Peugeot's 308 features a quite exceptional entry-level BlueHDi 100 diesel powerplant. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The 308 1.6 BlueHDi 100 is a diesel family hatch that offers a winning combination of qualities. A crisp driving experience, fuel consumption of 78.5mpg, emissions of just 94g/km and an interior that's beautifully finished all look tempting. Plus his revsed version features smarter packaging and a bit more useful technology. The result is a more desirable product than you might expect from this familiar Gallic brand. You might be surprised at how much you'd like it.
There may be some that disagree, but until the arrival of this second generation 308, I don't think Peugeot had ever built a truly competitive car in the family hatch class. The 306 drove brilliantly but its interior was about as sophisticated as a Jimmy 'Five Bellies' after dinner speech. The less said about the 307 the better, while the earlier MK1-era 308 models started modestly and improved, though were never really anywhere close to the talents of the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus.
At one point in the late Noughties, it seemed that bridging this gulf in class was beyond Peugeot, but things took a turn for the better when this MK2 308 model was first launced in 2014 and have improved still further with the introduction of the current facelifted version of that design, introduced in mid-2017. Here, we're looking at this car in eco-friendly 1.6 BlueHDi 100 guise and in this form, it aims to be able to put a lick on the cars that once kicked sand in its face.
Although the electrically-assisted steering and supple suspension at first lull you into thinking the 308 is a bit of a confection from the sweet trolley, drive the car a bit harder and it really ups its game. That ability to mirror your mood is a rare quality in mainstream cars which are often a little two dimensional. The Golf has it and so does the Focus. The Megane? Debatable. The 308 is part of an exclusive club.
Mind you, this has never really been a car for the hard charger. Instead, it's a family hatchback that's more about refinement and a relaxed gait. The suspension carries no great surprises, with a standard front strut and rear torsion beam arrangement. Peugeot has fitted rear trailing arms that allow greater longitudinal arc in the wheel travel. It sounds esoteric but it makes for a smoother ride when the rear wheels hit ridges or bumps. The electrically-assisted power steering is geared towards ease of use rather than detailed feedback but perhaps that's just as well. It makes the 308 very comfortable around town in the sort of usage it will mostly see. The six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasant system and provides some welcome old-school interaction with an otherwise high-tech car. 62mph from rest takes 11.3 en route to 116mph.
Whether you choose the five-door hatch or the alternative SW estate which rides on a lengthier wheelbase, you'll be getting yourself a family hatch-class car that's a little shorter and narrower than the class norm - and a touch lower too. But also one that's lighter and more space-efficient than most of its competitors, thanks to a modular EMP2 platform so sophisticated that it required no fewer than 116 patents. Having gone to all that effort back in 2014, Peugeot's stylists weren't minded to radically change things very much when it came to this mid-term facelift, so the aesthetic changes made are relatively minor. The brand badge has been moved down from the bonnet to a place of prominence in the centre of a now-classier chrome-framed grille you'll find flanked by headlamps with upper edges made up of twinkling LEDs.
Take a place in one of the very comfortable seats up front in what Peugeot rather pretentiously calls the 'i-Cockpit' and four things are immediately apparent: quality, lack of button clutter, the big centre-dash LCD infotainment screen and, most notably, the tiny steering wheel above which (rather than through which) you're supposed to view the instruments with their finely sculpted red needles. Jump into this model after familiarisation with an Astra or a Focus and you'll wonder where all the buttons have gone. There's a small central cluster of them in front of the gearstick for locking, heated rear window and hazard lights - and that's about it. Otherwise, almost everything's been relocated to the 9.7-inch colour LCD touchscreen that's standard on all but baseline models and dominates the centre of the dash.
What else? Practicality? Rear seat space is only average but there's a large 470-litre boot that grows in size to 660-litres if you choose the SW estate model.
Prices start at just over £20,000 for the BlueHDi 100 hatch and you'll need to find around £1,000 more for the SW estate version. There's only base 'Active' trim available with this base diesel enggine; if you want a plusher standard of spec, you'll need the pokier 1.5-litre 130bhp unt. Still, even at 'Active' level, you get plenty of kit. That includes LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, a DAB digital radio, Bluetooth 'phone connectivity, a USB connection, an alarm and a large 9.7-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation.
An optional 'Safety Pack' gives you four things; 'Driver Attention Alert' (which monitors your driving reactions for drowsiness), 'Smartbeam assistance' (which automatically dips your lights for you at night), 'Speed Limit Recognition' (which pictures road signs as you pass and displays them on the dash); and 'Active Lane Keeping Assistance' (which stops dozy drivers from veering out of their lanes on the highway). If you've also ordered that 'City Park' self-parking feature we mentioned earlier, 'Active Blind Spot Monitoring' will additionally be included to warn you if on the move, you're about to dangerously pull out in front of another vehicle
It's a little hard to believe that such a powerful and sizeable family hatch as this 308 BlueHDi 100 will get 78.5mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle and 94g/km of CO2. Maintenance costs should be reasonable too, Peugeot having put a lot of effort in to reducing the cost of servicing when this car was originally launched back in 2014. Back then, we were told that maintenance costs would be around 22% more affordable than was the case with the first generation 308 thanks to careful parts pricing. Redesigned brakes were said to offer 40% better brake pad life, while careful control of wheel toe-in is supposed to give 20% better tyre longevity. Long service intervals help here too. In the case of this 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel model, attention is needed every year or every 16,000 miles. You can budget ahead for the work by taking up Peugeot's 'Service Plan' that for a fixed monthly fee, can cover you for up to 50,000 miles of motoring over either three or five years.
All of this will help Peugeot dealers when it comes to offering competitive leasing rates on this car. If that's what you're after, it's likely you'll be offered two basic options. The first of these is a straightforward deal where you pay a deposit and monthly sum as you would with any other leasing contract. Or, you could choose the French brand's popular 'Just Add Fuel' package that wraps up insurance, servicing and tax into regular payments so all you have to do is fill up the tank.
Although Peugeot has underperformed in this sector for many years, it's hugely gratifying to see the latest 308 come good and realise its potential. It's hard to see how the French company could have done a lot better than this. The proximity of its price to an equivalent Volkswagen Golf may have raised a few eyebrows, but once you sample the 308, you'll realise that this is a vastly improved car and one that deserves to be thought of in the same bracket as the Golf and the Ford Focus.
Overall, the 308 BlueHDi 100 is a model that offers an extremely finely-judged balance of talents. That makes it easy to wholeheartedly recommend.
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