Peugeot has renewed its 308, a hatchback carrying the ambitions of its French car maker to be more aspirational and premium. Does it succeed?
The French city of Cannes played host to the international press launch of the third-gen Peugeot 308 and there we discovered that not only does this new hatch boast a fresh design, up-to-the-moment driver and safety aids and oodles of personality but it’s also the first Peugeot model to bear the new ‘lion’s head’ coat of arms.
Peugeot has recently positioned itself as an ‘inventive, high-end generalist’ and it’s this ethos, along with electrification (70 per cent of the vehicles it offers now are electrified, with the aim of 100 per cent by 2024) that is showcased in the new 308.
Peugeot’s new hatch is built on an evolution of the EMP2 (Efficient Modular Platform) multi-energy platform, meaning that not only does it offer even greater efficiency, safety, driving pleasure and comfort but it also (in NZ), comes in both GT petrol and GT PHEV variants.
It’s been created to stand out in a busy category with special attention given to its more premium positioning and greater driver engagement. The textured grille introduces the new Peugeot ‘lion’s head’ coat of arms. Not only does it signify the leap in the brand’s upmarket goal but behind it sits the radar for the adaptive cruise system, one of many driver aids that the new 308 sports. With CO2 being the ‘new currency’ in the automotive industry, this 308 has received additional aerodynamic attention. Its drag coefficient is 0.28, which the firm says helps reduce the vehicle’s overall emissions by 2g/km.
The 308’s wheelbase has grown by 55mm which increases the cabin space for additional passenger comfort. Overall length has increased by 110mm to 4.36m and the height is now 20mm lower, making its dynamic proportions rather different from those of previous generations.
The improved build quality is apparent the moment you slip inside the cabin, a feeling that’s accentuated by the reassuringly solid thud evident when you close the doors. Cabin materials, including embossed leather with an Adamite colour signature thread, Alcantara and deep-drawn aluminium, emphasise its more premium position.
The ‘high-vent’ dashboard architecture offers both efficiency and driver/passenger comfort and this layout means that the central 10-inch infotainment touch screen is in a more natural position and easy to reach. A new (over-the-air software updatable) i-Connect infotainment system is as simple to use as a tablet with swipe and slide functionality, including a three-finger ‘touch for home menu’ feature.
The drive event was based at Cannes-Mandelieu airport, and as Peugeot NZ is concentrating primarily on the GT hatch, I drove the same loop firstly in the petrol 1.2 PureTech 130 (96kW/230Nm) with an eight-speed auto, and then the Hybrid 225 (162kW/360Nm) PHEV.
Despite being on the wrong side of both the car and road, the 308’s cabin felt like a perfectly natural place to be. The seats are cosseting yet allow plenty of unrestricted movement, while the cabin itself feels spacious, certainly for a hatchback. It has 34L of storage space in a variety of cabin cubby holes, plenty of rear legroom and a 412L luggage space (that shrinks to 361L in the GT PHEV model). The tiny steering wheel makes entry and exit easy and provides unrestricted views of the 3D instrument cluster above, all changeable via the indicator stalk. All round visibility is good with wedge style A-pillars, large door mirrors and a frameless rear view mirror.
The absence of a gear lever (shift by wire) declutters the centre console landscape and having the drive mode toggle (with options such as Sport, Comfort and in the PHEV, Electric only) so close at hand, made it easy to switch up or down to suit the pace required.
The guidance system took me straight onto the French Autoroute and the 1.2L had it quickly up to 100km/h. Road noise was minimal and the suspension seemed to literally absorb all the blemishes from the tarmac below. There’s a nice weight to the wheel that gets progressively heavier as your speed increases.
Free of the Autoroute the nav took me off into the hills around the Prealpes D’Azur National Park and all the twisting winding roads that it entailed; essentially hatchback heaven. In Sport mode, the 308’s roadholding is exciting. It’s quick and nimble with a throttle response to match. Sure it’s a 1.2-litre triple, so not exactly supercar territory, but the hatch’s agility was always smile-inducing. French van drivers appear to have no sense of fear and will squeeze through the tiniest of spaces. Despite the new 308 being larger than before, it too seemed to breathe in well when required.
Returning safely back to base in Cannes, I swapped into the GT PHEV. While the regular GT is hushed, the PHEV is quieter still, and quicker, more technical and efficient. It combines a 1.6 engine with an 81kW electric motor, powered by a 12.4kWh battery giving up to 60km of electric driving and switches seamlessly between the power sources.
As the route was the same, I got more involved with what the GT PHEV 308 had to offer. The adaptive cruise control is easy to engage and the long-range (75m) blind spot alert, traffic sign, pedestrian and cyclist detection mean an extra set of eyes front and rear. The 308 comes with “OK PEUGEOT” voice recognition to control the infotainment but for some reason I couldn’t trigger it. Perhaps it was my English accent (the French are still not over Agincourt?). It’s all very smart and already loaded with aids but there are also a few upgrades expected next year (Drive assist 2.0 – Semi-automatic lane change, Anticipated speed and Curve adaptation) that will take the 308 to the next level.
There are the usual EV-specific screens which display the geeky stuff such as energy flow, charging details and efficiency statistics which, by the way, are reported to be 1.2L/100km and emissions of 27g/km.
My pick of the two 308s would be the GT PHEV. It exemplifies all that both the model and the brand have to offer, the best of both worlds with power and efficiency. The new 308 is a premium drive with plenty of personality. The new model arrives in New Zealand soon.