Peugeot have been getting a lot of press in recent months for their new and vastly improved 2008 and 3008 SUV models.
While these and the inbound 5008 are important models, the French manufacturer has always been known for its hatchbacks and so, four years after launch, the second-generation 308 has had a visit from the update fairy.
As is de rigeur these days the exterior has been given a gentle going over to sharpen things up.
A new bonnet, grille, bumper and reshaped headlights give it a pointier pointy end and at the rear the hatchback’s triple slash “three-claw” tail lights are permanently lit to give it a distinctive rear profile. They’re subtle changes but help keep the car looking fresh.
More significant changes are obvious under the bonnet and in the cabin.
Three new or revised engines are coming when the updated 308 hits showrooms in September. The 128bhp 1.2-litre petrol has been reworked, including the addition of a particulate filter, to make it cleaner and more efficient.and there are two new diesels – a 1.5-litre 128bhp unit to replace the current 1.6-litre and a 2.0-litre 178bhp to sit at the top of the range in GT trim only.
Peugeot won’t yet reveal exact emissions and economy figures for the new diesels. All they will say is that both will meet the very latest Euro 6 testing requirements once they are finalised – three years ahead of them becoming law. They also say that both will outperform current units, with the lowest CO2 emissions in the class.
Peugeot 308 BLUEHDi 180 GT SW
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic gearbox
Top speed: 139mph
CO2 emissions: TBC
Cleanliness aside, both engines are quiet and smooth with linear power delivery that speaks of buckets of torque.
The 1.5-litre is likely to be the more popular of the pair and, given that the car only weighs in the region of 1,300kg ,will be suitable for most users most of the time. The 2.0-litre is gruffer and noisier when pushed but brings with it a plentiful supply of shove.
The 178bhp unit can be had with another new addition to the 308 – an eight-speed automatic gearbox. With smooth and unobtrusive shifts it just gets on with the job. It’s also smaller and lighter than the six-speed and Peugeot say this and the extra ratios help improve economy.
Carried over from before is the 202bhp 1.6 petrol GT. It is likely to be a small-volume seller, especially in ultra-practical estate form but for me it’s perhaps the best version. It shares the balanced ride and handling of other models but straps in a silky smooth, hugely flexible unit that gives it a fun sporty edge.
That ride and handling are one of the 308’s strongest suits. It succeeds where many modern cars fail in blending a pliant, smooth ride with excellent body control and decent levels of grip. Steering through the tiny, chunky wheel is ideally weighted and nicely natural feeling.
The only thing to spoil the driving experience is the sport mode. This sharpens the throttle, turns the dials red and brings up power, torque and boost data, which is all fine. What isn’t is the awful fake engine noise pumped into the cabin. Lots of manufacturers do it now but the 308’s sounds as if it’s come from a low-rent mid-90s computer game.
Thankfully you don’t have to select it and can rather enjoy the well-insulated refinement of the cabin. It’s not the most spacious in the class but should fit a family of four easily and the boot is huge. The hatch offers a massive 470 litres and there’s a Skoda Superb-worrying 660 litres in the estate.
The high quality of the interior’s materials reflects Peugeot’s stated aim of going after the VW Golf and the stripped-back layout is simple and stylish. The only problem is the lack of physical heater controls. I maintain it’s easier and safer to adjust the air con via a proper dial rather than messing about on a touchscreen.
The 308 gets Peugeot’s i-cockpit as standard. A weird backwards-spinning rev counter aside, it’s a clear, simple easy-to-use setup with high-set dials to improve their visibility. The 9.7-inch touchscreen is bright and clear and quick to respond to touch inputs. It packs in live traffic info, 3D mapping and Mirrorlink, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
The other big news for the 308 is the addition of various advanced driver aids. The safety and driver assistance packs introduce distance alert and active safety braking along with lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and speed limit recognition – which will spot changes in restrictions and advise you to alter your cruise control if necessary.
Starting at £18,570, the 308 is priced to take on the VW Golf and Ford Focus rather than the cheaper Vauxhall Astra and Kia Cee’d. While usurping such behemoths of the segment might be a big ask, there’s plenty about the smooth-riding, well-equipped Peugeot to recommend it as an genuine alternative.