Peugeot’s 308 slant on Grand Touring flatters to deceive
Hot on the news that Citroen’s Cactus model (of which he is not a fan) has been awarded a World CoTY design award, Iain Robertson feels that the slightly over-wrought 308GT in SW form would have been the worthier recipient.
PSA, which owns both Citroen and Peugeot brands, does its Gallic level best to convince British car buyers that it knows how to skin the cat in several important ways. In recent years, it has attempted to emulate its Teutonic nemesis, Volkswagen Group, almost without reflecting on its once great, French styling attributes.
The result, in product terms, while certainly as catchy as the next best pop tune, becomes little more than a profusion of confusion, with little intriguing snippets here and there, peppering certain models with what is hoped might be ‘best of European’ elements. Sadly, just as Cactus is emphatically not the ‘design icon’ Citroen will now believe it to be (oh, the magnificent power of PR!), the latest Grand Touring version of the undoubtedly attractive 308SW, while loads prettier, also misses the boat in some vital aspects.
Possessing tremendous street presence, the 308 is one of the best looking, mainstream families of cars presently on sale. Yet, in a sector of the market where focus is important, it is the Ford Focus that takes the biscuit and the celebratory Champagne. You see, while Peugeot remains a great brand and it does need to direct its attention towards the notional market leader (Ford), as opposed to VW, in every respect the part-German/part-American giant produces the more market-acceptable model.
Yet, pretending to compete by means of simulation is not an answer. Peugeot has its own innate strengths. It is (in modern parlance) a premium brand. It possesses a strong design language and a great history, which used to include a reputation for indefatigable reliability and toughness. While it thinks it ought to compete with its German rivals, it has forgotten to be French and I cannot be alone in believing that it would be preferable for it to return to its Gallic roots, they are, after all, most respectable and respected.
I mention all of this, because I so much envisaged that the new GT trim and power level would provide Peugeot with a proper rival to Skoda’s Octavia vRS models, which share the ethos…a mainstream model, in a slightly sportier and better focused offering, sold for a moderate premium price. To be fair to the 308, the recipe works to certain extent.
Fairly leggy gearing creates a loping gait but I should highlight that the car tested here is not the full-on GT but a slightly ‘softer’ GT-Line model, with a less punchy 1.2-litre (127bhp) turbo-petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, with appropriate body addenda, although it receives neither the dynamic enhancement package (Driver Sport Pack), nor the ‘keyless-go’ system.
The other options fitted include the Driver Assistance Pack (active cruise control, collision alert and auto-braking systems) at £450, the City Park system at £400, the near full-length ‘Cielo’ glazed roof at £500 and the pearlescent white paint finish at £675, to bring the total on-the-road price to a competitive £24,370. I state ‘competitive’, because most spec’d-up mainstreamers are priced similarly. My feeling is that this is a whopping price tag for a 1.2-litre car, appositely downsized and eco-friendly as it surely is.
Despite its small capacity, the engine delivers a meaty soundtrack, even though it is more show than go, with a 0-60mph acceleration time of a modest 12.3 seconds (my 1.0-litre non-turbo Citigo is quicker off the mark!), although its top speed is given as 124mph, a legacy of the near 30mph per 1,000rpm top gear ratio. It delivers a decent amount of mid-range torque, which obviates the need to shift down the gears constantly, although the shift mechanism on my mere 900-mile example was still very sticky and obstructive in the lower ratios.
Emitting 115g/km CO2, places the car in Band B for VED, which equates to a zero charge for year one and £30 annually thereafter. It promises an Official Combined fuel return of 56.5mpg, although I struggled to obtain much higher than 46mpg; a case of smaller engine size having to lug around almost a tonne and a half of weight with four adults on-board. A larger petrol, or diesel, unit would provide more fulfilling figures probably.
Sitting on a very attractive set of 18-inch diameter Diamant alloy wheels, the 308SW looks the business. Unfortunately, the ultra-low profile tyres needed to keep the rolling radius constant ensures that ‘bump-thump’ becomes audibly obvious and, dependent on surface, the drive experience can be quite harsh and unsettling. The throttle reaction, which would be enhanced in the pure GT specification at the push of a button, is not brillliant and, despite an attempt to fuel the engine energetically at lower speeds, a ‘hole’ appears in the delivery, which can create both thumpy gearshifts and (occasionally) uncomfortable progress, notably when extracting the most performance from the package. It is not a case of me ‘overdriving’ the car, rather that it does not quite meet, frustratingly, the higher-end ‘GT’ expectations of it.
It should be stated that Ford has similar delivery issues with the 1.0-litre version of its Focus, which hefts credibility onto the old adage, ‘there ain’t no substitute for cubic capacity’. While the overall dynamics might not be as good as anticipated, the cabin of the 308 has always been a haven of tranquillity and occupant satisfaction.
The new front chairs are quite superb, with strong support for spine, shoulders and hips, excellent lateral support and a comfortable base. The GT-line package introduces a ‘massaging’ function into the mix, which is either intensely annoying, if you were not expecting it, or surprisingly enjoyable otherwise. The similar, Alcantara and cloth trim clads the rear seats, which feature an ingenious, space-conscious folding mechanism that allows them to flop into the rear footwell, thus increasing the boot area substantially.
Access through the rear hatch is excellent and a fine boot of around 660-litres, complete with roll-out security screen, will be more than adequate for most SW buyers. Yet, even keeping the load below the window-line, once the 60:40-split rear seats are folded, the resultant space is a whopping 1,515-litres. Fill the boot area to the ceiling and 1,775-litres of space are available. Only the Skoda Octavia estate car is marginally larger.
As highlighted earlier, the interior design is excellent, with plenty of storage space in various pockets and bins, while the ‘slim line’ dashboard promotes an impression of airiness. The quality of the trim is unquestioningly excellent. However, the tidgey, leather-wrapped, red-stitched steering wheel, with its chunky little rim, is more domestic driving simulator than real road car apposite. It is uncomfortable to heft and is positioned at such a low rake height (its reach adjustment is fine) that it creates a compromised driving position for anyone over six feet tall. Anyone less than that will still find that reading the dashboard information is awkward.
Yet, it gets worse with the ‘wide-eyed’ instrument layout. It is abundantly clear to me that, in trying desperately hard to create something ‘novel’ and potentially attractive about its interior, Peugeot’s ergonomicists got a touch carried away with their enterprise. Mounting the rev-counter on the right of the instrument binnacle is wrong. That its needle rotates anti-clockwise is also visually wrong. As a result, the speedometer is in the wrong place and so far apart from its matching engine status dial that it just does not work properly in tandem, as it should.
It is a simple aspect that upsets the eye and makes this car less of a prospect than it ought to be. I want to like it but I cannot.
Conclusion: The concept of providing sporty trim in a less than sporty car is a good one. However, in the Peugeot 308SW GT-Line, it feels like it is trying too hard. While earnestness is a fine quality, in this instance, it simply feels as though Peugeot is trying too hard, when it should feel effortless. If the car boasts GT characteristics, then its dynamics should match expectations. That they do not is a great shame. While appreciating that the ‘small-wheel set low’ driving position is something with which Peugeot is now ‘stuck’ until the next generation of car, I hope that the French company learns a lesson about maintaining a sense of ‘normality’ about its future interior ergonomics. This car is good, just not that good.