This Peugeot 308 is the most powerful and should be the most entertaining version of the new French hatch to drive, and is benchmarked against the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and the VW Golf that it’s hoping to steal sales from.
We found much to like about the diesel 308 when we drove the 1.6-litre diesel version on the car’s European launch, and now we’re back in wintry England, armed with the keys to the fastest petrol 308 currently on sale. Will Gallic charm still shine through?
‘The fastest petrol 308’ you say: is this a Peugeot 308 hot hatch?
Nope – there’s no production-ready 308 R just yet. Instead, diesel-phobes hunting decent go from their new Pug hatch will want this car: the 308 THP 156. That alphabet soup jargon translates as a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot, driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. It generates 154bhp, and a promising 184lb ft from as little as 1400rpm.
On the flipside, Peugeot claims 48.7mpg is possible (mid-thirties as tested), and CO2 emissions are a middling 134g/km. A couple more numbers while we’re sorting the top trumps: in top-dog (or should that be Top Cat?) ‘Feline’ trim as tested, the 308 THP 156 costs £21,345. Our test car, with posh pearl-effect paint, blind-spot monitoring, and massage-function leather seats? £23,420.
An equivalent VW Golf (which doesn’t offer massage seats, no matter how much dosh you chuck at the salesman) costs £23,450. There’s only thirty quid in it! Game on.
Stop comparing everything to the flipping Golf!
We do so with good reason. VW’s Golf is the machine Peugeot has squarely aimed this 308 at, priced it against, and benchmarked in the Frenchie’s development. In terms of the neat, inoffensive styling, and finely textured cabin, Golf-isation has been unarguably achieved – albeit at the expense of some French joie de vivre.
Is there much ooh la la to be found in the driver’s seat?
Weighing in 20kg lighter than the diesel, and armed with the sprightliest engine, this is the 308 to enjoy driving, on paper at least. On Tarmac, it’s not as sharp as the class-leading Mazda 3, or as mature as the Golf (blame the wobbly body control – which gets slack as you up the pace – for that particular black mark). Overall, the 308 is a solid drive, and the THP 156 engine is such a peach, it deserves a less sterile name.
Though there’s shove-aplenty as the turbocharger spools up, the 308’s four-banger doesn’t feel as overtly turbocharged as VW Group’s powerplants, which have a diesel-like response in the mid-range but tail off at the top end.
The Peugeot actually likes to rev, sending its rev counter needle whizzing anti-clockwise around the tacho-dial. If you can see it, that is, with the instruments perched behind the controversial ‘decluttered’ mini steering wheel.
A quick Peugeot: mojo-finding ahoy?
The bragging rights don’t end with that stunningly minimalist, well-finished cabin. It’s fairly nippy: 0-62mph in 8.2sec and a 134mph maximum make this the only 308 that dips below double-figures in the pub-fact acceleration stakes, and it’s the fastest 308 flat-out.
You have to keep reminding yourself this car was developed during a worldwide economic crash, during the biggest financial meltdown ever to hit Peugeot. To its credit, it certainly doesn’t give the impression of a shoestring-budgeted machine, regardless of whether you find its sanitised looks too conservative or bland. Come on, would you really rather return to the grinning ‘hall of mirrors’ face that the old 308 scared children with?
Sounds pretty good overall. Any holes in the boat?
We’ve got to readdress the steering wheel – CAR’s editor grew to like it during the 308’s launch, but this writer still doesn’t find it appropriate in the 308. The new small-diameter set-up doesn’t enhance the 208 supermini and 2008 crossover – but they manage to scrape by with it. The bulkier 308 doesn’t.
The lack of leverage provided by the comically dinky wheel means it’s more difficult to settle the 308 at a fast cruise, because the tiny subconscious adjustments one makes with a conventional steering wheel are exaggerated by the Pug’s downsized helm. Then again, if this was the only car you drove for a year, you’d learn to like it, we suspect. Thing is, the traditional 30-minute dealership test drive might not be long enough for some conquest buyers to adjust.
One area for improvement come the car’s facelift is wind and tyre noise, which isn’t as well suppressed as you’ll find inside that car from Wolfsburg. Peugeot claims that, model-for-model, the new 308 is 140kg lighter than the old car. Staggering. Yet perhaps a few of those stripped kilos could be sacrificed in the name of thicker soundproofing, monsieur?
Peugeot is to be heartily applauded for its approach to the 308. In some ways, it’s put le chat among the pigeons by being wilfully different in its cabin design and control set-up. In others – smart exterior design, mature driving dynamics – Peugeot’s played it safe by following the crowd. That’s no bad thing: if Peugeot is to survive testing times, that’s probably the right decision.
The Peugeot 308 is a refreshing family hatch, in both diesel and petrol form. At long last, here we have a proud French contender that doesn’t spinelessly surrender to the Germans. Makes a change…