Sometimes a clean sheet approach really isn’t necessary when it comes to new car design.
Take Peugeot’s 308. It rides on the same platform as the 307 it replaced – it even looks much the same. It’s simply more sophisticated. Mind you, you’ll need one of the pokier diesels to really get the most from it.
Having rather under-achieved with their 307 Family Hatchback, Peugeot’s designers were keen to make amends, with an evolutionary approach adopted when it came to developing this 308. In the years since the 307 was launched, the diesel derivatives have assumed more and more importance – to the point where sales of these variants will be larger than those of their petrol-powered counterparts. Hence the effort expended in areas like refinement and low emissions on these models during the development process.
The 308 inherits the taller than average roofline that the 307 used to good effect in creating a roomy and airy interior but by shaving 12mm from its height while growing in terms of both length (74mm) and width (85mm), it achieves a far more dynamic stance than the old car. The long front overhang of the 308 adds to this impression, creating a wedge-shaped profile that brings a further sporty element to the car’s shape. If you need more room, there’s an SW estate version with up to 2,149 litres of space.
The only downside of all the development needed to create the 308 is all the extra weight that has come along with it – all 62kgs to be exact. Which is why some of the smaller engines can feel somewhat under-powered. Even the pokiest 2.0-litre HDi 136 diesel, with up to 260lb ft of torque, can’t crack the ten second barrier in the 0-60mph sprint. Still, this engine is at least acceptably quiet. You slip into 6th gear and forget about it. Helping in this regard is the realisation after a few hundred miles that it’s hard to think of a rival that offers a more absorbent ride.
On twistier roads, you realise that Peugeot hasn’t reclaimed the driving dynamics class leadership enjoyed by the old 306 in this sector but it’s a step forward from the 307 which rather lost its way in this regard. 307 hot hatch models were generally derided by the buying public for this reason but future 308 fast variants should fare rather better. The improved suspension now makes cross-country dashes something to be looked forward to rather than to be avoided. However, there’s a bit more roll than you’d find in a Focus or a Golf and a bit less steering feel too.
"Sometimes, it seems, evolution can indeed be better than revolution."
Though the 308 doesn’t look much different from its 307 predecessor, take it from us, it’s a far more credible car. The longer, wider and lower body shell is 10% stiffer and more slippery, there’s a brand new suspension set-up and some useful additions to the engine range. On top of that, it’s quieter, more practical and, with 5 NCAP stars, safer too.
The cabin now vies with that of the Fiat Bravo (yes, really) as arguably the nicest in the Family Hatchback sector – and yes, this observation includes that of the Volkswagen Golf (quality fitments but a rather dull overall feel). As with both Focus and Golf interiors, it’s impressively spacious but the ambience is a lot more inviting, especially if you order the (non-opening) full-length panoramic glass roof. Soft-touch plastics are everywhere, attractively set off by slivers of faux aluminium. Plenty of storage spaces make the cabin practical too.
Those familiar with the Peugeot 207 supermini will find plenty they recognise in the 308 but the key differences on the larger car are the prominent V-shaped bonnet that extends down from the base of the A-pillars on a raised plain and the huge oblong foglights. The rear of the 308 has more of a bulbous look to it, helping to maximise luggage space that runs to 430 litres and can be extended to 1,398 litres by folding the rear seats.
The diesel 308 range consists of Peugeot’s excellent HDi common-rail engines. There’s a 1.6-litre unit offered in 90 or 110bhp form and a 2.0-litre 136bhp option topping the range. A wide range of trim levels are available kicking off with tshe Urban then running on to the S, SR, Sport, SE and GT models. There’s a choice of three or five-door hatchback bodystyles plus an SW estate and the CC convertible.
Peugeot has armed the 308 with a wide selection of technological curiosities to help it battle the family hatchback sector’s big hitters. You’ll need to dip into the options list to get the bi-xenon directional headlamps and the Lane Departure Warning System (which gives you the electronic equivalent of a dig in the ribs from your better half if you wander across a white line without indicating), but a lot of the safety kit is standard. Seven airbags are included and five-door buyers can add to this count with rear side airbags if they want to. There’s a wide choice of different transmission options, including a six-speed manual gearbox, a six-speed EGC semi-automatic unit and a full six-speed automatic fitted to the flagship 2.0 HDi 136 model.
Peugeot is proud of the fact that some of the best aerodynamics in the sector have been achieved with the 308. A drag coefficient of 0.29 will mean little to most buyers but the resultant the slippery styling and fuel economy advantage should strike a chord. The greenest engine choice is the FAP particulate filter-equipped 1.6-litre HDi which gets an excellent 60.1 miles from each gallon on the combined cycle. It also dips under the 120g/km barrier for CO2 emissions. The 136bhp 2.0-litre HDi, also with a particulate filter to clean up its act, returns a creditable 51.3mpg.
Depreciation should sit in the same territory as obvious Focus and Astra rivals, if a little behind more premium alternatives like Honda’s Civic and Volkswagen’s Golf. However, you can offset that against the larger discount you’re like to get up-front. Insurance sits between groups 6 and 13E.
Peugeot’s 308 isn’t a car that will make a big driveway statement but it’s amongst the three or four Family Hatches that you must consider before buying a car in this segment. Though the latest VTi petrol engines that have been introduced have their appeal, it’s hard to see past the HDi diesels, provided you get a deal strong enough to enable you to offset their price premium against fuel savings over the likely annual mileage you’ll cover.
Other Family Hatches may be sharper to drive. Or faster. Or return better residuals. But none offers a markedly superior all-round package and if we had to use such a car over longer distances, the Peugeot’s keys are the ones we’d plump for every time. Sometimes, it seems, evolution can indeed be better than revolution.