They say first impressions never lie. If that’s true, Peugeot’s new 308 hatchback should be a winner.
The French hatch is one of the prettiest cars on the road, especially in the rich metallic green paint of our test car, which refreshingly is a no-cost option.
Climb inside the cockpit and the magic continues. The quality of the materials and finishes rivals some prestige brands, from the perforated leather seats with green stitching to the racy flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Peugeot hasn’t skimped on the technology either. There’s a classy looking centre touchscreen that has favourite buttons underneath to make it easier to navigate, while the 3D display in front of the driver can be reconfigured in several different layouts. Ambient lighting in a choice of eight hues adds class after dark.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto combine with a wireless charging pad and a host of USB-C ports to make sure you and the crew stay connected on long journeys, while rear passengers have individual air vents.
Now for the bad news. The cheapest 308 is the GT model at $43,990, while the GT Premium hatch is $48,990 and the wagon is $50,490. A plug-in hybrid variant will join the range next year, but that is likely to be several thousand dollars more expensive. The pricing puts the 308 dangerously close to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. The most expensive Golf – excluding the GTI and R performance variants – is $10,000 cheaper than the GT Premium and comes with a bigger, more powerful engine.
The Peugeot’s cabin is classier than the Golf’s, with standard leather trim and better quality materials in some areas, but the Volkswagen is a more accomplished performer on the road.
The 308’s not a bad drive, but the latest generation doesn’t have the sharp reflexes of its predecessor.
It appears to be built more for comfort than speed, which will suit many buyers.
The suspension soaks up bumps and lumps impressively at speed, although the low profile 18-inch tyres on our test car tended to pick up the smallest of road imperfections at lower speeds.
The steering points accurately but ultimately lacks the feel of some rivals, while the Peugeot isn’t as eager to turn into corners as its predecessor was.
The three-cylinder engine, which is essentially carried over from the previous generation, does its job with a minimum of fuss, performing better than its 96kW power output would suggest and using just 5.3L/100km. It can become a little vocal when pushed, though, and the eight-speed auto does it no favours, as it’s occasionally sluggish to react to throttle inputs. A claimed 9.7 second trip to 100km/h is leisurely by today’s standards.
All the safety bases are largely covered and the 308’s sophisticated matrix headlights can shade oncoming traffic, allowing you to keep the high beams on at all times.
Overall the 308 feels like a more mature, if less exciting car. The cabin is impressively quiet, allowing you to make the most of the Focal sound system that is standard on the GT Premium.
The seats are also comfortable and supportive, with plenty of adjustment available for different sizes. It’s a bigger car than its predecessor but knee and headroom in the rear remain a little tight. The boot is a good size.
The 308 wouldn’t be a French car if it didn’t have some mystifying quirks. In order to see the instruments properly you need to position the steering wheel lower than many drivers may like, while the metal gear selector in the centre console becomes too hot to touch if the car is left in the sun for too long. Physical controls for the airconditioning would also be welcome, as adjusting the temperature via the screen can be a little tricky.
Unfortunately our press car developed gremlins on our test, failing to start. The culprit turned out to be a faulty 12-volt battery, which made the car throw up a number of worrying fault messages about the engine and gearbox.
The 308 is an attractive, well equipped hatch but Peugeot needs to sharpen its pencil to attract buyers.
PEUGEOT 308 GT PREMIUM
PRICE $48,990 plus on-roads
ENGINE 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, 96kW and 230Nm
WARRANTY/SERVICING five years/unlimited km, $1800 for five years on upfront payment
SAFETY Six airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-keep and blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise control
SPARE Repair kit
LUGGAGE 384 litres