While it’s never managed to kick the same foothold into the NZ car market as its 207 supermini sibling, the 308 hatch has diligently chipped its way into the consciousness of kiwi car buyers. In our hardest fought market segment, dominated by Japanese metal, the 308 remains a refreshing alternative and has won its fans accordingly. It reached showrooms for the first time back in 2008 and now, has been updated with a reworked Euro 5 compliant diesel engine. Car and SUV had some seat time in the French family hatch to reconnect and feel the impact of the cleaner, greener 2.0-litre diesel motor.
With European emissions regulations changing to the stricter Euro 5 standard earlier this year Peugeot has got with the program on its 308 diesel range. The results have reached us here in NZ with the new 308 diesel hatch not just releasing less emissions (down to 120g) but with more power too. The turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel mill has had a power increase of 20kW to 120kW and a torque bump of 20Nm to a solid 340Nm in total. Can you notice the difference? You bet. The 308 HDi is a livelier performer, it gets off the line quickly and the high torque output makes it responsive at most speeds. There is a slight hesitation waiting for the turbo to spool up, but you won’t be left hanging long. While you wouldn’t call the 308 HDi a hot hatch, the power bump up has certainly given it a more muscular bend. That said, it remains a nicely refined diesel motor with very little vibration and noise once warmed up.
Fuel consumption remains the same at 6.8litres/100km, which is definitely frugal but not exceptional in its class. Power is sent to the front treads through a six-speed automatic transmission. There’s little to complain about with this auto box, it works without fuss, provides smooth shifts and has long ratios in its higher gears, making for very relaxed motorway cruising. There’s also a sports setting, which means lower gears are held longer and the motor is kept in its torque powerband. Overall, it’s a well-worked drivetrain that’s been further improved. The best part is that you get more power and torque while helping save the world. Well sort of, anyway.
Dynamically the 308 shows good all-round ability, it works well around the city but strangely for a hatchback, feels more at home on the open road. The diesel engine shunts it briskly between corners and there is loads of grip available through the 215/55 tyres. Push on and it will submit to understeer but it’s predictable and the 308 has higher limits than you’d expect. It keeps flat and tracks around tightly through bends with the suspension feeling accurately set. In the city the 308’s ride feels on the firm side, while it’s not a jarring experience, some bumps and dips that were soaked up at higher speeds can be felt through the cabin. The 308’s steering is a highlight; it’s precise and clearly communicates exactly what’s happening at the front wheels.
Away from the mechanical tweaking and on road abilities the 308 remains a tidy little number. The bold exterior design stays unchanged for now, but a facelifted 308 was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in February with a more toned down aesthetic – expect to see it in NZ later this year. Till then, the 308’s looks will continue to polarize opinion with its angry eyes and gasping mouth. Personally, I admire the 308’s design, its unafraid to stand out from the crowd and is aggressive where many competitors are meek. It’s also has a brawny stance for a hatch, with its steeply raked windscreen and wrap around rear end. Our HDi test vehicle was nicely colour-coded in a deep grey metallic and finished off with 17-inch 5-spoke alloy rims as standard fitment.
Step into the 308 cabin and you’re greeted with a spacious area that is a true strength of the model. In fact, few other cars in this segment can impart such a feeling of space. A big reason behind its success here is the forward-sloping centre control stack and the awesome glass roof that is included as a standard feature. It stretches almost full length and has an electrically operated shade to cover it up if the cabin gets too hot. There’s also a sense of quality to the dashboard fit out. While the bright silver plastics are quite hard all other materials are tactile and of a high-grade. Switchgear is clearly separated between audio and climate controls in an easy-to-learn assortment of buttons, knobs and display screens. Because of the leaning control stack the main audio controls could prove a stretch for short-armed drivers but there are wands hiding behind the steering wheel that have buttons for the same functions. The 308’s instrumentation is big and bright in an old school four-dial arrangement with a small display screen giving out trip and vehicle information. Cabin storage is a mixed bag, the door bins are a good size and there’s an armrest/storage compartment between the front seats but the glove box lets the team down by being very small.
Elsewhere the 308 cabin is fairly accommodating. Rear legroom is limited but the tall, wide body shape allows for generous head and shoulder room for four occupants. Cargo capacity is a usable 430-litres in the hatch and can be expanded by folding down the split rear seatback. It’s easy to get comfortable with gently bolstered front seats, trimmed in a soft cloth and enough adjustment options to suit a range of body shapes. Visibility isn’t bad either, the A-pillars are long but the windscreen is huge and there’s plenty of glass down the sides.
To push its case in the value-for-money equation the 308 is decked out with a lot of standard equipment for a hatchback. Cruise control with a speed limiter is a handy inclusion, as are rear parking sensors, automatic folding side mirrors, a six-speaker CD stereo with auxiliary input, automatic lights and wipers and dual zone air-conditioning. But the biggest bonus comes with the inclusion of the panoramic glass roof, which can cost around $2k as optional kit for some of the 308’s competitors.
There’s no scope for complaints when it comes to safety systems with the 308 scoring a 5-star Euro rating during testing. Stability and traction control systems are on board, there’s ABS brakes, 3-point seat belts in all positions with pre-tensioners and load limiters. As a last resort there are six airbags on guard with front, side and full-length curtain bags waiting to pop.
The current model 308 HDi is an interesting prospect, in that it has the updated engine without having the refreshed face. The fully facelifted model is on the way shortly with new looks that may expand the 308’s appeal. But if you love the hungry-mouthed, gangster-grilled looks of the current model then this re-engined diesel 308 is the one to get. The increase in torque gives it a lively character, it runs cleaner and is dynamically capable. The ride may be a notch firm for some, but the interior is comfortable and spacious and there is plenty of tempting features on board. If you like your hatchbacks unapologetically French and your fuel – diesel, than the 308 HDi has a lot to offer. The current model 308 is on run out now, so if you’re keen it’s the right time to take a closer look.
Price: From $44,990
What we like:
- Stronger and more eco-friendly diesel engine
- Panoramic glass roof
- Spacious interior
What we don’t like:
- Firm Ride
- Not as economical as some competitors
- Exterior design will have some buyers waiting on the facelift
Who will buy this car: Well it’s a family-sized hatch, so mothers with young children would make a good fit. As would empty nest baby boomers looking for a stylish and economical machine.
Cool Factor: Moderate, the 308 styling is daring and it makes for a cool Euro alternative to more regulation pickings like the Mazda3 and the Toyota Corolla.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo