Gareth Butterfield spends a week in Peugeot’s 308SW estate
THEY say first impressions last. And I think it’s true. I think, of all the things I’m supposed to remember about the Peugeot 308SW, it’s its comically small steering wheel that will stick in my mind.
I’ve just taken delivery of it and parked it up and it felt like I was threading a Digestive biscuit through my hands.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I should be remembering this car for its handsome new look, its minimalist dash layout, its impressive interior space or its remarkably clever engine but, no. It has a ridiculous steering wheel.
THE steering wheel still feels laughably small but I’m going to try and ignore that because I’m finding quite a lot to like about the 308SW.
This is the estate version of Peugeot’s family staple. Its roots can be traced back to one of my favourite cars off of the olden days, the 306. That car was best with a diesel and this latest incarnation, I’m told, is too.
But mine’s not got a diesel. Mine has a 1.2-litre, three cylinder engine. Now, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds a bit like propelling a locomotive with a washing machine motor – but it’s actually a remarkably clever little engine.
Using some automotive trickery I’ve never really understood, it pumps out a frankly implausible 130bhp. That might sound bonkers, but it’s a really drivable car with this engine under the bonnet. It has plenty of power and torque and you’d honestly believe you were driving a car with an engine twice the size.
Of course, this extreme power plant down-sizing is all in the pursuit of efficiency and the engine does deliver a claimed 60mpg while keeping its CO2 emissions down to 119g/km.
That’s pretty good for a car with this sort of oomph but, truth be told, you’ll not come far off those figures in the real world with the diesel version.
The tiny petrol lump is, I would say, better for people who do fewer miles or like to make geeky boasts down the pub about having an incomprehensibly clever engine with a turbo that must surely be bigger than the car’s steering wheel. I fall into the latter camp, but you might have guessed that.
Incidentally, the engine sounds quite nice. It’s not loud or intrusive, but there’s just the faintest hint of that characterful three cylinder “thrum” as you accelerate through the well-set up manual gearbox. I’m impressed.
ON the way into work this morning I encounter a traffic jam on the short stretch of dual carriageway I have to get through. This makes me angry, obviously, but it gives me a good chance to have a proper look round the 308’s interior.
And it’s really impressive actually. That steering wheel aside, there’s a beautiful quality feel about everything. It feels expensive and I love the huge glass roof, the bulky, sculpted seats, the materials are all top-notch and the minimalist dash looks odd at first, but soon grows on you.
What hasn’t grown on me yet is the fact that nearly all the controls are buried in the infotainment screen. It’s a big old panel but why all the climate control, stereo, sat nav and so on needs to be controlled by menus and sub-menus is beyond me. There are literally just five buttons on the central dash and that’s just silly.
I’m also falling out of love with the driving position. I may have mentioned that the steering wheel’s too small but that’s only half the problem. Usually when I get in a new car it takes a day or two to get comfortable, but I’ve done over 100 miles in the Peugeot now and I’m still fiddling with nobs and levers to try and stop my back going into spasm. The front seats on my test car have a massage function but it’s not helping. I cannot get comfortable in this car.
Oh, and I tried out the adaptive cruise control today. It’s a bit too nervous and keeps asking me to intervene. Shame, that’s one of my favourite features in any car.
On the plus side, I’m getting 55mpg which I’m really impressed with and it’s an absolute hoot to drive. Cars this big aren’t usually so sure-footed. It’s a shame the steering wheel is so small.
I PROMISE I won’t talk about the steering wheel today. I’ve got a fairly lengthy run to do taking in mostly motorway miles so I’m just going to muck about with the seat position some more, sit back and enjoy the drive.
In fairness, the 308’s seats are really comfortable. And, despite their size, they leave plenty of rear legroom. The boot’s massive, too. For a car that doesn’t outwardly look that big, it’s very well packaged.
But something’s definitely still wrong with the driving position. If I have the steering wheel where I’d like it I can’t see all of the instruments and if I have it too low my neck starts to ache. Maybe it’s not the car, maybe it’s me that’s the wrong shape.
I tried another massage but realise that it’s actually just some sort of airbag inflating and deflating endlessly into your lower back. I got bored of that pretty quickly to be honest.
The stereo is good though. And so is visibility. Also it has a lovely ride.
There’s a lot to like about the 308SW, barring the small steering wheel, of course.
Oops. Sorry. I promised I wouldn’t mention that today.
TONIGHT the wife’s not in so I’ve got some mates coming round to drink beer, eat pizza, muck about on the Playstation and generally talk about manly things.
Inevitably, the conversation turns to cars and we pop out to have a look at the Peugeot.
The one I’ve been sent is a really smart pearlescent white and it looks terrific under the streetlight on the end of my drive way.
One of my mates points out how nice the wheels look and a few others coo over some of the details. It really is a fine-looking thing.
The one I’ve been sent is a GT-Line, which means sporty. And that means it’s got some skirts along the side, a diffuser at the back twin chrome exhausts, all propped up by those stylish 18″ wheels.
Then I open the door to let them see the lovely interior, with its sporty detailing, big seats and that lovely glass roof. But, guess what gets the attention of my mates first? Yep. The button-sized steering wheel.
JUST a dull work commute today, not much to report. The 308SW still handles well, it’s still economical and my back still hurts a bit.
In case I forget to mention it, the steering wheel is really small in this thing.
In fairness, although it’s small, it’s really nicely sculpted. It’s a nice shape and really comfortable in your hands. I just cannot understand what possessed the designers to make it so out-of-proportion with the rest of the car.
Surely there was a meeting at Peugeot some time when some guy said to the design team: “Hang on fellas, isn’t the steering wheel a bit small?” I’d love to know what the response was.
Perhaps they all agreed it should be changed but forgot to minute it and went off to the pub and it sort of “slipped through” to the finished product.
Or maybe one of the senior designers thought it was cool. Maybe he thought it would remind people of a racing car or a go kart and he insisted it stays.
It doesn’t remind me of a racing car. It reminds me of my brother’s toy ride-on tractor when we were kids. Anyway, I’ll avoid going on about the steering wheel too much. The Peugeot’s got to go back tomorrow.
SO what have I learned about the Peugeot 308SW? Well, for a kick off, Peugeot is quite obviously trying to make a move up-market at the moment and this is a great example of how well that’s working.
Compare this car to its predecessors and it’s leaps and bounds better in terms of its build quality and sense of occasion.
Peugeot is bouncing back to become a brand that makes beautiful, class-leading cars and the 308 is a shining example of how well it’s doing.
As an overall package, the 308SW has a few flaws and plenty of competition but it’s a serious contender and definitely worth a look.
In fact, if you’re a fan of cars with inexplicably small steering wheels, or even just have a thing about circular objects that are a little bit smaller than they actually should be, then you won’t find a better car.