“How do you pronounce it?” is perhaps the most common question I get at the mere mention of Peugeot. With rather off-beat designs and quirky touches, one could say that Peugeot's target market is for those who think differently and want a car that backs it up.
So here we are with the Peugeot 308, the French automaker's entry in the C-segment. Just by hearing the specs, it sounds rather conventional. It's a five door hatchback with a choice of diesel or gas engines, has a touchscreen infotainment system and and features to keep it on par with the competition. So far, it sounds just like almost every car in the market today.
The question now is this: What makes the Peugeot 308 different from the rest of the segment? For us to experience what makes this car different, Peugeot invited us for a southern sojourn with their award winning hatchback. Along the way, we would also have taste of French culinary culture, soaking in the Gallic experience as we pile on the miles.
For this drive, we were to drive either the gas powered 308 hatchback or the 308 SW (station wagon) equipped with the turbodiesel. As a wagon guy, I really wanted to give the latter a go but alas, I was assigned the hatchback. Still, no complaints here since the 1.6 liter mill in the hatch has a turbo, giving this hatchback a decent amount of zip under the hood.
As I stepped inside, I noticed something odd when I looked the center console. That would be its buttons, or rather, the lack of them. Perhaps thinking the pressing a button is is passé, the folks Peugeot decided to move many of them to the large touchscreen. It controls radio, vehicle settings and even the air-conditioning system. There's the first bit of French quirk right there.
After I downed my first of many cups of coffee that day, we soon hit the road. Out on the highway, the 308 hatched proved to be a bit of a surprise. While the 1.6 liter turbocharged mill put out a decent 150 horsepower, the 240 Nm of torque provided a lot of overtaking confidence. It was smooth and linear with very little lag. Overtaking was as simple as moving to the passing lane, stepping on the throttle one-fourth of the way and let the car do its thing. It was on the highway drive where I saw another quirk. The cruise control stalk had various functions and, with a flick of the wrist, it also becomes the speed limiter. A handy feature since the engine was peppy and threatened to go past the speed limit on a few occasions.
It was out of the highway and on to provincial roads, a chance for me to explore the 308's driving dynamics. I do have to say the steering has enough feedback for you to be engaged. The drive on switchback roads made me wonder what the GTi would be capable of if Peugeot would let me get my hands on one. Its ride was fairly decent too considering we were on relatively low profile tires on rough pavement. Suspension rebound was good and my back didn't complain when we got to our first stop; Domaine in Tagaytay.
After a hearty meal (and another cup of coffee), it was time to hit the road again and more corners the 308 had to tackle. Rain started to set in and another quirk of the French was discovered. To activate the automatic wipers, one must put the stalk on intermittent first then back to the off position. After that, put the stalk back on intermittent to let the automatic wipers do its thing. An interesting bunch, these French engineers.
Anyway, back to the drive. Several twists and turns eventually led us to Crosswinds Resort where we'd do a quick photo op with these Gallic runabouts. I had noticed that the roads were rather steep. Perhaps it's Peugeot's way of demonstrating the pulling power of the 308 because the car just got up the road with ease. A light press on the gas was all it needed.
It was now time to leave Crosswinds and, for the first time, experience the 308 as a passenger. Since there weren't any buttons to press, I had a look around the touchscreen that houses many functions. I found out that the lowest possible air-con setting in this car is at 15 degrees, it has a tire pressure monitoring system, it can store your phonebook and the whole screen is also customizable. Needless to say, I was like a kid using an iPad for the first time.
For our final stop, we drove all the way to Cafe de Lipa to cap off this Gallic ride and drive experience. As I downed several cups of coffee, my over caffeinated brain pondered over the 308. The 308 is going to be an acquired taste for some. The quirks can drive people crazy but it makes up for it with its design and unique character.
However, this car goes beyond French idiosyncrasies. Drive it around and you'll note a surprisingly punchy engine, well-sorted dynamics and decent equipment levels. This car then not only appeals to the eccentric folks but also to the logical ones. By combining the elements of what makes a car French and what makes a car good, Peugeot has successfully managed a balancing act to come up with an excellent all-rounder.