What can I say about the new Peugeot 308? Actually, that is a serious question because this latest incarnation of the 308 has me struggling a little. The problem I have is this. The 308 isn’t a bad car, it is actually quite a good car but – I need to choose the next few words very carefully because I want to remain on good terms with the manufacturer – it is a little underwhelming and mildly infuriating. It’s a good car but I wanted it to be so much better.
I think the crux of the problem is that I remember the 1980’s when every car Peugeot built was a sports car. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was a hatchback, a saloon, or an ocean liner, they all came in seat-of-your-pants mode as standard. If Peugeot built it you just knew it would handle as brightly as the smile it could put on your face. I used to hanker after the old 205GTi to the extent that when a friend bought one in black I gave serious thought as to how I could quietly dispose of the body. By today’s standards they were about as luxurious as a nun’s wardrobe, and safety began and ended with the seat-belts that had been optional just a few years previously, but they were immensely desirable. Unfortunately that was more than 20 years ago. Now I’m middle-aged and Peugeot appear to have aged along with me.
Don’t get me wrong. In so many ways the new 308 is a far superior car to the old models. It is infinitely better looking than it’s 80’s ancestors and in terms of quality it’s quiet, comfortable, well equipped, and much more economical to run. The Allure version I drove sits in the middle of the range but it still comes equipped with full LED headlamps and daytime running lights, reversing camera and parking sensors front and back, automatic headlamps and wipers, dual zone climate control, and a 9.7″ multifunction touchscreen that controls the DAB radio and entertainment system, Sat Nav, climate control, Bluetooth telephone connection, and many other bells and whistles. The fact that all the dials and buttons have been replaced with the single control panel makes for a very clean and uncluttered interior. Apart from the screen the only other things to look at are the lovely dials that sit in a raised display that manages to be unobtrusive yet very easy to read. With a stereotypically French obsession with style Peugeot have even made the rev counter move counter clockwise to create a lovely mirror-image effect with the speedometer. Elegant design is a neat trick if you can pull it off, and Peugeot have.
The 1.2L PureTech engine isn’t the most powerful but it is quiet and smooth and it makes the most of its’ 110bhp. More importantly it delivers on fuel economy. I spent the week almost entirely in town which is where fuel economy usually suffers but the 308 still managed a commendable 40mpg and I am definitely not what you would call an economical driver. The other factor to bear in mind is that the road tax for the entire year is a Scrooge-pleasing £20. The one thing that really stood out was how smooth the ride is. We all know that Britain’s roads are in a worse state now than at any time since the Romans upped sticks and went running back home to invent pizza but the 308 took all of the lumps and bumps in its’ stride. I’m not suggesting that Rolls Royce should be concerned about the competition but compared to its’ direct rivals the Peugeot really is good. It takes the bumps in its’ stride, the engine pulls well and the gear change is nice and smooth.
As far as optional extras are concerned, the panoramic glass roof and park assist are an absolute must if your budget will stretch. Neither of them really make much difference to the driving experience but both are fantastic additions. The glass roof makes the whole car feel light and airy and even with the retractable blind closed the additional light that filters through makes the cabin a lovely place to sit. As for the parking assist, to be honest you can probably park faster without it but the ability to fold your arms and watch the car drive itself, that is a fantastic bit of technology and well worth the extra £400. You may consider it a slightly frivolous option but I promise you there will come a day when the last space in the car park is as awkward as a teenager on a first date. No matter how well you think you can park, that is the moment when you’ll thank me for mentioning it.
So far, so good but now we reach the awkward part. If you remember, far back in the mists of time, I said that the 308 had left me a underwhelmed and infuriated. There are a number of issues I have with the Peugeot that just wouldn’t go away. Comfort is good but the driving position never felt quite right – The seat was either a tad too close or a fraction too far, the steering wheel either a touch too high or a smidgen too low. The stereo is good but as much as I appreciate the ability to connect my iPod in two different ways via two separate USB slots I can’t help but wonder why Peugeot felt there was no need for a CD player – Yes, it is available as an option, in the same way that electric windows could also be an option, but we all expect a certain level of standard equipment and that includes the ability to listen to a CD you have owned since before the iPod was a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. I’m all for adopting new technology but there are still significant numbers of people who were born in the days before there was an Internet, the day when the old technology can be completely discarded is coming but I don’t think it has arrived just yet.
I wish I could finish there. The steering wheel would be fantastic in a little two-seater sports car but in this it just feels uncomfortably small, try holding a chocolate button and you will get the idea. The touchscreen looks great but it’s fussy and overly complicated to operate to the extent that you almost need to pull over to perform even the simple tasks. Peugeot have programmed four different “ticks” so you can choose the noise the indicators make – Why? It’s utterly pointless and all of them are annoyingly loud. Programming the Sat Nav was unnecessarily time consuming and on one occasion it even directed me down a dead end that’s been there since God was a boy. For a family hatchback there is remarkably little room in the back for either your head or your legs and no matter how you arrange yourself you always seem to be sitting on the seat belt. There isn’t quite enough storage in the car and there is only one cup holder. To make matters worse, the cup holder folds out of one of the cubby holes in the centre console so if you want to use it you have to empty the cubby hole hole first. Little irritations they may be but they drove me to distraction (pardon the pun) and left me feeling that if I’d had the car for longer I probably would have found more. In a car that costs a couple of degrees North of £20k with the optional extras, that is certainly a little infuriating.
Of course, all of this is simply my personal opinion and it may well differ greatly from yours. Would I spend my own money on the 308? No, it wouldn’t be my car of choice. Does that mean you shouldn’t consider buying one? Of course not. Go and take a look at one, arrange a test drive, if you disagree with me then there isn’t really a reason for you not to buy one. Peugeot have built a solid car that tackles the job of being a family hatchback without any sense of fuss or drama. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that approach to building a car, the sales figures would quickly expose the lie if I said there was. However, if you enjoy a little drama every once in a while then the 308, for all its very good points, isn’t going to provide the necessary theatrical flair. It may well tick all the boxes in my head but I’m afraid it doesn’t tick the really important one in my heart.