with 16-inch wheels our oil-burner was also rode noticeably better than the petrol-powered Sport models on 17s.
So tell me about these engines then?
Naturally aspirated petrol 1.4s and 1.6s start the range, and it’s topped by a 2.0-litre diesel. CAR drove the 1.6 THP 150 Sport (£17,495) and the 1.6 HDi 110 SE (£19,195).
The turbocharged petrol engine is unit co-developed with BMW and found in the Mini. But rather than the full-on 175bhp we had to make do with 150bhp. And this engine feels reined in and strained. At high-revs it’s boomy, and it never feels that fast.
The diesel is a better option, and never really sounds like a diesel either. It’s quieter than the petrol – although engine noise intrudes into the cabin no matter the model – and because you expect less you seem to get more. Making progress is more effortless and relaxed, although while there’s enough torque to overtake dawdlers it’s not exactly quick.
With five or even seven on board you need the 136bhp and 240lb ft of the 2.0-litre diesel. But you want SE trim for the smaller wheels, which means £19,845, which is a lot. A decent Ford Galaxy diesel can be yours for sub-£20k, and while it might be specced as well it will have more space.
The 308 is smart and pretty, and creating the SW bodyshell has done little to harm the looks. It’s still a decent drive, the interior quality is better than ever, and there’s lots and lots of space.
Our worry is that perhaps the 308 SW is too multi-purpose for some. If you only need five seats the Ford Focus is a better drive, while other MPVs offer proper seating for seven. But if you don't want anything bigger than a Focus, and occasionally need to seat seven then the 308 SW is the car for you.