New car test: Peugeot 308: a winning combination

Contrary to popular belief, there are still quite a few hatches and estates being sold in the world. Enough for Peugeot to justify carrying on with the 308 adventure and introduce these two body styles right from the launch of its newcomer. It features a complete range of engines : petrol, diesel and, of course, the now compulsory PHEVs.

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The Covid 19 pandemy brought changes to new cars press tests.  Now, car makers put up an extended panel of models so that journalists can drive on their own rather than in pairs. We recently had the opportunity to discover the wide range of engines offered under the bonnet of this new Peugeot 308 over a reduced timespan. We began with the Hybrid 180 e-EAT8 estate.

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On the outside, this third generation 308 is still gaining in maturity and the side creases, although present, are not exaggerated like on some German competitors. The front end is very well designed and is organised around an impressive radiator grille. In its centre is the brand’s new logo which hides the camera usually located at the top of the windscreen. This shows all the care that went through the overall design. The rear is marked by an enlarged rear spoiler that improves drag as well as fake exhaust pipes. In our view, these are about the only bad taste thing on the car. The estate or SW version is 27 cm longer than the hatchback (4.64 m long). Both bodies styles share the same front end. However, the estate uses different panels from the B pillar. The roof is lengthened, as is the 5.7 cm longer wheelbase (2.73 m). It can thus offer a good load capacity, which increases from 412 litres on the hatch to 608 litres. The plug-in hybrid version has to make do with 548 litres only : its batteryis located under the floor but it takes up space.

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Inside, you can’t escape the fact that Peugeot’s i-Cockpit is now the name of the game. The small steering wheel is inevitable and so is the digital dashboard. Active Pack and upper versions now include a 10-inch digital display. On GT versions, the instrument panel now appears in three dimensions. The digital instrument panel can be fully customised and personalised. It features several display modes (TomTom connected navigation, radio/media, driving aids, energy flow, etc.) which can be modified directly from the control panel. From the Allure level onwards, the new 308 introduces fully configurable virtual i-toggles replacing the old school, traditionnal air con front panel. Each i-toggle is a touch-sensitive shortcut key giving access to the aircon settings, a contact’s phone number, a radio station, launching apps, etc… to suit users’ individual tastes.

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However, let’s turn now to what we consider the most important topic : driving feelings. The start of our test drive takes us onto the motorway. Our test car is the highest trim level which offers leather, tinted stitching and a fabric element on the dashboard and door panels which isn’t really to our liking. When the road slowly starts to wind up, the feeling of the road is the typical Peugeot one and all the better for it. The chassis is perfectly tuned and the bends follow one another at a great pace. Balance is good and this front wheel drive car never understeers, even when we throw it abruptly into corners. You could almost have fun on board if it wasn’t so portly (1,659 kg). The steering is quite direct and the front end is precise enough for everyday driving. The driving position is excellent even if once again we have to make do with a truncated view of the dashboard, as our height (1.86m) does not allow us to place the steering wheel in an ideal position.

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Our second test will be in a basic version. This 308 Active Pack is powered by the 1.2 PureTech 110 bhp engine mated to a manual gearbox. The interior fit and finish is obviously less classy but we must admit that the seat fabric is far from being unpleasant and that the driving position is as good as on the more expensive versions. What a surprise, the mechanical toggles that replace the touch-sensitive ones react more quickly under our fingers!  They look good and seem to be built to last. Less power means you have to be more patient when overtaking, However the car is dynamic enough and driving it is a rewarding experience. Once again, the Peugeot touch is unmistakable. Less fortunate drivers will not be punished!

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We ended the first test day behind the wheel of a GT Pack estate powered by the 1.5 BlueHDI mated to an EAT8 automatic gearbox. This is a very well-damped car which, once again, offers real driving pleasure. Let’s be clear, it’s not just mere driving but about dynamic driving. All the new 308s we tested proved to be fun. This is a welcome change from SUVs, even though the Peugeot have decent on-road dynamics. We drove without turning the radio on : the sound of the diesel engine was barely noticeable, even more so at constant speed on the motorway. It managed to make itself forgotten and, once again, offered a massive range and reduced consumption. So far so good, electric-powered cars will have trouble to better it.

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On the last day, we drove a diesel car fitted with a manual gearbox, before ending with the Hybrid 225 e-EAT8 version. The road was less pleasant than the day before and we quickly  concluded that the extra 45 horsepower are not really justified. That said, once again we salute all the fit and finish as well road feel improvements made by Peugeot. The suspensions offer an intelligent compromise between comfort and dynamism while all the mechanical components seem to be precisely designed. The electric version has a range of about 40 km  in full electric mode, even though Peugeot announces 60 km with a fully charged battery. This will be tested during a more thorough test drive on Belgian roads.

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In Belgium, prices start at €25,000 for a 1.2 PureTech 110 in Active Pack. The 130 hp diesel starts at 28.500€ and the first Plug-In Hybrid 180 retails from 36.250€. The intermediate trim levels are called Allure and Allure Pack and it’s obviously the GT Pack that tops the whole range.  In that guise, the 130 hp 1.2 PureTech costs €34,850, the 130 hp Blue HDI retails for €37,250 and the two 180 and 225 hp PHEV models RRPs are  respectively €42,850 and €44,350. (Translation: Dimitri Urbain)

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