Keen to highlight that it is not Peugeot’s fault, Iain P W Robertson drives an assuredly excellent compact model from the Gallic carmaker but also demonstrates the downsides of following the herd, if not in all areas.

peugeot308-1Some carmakers are destined to annoy me to a fault. I can recall driving a Russian-built Lada Samara in Flyte trim, in the late-1980s. The company was sponsoring the world darts championships at the time. The exceptionally chipper delivery man was almost overly keen to handover the keys, obtain my signature for the delivery of the week-long test car and leave me to my test driving vagaries.

Unfortunately, later in the day, I slipped behind the steering wheel, to adjust the column rake, only for the entire dashboard to fall into my lap. Needless to say, this made the act of driving, let alone manoeuvring the recalcitrant Russkie, somewhat awkward. While the import centre for the brand was based at Beverley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, now since disappeared and turned into an Aldi supermarche, or somesuch retail centre, and I was living just forty miles due west of it, it was deemed far too complicated to recover the excuse for a car and replace it with one that did work. Not good at all.

There were no such issues with the impeccably-built Peugeot 308. The French carmaker, aware of its failings of the past, had promised that ‘attention to detail’, a much-abused automotive adage, would be at the highest possible levels with every model since the most recent 208 hit centre-stage. peugeot308-2In fact, its dashboard is a paragon of design beauty, switchgear minimalism and practicality that you might believe would leave me with nothing at all to rail about. Wrong!

It might sound like a little thing to you but to have, ahead of the driver, a speedometer on the left-hand side of the binnacle, with a rev-counter/tachometer on the right-hand side, separated by a small digital readout and warning-lights info-block, is not as ergonomically brilliant as it might look. The science of ergonomics – the knack of putting controls, switches and devices in just the right places, for many reasons – is quite clear. In an ideal world, these items should be placed in the same places with each and every model, a factor that would breed familiarity and subsequent driver safety.

Peugeot, on the other hand, elects to redesign the wheel. The speedo can scarcely be read, because the driver’s left hand is in the way, which means that the digital readout in the centre becomes essential (and faintly ridiculous, when the speedo dial is alongside it). However, it should be on the right, not to the left of the cluster. As stated, the rev-counter is on the right and, for the same excuse as the speedometer, its dial operates in reverse to the norm. This is unwarranted, unnecessary and confusing.

peugeot308-3However, in the reinvention stakes, Peugeot really knows how to go for the treble, with its low-mounted steering column, Play-Station-like, tiny diameter steering wheel and an arc of adjustment that ensures anyone over six feet tall is going to be compromised in accommodation terms. One final element is the typical PSA Group glove-box into which you would struggle to slip a pair of gloves, because it is more than 60% full of fusebox. Okay. Rant over.

The rest of the car is stunning. Its VW Golf-inspired dimensions mean that, apart from the nuances of the driver’s environment, it offers bags of interior space and a decent boot behind its hatch. The quality of the materials and the detail finishes are more than up to the best of any German offering, while retaining an essential soupcon of Gallic charm. In fact, everything about the 308 is summed up in its latest UK company MD’s statement that Peugeot should remain staunchly French in appeal, while retaining a near-Germanic build quality, allied to those pleasing French accoutrements that will always betray its origins.

peugeot308-4In overall appearance, the 308 is supremely stylish and loads better to look at than the aforementioned Golf. In fact, it is one of the prettiest and best-balanced mainstream hatches on the market, in my opinion. The extensive work carried out on its suspension (over the former generation 308) is such that it corners with the alacrity of a polecat, gripping like a leech and riding with the poise of a decent sports-hatch, without the beefed-up springs and dampers getting in the way. There is lots to admire.

However, I had an ulterior motive behind requesting this particular model. At the launch of the car, late last year, it was kind of inevitable that Peugeot’s Press Office would lay on the most attractive specifications on its cars, while I wanted something slightly more approachable by the average new car buyer. This is where my earlier proposition starts to ring true. The 308 is market-priced at a whopping £16,445 in entry-level 1.6HDi (92), Access trim. The equivalent Golf breaches the £20k pricing level, which is utterly horrendous. The Vauxhall Astra is £18,325, although the Skoda Rapid weighs in less than £16,140. The Kia cee’d is £15,695, while even the Hyundai i30 is £16,345.

The issue for me is that, at no point can I state categorically that any one of them is worth that price tag. They are all on the wrong side of £14,000, which is where I believe that competitive pricing should be aimed for this category of family hatchback. Just because the market, which is predominated remember in the UK by the company car sector, tolerates it, is not a decent enough excuse, especially as fleet buyers, who actually destroy residual values of all cars, will pay nowhere near to the full retail prices stated. I urge you to spend as much time argy-bargying on getting the prices to sub-£14k, before you agree to take an example off the dealers’ hands. peugeot308-5End of rant two.

All it leaves me to say is that the 92bhp version of the 308 is actually the best version in which to invest. Thanks to a sub-100g/km CO2 rating (actually 95g/km), its VED rating is zero. It is also in a lowly Group 12 for insurance and, regardless of how I drove it, the fuel return was never less than 60mpg, which makes some econo-cars look exceedingly thirsty. Despite my comments, the 308 is a very fine machine indeed and, while its recent European Car of the Year status might not be as deserved as it would be awarded to the BMW i3, I still like the car a whole lot and, yes, I would spend my own money on an example.

Conclusion: The benefits outweigh the detrimental aspects on the latest Peugeot 308 models and, if style is a prerequisite, living with a 308 will be an immensely satisfying experience. It is a handsome car, possessing a quality that almost harks back to but exceeds that of the best Peugeots of the company’s past.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).