Peugeot’s design language is almost ‘on point’ with new 308
As a long-standing advocate for the Peugeot brand, Iain Robertson has always felt that, when left to its own devices, the French carmaker is capable of turning heads, without resorting to the Italian styling houses, although its performance is very cyclical.
While I can comprehend personnel on a production line being swapped from one set of tasks to another, partly to remove tedium, mostly to avoid the onset of lunacy, Gallic car firms tend to wreck their own consistency in other key areas of their businesses. That’s why the original 205 era of 1983 was seminal for Peugeot, which led to the 405 being developed, which won more votes in the history of the European Car of The Year awards than any other competitor.
As dynamically sound as the out-of-sequence but badly British-built 309 was, when it was replaced in the early-1990s by the 306, Peugeot was riding an understandable crest of a wave. The company was offering a coherent model line-up that delivered on all counts. When the 206 arrived in 2001, a new team in the styling office managed to ruin the momentum of the 205. It was joined hurriedly by the new 307, the point of which I got but French electronics intervened to ruin the party on the reliability front. Peugeot credibility went down the pan and was not helped by the arrival of the ‘blue rinse’ 308 in late-2007, the styling of which lacked the coherence of its antecedents, even though the 207 introduced a year earlier performed a magnificent task of clawing back consumer interest to the brand.
The second-generation 308 (2013) was an intriguing share grab option that targeted the VW Golf squarely and with decent style. It has been a tough battle for the company, with its brand repute ebbing alongside that of perpetually troubled Citroen, a factor not helped one jot by the separation (a la Audi from VW) of DS as a fresh entity but one that continues to miss the mark with each model. Yet, the all-new 208 hit the road running in the summer of 2019, with a road-hugging appearance reminiscent of the original 205 and design-centric, large diameter alloy wheels providing the magpie appeal.
It is on that premise that the latest 308 makes its debut. Interestingly, no EV option will be offered, Peugeot believing that such a model would be unprofitable, although plug-in hybrid technology provides a timely halfway house gesture. In design terms, the strong links to 208 are evident, which suggests that Peugeot might be about to enjoy another cyclical peak. Unfortunately, the company’s adherence to the ‘starry’ new snout it has displayed on other models in its range, while not as jarring as it is on both 2008 and 3008 crossover models, is enlarged but is not married successfully to an otherwise crisp outline.
The interior continues to feature the company’s ‘i-cockpit’ precept, by which a low-set steering column, to which a teensy tiller is attached, manages to compromise the driving position to meet the dimensions of the average Napoleonic Frenchman. Tall northern Europeans are advised to consider any of Peugeot’s rivals, rather than the new 308! Regardless of the range of adjustment of both column and driver’s seat, reading the main, 10.0-inch digital instrument panel with any clarity is awkward at best. In GT models, it features 3-D imagery and several stages of configurability. I can only presume that Peugeot has invested too much money in its determination to be ‘different’ and is now stuck with it, despite enormous criticism from several quarters.
Yet, overall, even including the rocker switch gear-lever, the cabin presentation is among the best in class. The bank of switches at the top of the centre-stack but below the main 10.0-inch touchscreen is well marked, angled towards the driver, tactile and of very high quality. Its smartphone-like swipe and touch controls are intuitive and operate speedily. A charging-pad for smartphones is located conveniently in the centre console and allows ‘mirroring’ with the car’s software instantaneously, which is a major step in the right direction.
While I am not keen on the ‘fang’ daytime running-lamp signature currently in use by the company (it is dangerously bright and excessive), the new 308 is well-served by LED illumination fore and aft on a car that is longer and roomier than before. At 412-litres capacity, although the hybrid battery pack cuts that by over 50-litres, the boot is spacious for most needs. With seats folded flat, the carrying capacity increases to an excellent 1,323-litres.
Power comes from a familiar choice of 127bhp 1.2-litre turbo-petrol and 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engines. Their performance is good. They are augmented by a pair of hybrid units in 177 and 222bhp forms, the latter delivering a decent punch. The plug-in facility allows an EV range of up to 37mls and low CO2 emissions of just 26g/km for low road tax. The battery can be fully recharged from a 7.4kWh domestic, or publicly accessible charger in just less than two hours (two in-built charger options: std 3.7kW and optional fast-charger rated at 7.4kW). The domestic charger provided with the models is produced by Podpoint, which is one of the most readily available devices but not one of the easiest either to install, or live with, and, according to online criticisms, it is known to be unreliable.
Unsurprisingly, the new 308 is packed with ADAS driver safety devices and the most up-to-date levels of connectivity. Using the Peugeot app, the car can be warmed, or chilled thoroughly prior to entry. The sound system has been developed in conjunction with French hi-fi manufacturer, FOCAL, over the past three years and boasts Arkamys digital sound processing and ten innovative speakers to entertain occupants. The car’s frameless interior mirror has a blue illuminated surround, when the car is running in EV mode.
Conclusion: Peugeot has gone a long way to respond to its customers’ demands and refinement levels are dramatically improved by fitting acoustic side glazing on some models. While I still have some issues with specific aspects of the 308, I believe it fits well with the present range.