Make no mistake about it, Peugeot's specialty has always been fun and funky hatchbacks. Whether you want them for the daily drive, for enjoying on a mountain course, or perhaps even competition, Peugeot's hatchbacks have always served up a healthy dose of fun into the classes they participate in.
Today we have the Peugeot 308, the latest hatchback from the automaker that made waves with the 205 GTI so many decades ago. Seeing as how it's performed so far, don't be surprised if it impresses you in its own different (read: French) ways.
First, there's the style. There's a strikingly different presence about the design, and I like it. The car just looks more premium, especially with the slim headlights, the simple yet classy chrome grille, the way the body was styled and shaped, and the way the rear finishes everything off. It's not a very liberal take on design, if anything, it feels reserved; almost German but with some French touches.
I was half expecting a rather flamboyant cabin (again, French) but instead the 308 has a very minimalist dashboard; it's clean and very uncluttered. Peugeot seems to have consolidated the major functions into the touchscreen audio unit, leaving the dash without the dials and buttons common in most cars. Even the controls for the climate is built into the screen.
The materials used are all of very good quality; this is a car competing in a more premium segment after all. I like the quality of the leather, the texturing on the dashboard, and the consistency of the build. There's good space inside, though I wish there was a bit more rear legroom. There's actually plenty of space in the back for cargo at 470 liters, and it can easily balloon to 1309 liters if the rear seats are down.
What I really found tricky was the ergonomics of the 308. The wheel was small and sat a bit too low. And if I positioned it the way a drivernaturally would, the rim would block the gauges as Peugeot wanted the speedo and tach to be visible above the wheel, not through it. Even the tachometer was odd; it's the first one I've used that was counter-clockwise for symmetry. Trust the French to be different.
What motivates this version of the Peugeot 308 is the a motor that was co-developed with BMW. It displaces 1.6-liters from four cylinders, and comes with a turbo to boost the power up to 150 PS. The figure doesn't sound like much, but what's truly interesting is the torque: at 240 Nm, there's plenty to go around. The engine is matched with a 6-speed auto driving the front wheels.
The 308 hatch is undeniably enjoyable in the city. The steering is smooth and the suspension is easier on the bumps than I would have expected from a short wheelbase hatchback. There's a fair amount of firmness there for cornering, but what I appreciated was the geometry of the suspension that prevented that “crashy” feeling when you inadvertently hit a pothole.
The torque of the motor is perhaps the 308's greatest asset. The engine is undersquare (stroke is greater than bore) thus delivering more torque at earlier RPMs, and so it's easy to drive around town at low rpms. To put it simply, the 308 is very efficient. 10.9 km/l can be had in the city (21 km/h average) without even really trying, and I'm sure we can get more if we really did. On the highway at an average of 89 km/h, the 308 was doing 18.4 km/l.
The Peugeot 308 drove far better than what I expected. There's a surefootedness when cornering that I would normally expect from wider and larger sedans, not a compact hatchback. This is perhaps attributed to the tires; at 225mm, they're quite wide, affording the 308 more grip to go around.
Really, however, what I enjoyed was the way the torque of the 308 can rocket you out of corners on a winding road. It's quite addicting to depress that throttle a bit more, unwind the small steering wheel a bit, an letting the 308's 6-speed auto light up the tires. This car is good fun heading up or down a mountain road.
There's a good market now for cars that feel more premium than the more well-known models but at priced at a point that won't deliver a shock at the showroom floor. At PhP 1,490,000, the Peugeot 308 is one of them; a rare, enjoyable gem that we find to be tastefully different, yet pleasantly surprising.