Pencils sharpened for Peugeot's new 308

There was a time when – despite being a former Peugeot enthusiast who eagerly gave garage space to a succession of two Peugeot 205GTIs in the late 80s/early 90s – I would approach the opportunity to road test the latest model from the French manufacturer, with a lack of enthusiasm.

These bad days of rather lacklustre designs, questionable quality trim and unexciting dynamics are now, thankfully, becoming just a memory.

Peugeot 308

For me, the first sign of the renaissance of Peugeot was probably the Peugeot RCZ which marked the return of design flair and rewarding driving to the French marque. Then came the Peugeot 3008, the 508 and more recently the 208.

That left one obvious gap to fill in the family hatchback sector. This is the new Peugeot 308, the car that will take on the Peugeot mantle for the mainstream battle with cars like the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus.

From the outset I had a good feeling about the new 308, the number may be the same as the predecessor, but it is a new car on a new lighter platform. Unusually, the new model has shrunk by some 30mm in length, but with no commensurate loss of passenger or luggage space.

It is a confident, almost Germanic looking design (which may disappoint fans of French quirkiness), relying on good proportions, rather than fussy details, to create a sense of presence.

Peugeot 308 interior

Continuing on the showroom appeal, it is a similar story inside. In perceived quality terms it is a quantum leap ahead of the Peugeots of several years ago. Minor controls are operated by the big touch screen on all models above the Active level. This actually feels a pleasant place to spend your time behind the wheel.

And that wheel is small. The 308 continues Peugeot’s new design trait of placing the instruments high on the dash so that you look at them over that small steering wheel, rather through it.

I cannot put my finger on the reason, but it seems to work better on the 308 than the 208. That said, small-of-stature drivers might still find the steering wheel rim cutting into their view of the instruments, so best to get a seat in the Peugeot 308 in the showroom, before you sign the deal!

That small steering wheel might raise concerns that the steering would be too heavy for some. In reality I found it very good. It is light, which makes manoeuvring in town a breeze. Yet, at the same time, it retains enough weight and feel on the open road to involve the driver and inspire confidence.

Refinement is good and I found my Peugeot 308 to be notably quiet, with a very satisfactory ride quality.

My test car was the Peugeot 308 Feline e-HDi 1.6. It proved just a little bit hesitant to get off the mark if the revs are really low, but as soon as the turbocharger gets spinning it becomes more lively. This initial hesitancy is probably responsible for the less than electric 0-62 mph time of 11.9 seconds, but in normal driving conditions I found it responsive enough to satisfy.

Fuel economy is a strong point, with a combined fuel economy figure of 74.3 mpg. I found myself managing around 48 mpg on most of my journeys.

Peugeot 308

That was without the stop-start system. I know many people who hate stop-start systems, but I am not normally one of them. However, the system on the Peugeot 308 test car seemed over-eager and too fussy about the position of the clutch pedal for triggering the restart. It was slightly annoying, therefore, that it could not be left off, you have to switch it off each time you get in the car.

With low fuel consumption you would guess that this Peugeot 308 has low emissions and you would be right. At 100 g/km of carbon dioxide, this 308 sneaks into band A for UK car tax, meaning that you get your tax disc free.

Space for passengers is much as you would expect for a hatchback in this class and the boot offers a very usable 470 litres of luggage space with only a relatively low lip over which loads must be hefted. With seats folded down, this grows to a respectable 1309 litres.

It’s good to see Peugeot back producing cars that you can buy with your head and your heart. The first entry in my notebook for this car was “someone at Peugeot has been sharpening their pencil!”

Well, that sharpening effort has just won this car the title of ‘European Car of the Year 2014’.

Peugeot 308 Feline e-HDi 1.6
Carbon dioxide emissions: 100 g/km
VED Band A
Combined fuel economy: 74.3 mpg
Top speed: 118 mph
0-62mph: 11.9 secs
Power: 115 bhp
Engine size: 1560cc
Boot capacity 470/1309 litres
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