Peugeot plays the numbers game and the latest 308 proves that not much changes
When asked which of the ‘3-0’ models he prefers, Iain Robertson sticks resolutely to the conventionality of 307, as Peugeot’s first attempt at 308 was abysmal and, while the later version has been better, it introduced us to ‘lap steering’ and will not drop it.
A surprising array of new cars are known by numbers, often in conjunction with letters. However, when Porsche wanted to name its new coupe model in the early-1960s by the numbers ‘901’, Peugeot leapt into legal action and stopped it, having registered every three-number combination (possessing a middle ‘0’) from 101 to 909, for its personal use. Porsche was forced to accede and went ahead with ‘911’ instead.
For many years, Peugeot has maintained its numerical nomenclature but only appreciated more recently the folly of its arithmetical pattern, as it was running out of successive model options and what should have been 309 has been halted at 308 for two complete model generations. Part of the problem lies with the mid-1980s Ryton, Coventry-built model known as 309, which, as a new car, was immensely satisfying but was named out-of-sequence, suffered from a poor repute and may as well have been built from papier-mâché, so shockingly poor was its body integrity.
Therefore, stuck at 308, understandably nervous about reintroducing 309, Peugeot is playing a mildly revisionist game, enabling the latest ADAS driver and safety aids to be applied to the current 308 line-up. As to design, well, the latest 308 still looks like a racy blue-rinser’s Sunday bonnet, possessing a few dynamic ‘tricks’ but also recognising that the 3008 is a more investible model. Thus, inordinately little is spent on upgrading the regular hatchback, the sales of which are dwindling in the SUV’s wake.
Needless to say, as one of the Gallic firm’s earlier efforts with the ‘i-cockpit’ development, having engineered the model range to accommodate it, the steering wheel in the lap and the higher sight-line presented by the main instrument binnacle remains as a primary but highly faulted interior design feature. What Peugeot fails to appreciate is that ‘lap-steering’ places a restriction on driver height, even with the laughingly teensy tiller that would be better suited to an X-Box player. Fortunately, the dials can be replaced by digital readouts, which means that the driver is no longer confused by a reverse swept rev-counter and an incorrectly placed speedometer, both serious problems in the original plan.
At the top of the centre stack is an all-new, 10.0-inch capacitive and gloss-finished touchscreen that can be connected readily to smartphones and replicates several of their functions and operational efficacy. The 3D navigation features voice recognition and is both reactive and connected to TomTom® Traffic, allowing the driver to optimise journeys, having incorporated real-time traffic monitoring. Warning of danger zones is now included free of additional charge as standard. Yet, for whatever frustrating reason, Peugeot has not used this upgrade opportunity to improve digital responses, which remain sluggish and lazy.
The driving assist functions mentioned earlier include: adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop & Go’ facilities; ‘Visiopark’ complete with 180° rear-view camera and park assist function; automatic emergency braking; collision risk warning; active lane departure warning (or roadside warning), with lane correction from 40mph onwards; driver attention alert; automatic smart beam assist; speed sign recognition and recommendation and an active blind spot monitoring system.
To be fair to the 308, it is built far better these days than it used to be and, dependent on trim, of which there are three, each of which can now be enhanced by requesting a ‘Premium’ pack, there are several upmarket details, such as contrast colour stitching on dashboard and seats. Talking of which, despite lacking sufficient thigh support, the seats are comfortably upholstered and of a density unexpected in a car of this class.
Power options are rationalised to a couple of petrols in three-cylinder 1.2-litre guises, developing a choice of 107, or 127bhp, both driving through a 6-speed manual transmission, or in the more potent guise, via an optional 8-speed automatic. The pair of 1.5-litre BlueHDi turbodiesel options are identical in almost every respect, except their meatier torque deliveries. Naturally, the GTi variant continues as a stand-out model,powered by the 1.6-litre, 263bhp turbo-petrol engine that provides punchy acceleration and a top whack approaching 155mph, although it never feels quite as eager as the numbers might propose.
If you enjoy a bit of jostling on your commute, the ultra-low-profile tyres fitted to 18.0-inch diameter alloys and beefed-up suspension of the GTi and optional on GT-Line variants should serve purpose. While not as complete as they ought to be, these models do hark back to the glory days of Peugeot’s hot hatch past, with the 1.6GTi being the more focussed inevitably. While chassis electronics tame the peaky power delivery, the GTi is not quite as well resolved on the dynamics front as some of its several rivals are, almost as if Peugeot recognises that its days are numbered…so, why bother?
The better handling versions are also the less powerful ones and, while diesel is still being demonised, the 127bhp petrol version in Allure trim should satisfy most drivers demands for responsiveness and power-to-weight. The softer, more compliant suspension settings pay dividends on cross-country forays, providing handling and road-holding that is most exploitable, accompanied by excellent grip and a supportive ride quality.
The 308 has always provided a good space package, with an accommodating boot that is on par with that of the VW Golf and has minimal intrusions to its load area, which can be expanded considerably by the fold-flat rear seats. Although the driver’s zone is inhibited by the aforementioned ‘i-cockpit’, front and rear passenger areas are generously proportioned. The Peugeot 308 has always been a ‘nearly’ car, it ‘nearly’ competes with the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra but always misses out narrowly in the final reckoning, a factor not helped by its benign styling stance. While pricing remains fairly consistent (starting from around £21,000, rising to £31,000 for the GTi), the Peugeot 308 does not offer solid value for money in the still important Golf segment of the new car scene, which ensures that deals can be done.