The 308 is dead. Long live the 308.

Road test: new Peugeot 308

November is drawing to a close, light is fading fast and I have driven over 200 miles to reach a ‘secret’ location. Driving across a deserted air field, I beep the horn and wait to be let in to a shabby, yet imposing, aircraft hangar.

This is the UK launch of the new Peugeot 308: starting at night to emphasise that the car is packed with LED lights. Armed with hot drinks as the temperature approaches zero, we hear the spiel and listen to Ben Hindsley, chief engineer, enthuse over the new car’s design.

It is a new car, too, with a new platform, new body and some new engines due very soon. It is 30mm shorter than the previous version and 40mm lower. To improve internal space, the front overhang is 63mm shorter allowing the wheels to be pushed further into the corners to maximise cabin space. Importantly, it is 140kg lighter with equal amounts of weight being shed from both the body and excitingly-named Efficient Modular Platform 2 (EMP2).

Peugeot is keen to demonstrate it has addressed some of the key challenges with previous models. The right-hand-drive version has properly-aligned pedals, build quality has been improved with 2 million test miles covered before launch (roughly double the amount done on the previous generation) and the styling – inside and out – has been tamed and smartened-up.

Finally, we are allowed to the rear of the hangar where some twenty-odd cars are lined-up in the dark with their lights on to demonstrate the 31 LEDs in each headlamp. Our first drive is in the dark to enjoy the interior’s ambiance and see just how effective those LED lights are. They’re very good, providing a clean, white light with good penetration and of course, using only 50 per cent of the energy of standard halogen bulbs.

Day two and we have a chance to examine the cars in daylight. Peugeot has done a good job with the new 308’s looks. It could be argued it’s a tad too subtle but the car is neat, unfussy and far better proportioned than the 307 and first 308.

Inside, the minimalist approach continues with almost every function performed via i-Cockpit, the single touch-screen in the centre of the dashboard. It’s fairly intuitive, although there are some frustrations such as changing cabin temperature obscures the sat-nav for longer than necessary with its pop-up window. The new 308 continues the small steering wheel theme from the 208; this works well and with a little seat and steering column adjustment, all the instruments are visible above the wheel. Interestingly the rev counter moves from right to left whereas the speedo is left-to-right.

Controls-wise, it’s on the conventional side which is a good thing. The biggest flaw is the stalk for cruise control and speed limiter which is completely obscured by the smaller steering wheel; even peering round the side it’s impossible to see the labels. With some random fumbling, I did manage to test the adaptive cruise control (which works effectively).

Ride is good, both on 17” and 18” wheels; road and wind noise have been controlled well and the 308 covered motorway and A-road miles effortlessly. Probably the most endearing aspect is the suspension which felt softer than that on many rivals yet still offered confidence through the bends.

Finally, a stint round the narrow and twisting karting circuit at Thruxton demonstrated how well the 308 has been set-up. There is sufficient feedback through the electronic steering and any over enthusiasm is rewarded with safe understeer: all very controllable.

The 115 PS 1.6 e-HDI diesel is a gem and while the 1.6 THP 156 PS petrol is more powerful, it didn’t feel much quicker in the real world. Sixth gear felt flat with both engines (fourth is needed to accelerate on inclines at motorway speeds) but the tall gearing aids economy and relaxed cruising.

Overall, the new 308 is smart and pleasingly understated. Build quality certainly feels on the up and Peugeot is continuing its hard work on improving interiors. The 1.6 diesel is one of the best on the market and suits the car well. Competitive prices, sensible emissions and generous specifications put Peugeot right back in the game with this car.

In fear of baffling customers with the range of something-zero-something name combinations (and possibly running-out of numbers) Peugeot is settling on using ‘08’ suffixes for all cars going forwards. So, the 308 is dead. Long live the 308. The new model is on sale from January 2014 with prices from £14,495.

Peugeot 308 Feline THP 156, £21,345 (£675 for Pearlescent White paint).

Power: 156 PS (@ 6,000 rpm), torque: 240 Nm (@ 1,400 rpm), emissions: 134 g/km CO2 (band E), 0-62 mph: 8.4 secs.

Peugeot 308 Allure e-HDI 115, £20,145 (£525 for metallic Rich Oak paint).

Power: 115 PS (@ 3,600 rpm), torque: 270 Nm (@ 1,750 rpm), emissions: 100 g/km CO2 (band A), 0-62 mph: 11.9 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○


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