Peugeot's much improved 308 family hatch is arguably at its best with a tiny 1.2-litre petrol engine. Is this little unit up to it? Jonathan Crouch reports.
The latest Peugeot 308 has more than earned its spurs in a tough market sector. The diesel models continue to make the most sense to UK buyers but if you run lower annual milages, have a look at the 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine. It's available in 110 or 130bhp outputs and with 60mpg+ economy figures, it looks a winner.
If you know your cars in the Focus-class family hatchback segment, you'll probably already know that Peugeot's 308 is a very competitive proposition, especially in its current improved guise. Commentators like us have frequently praised its quality and lightweight chassis construction, and it offers a genuine alternative to those who felt that buying a mid-range hatchback was a joyless exercise in choosing between a Ford Focus and a Volkswagen Golf.
One trend that similarly won't be big news to the clued-in amongst you is that of the downsized petrol engine. Car manufacturers have realised that by bolting a turbocharger to a tiny petrol unit, they can post some eye-catching economy and emissions figures without sacrificing peak power. The engines are inexpensive and light, which is undoubtedly a win-win.
The PureTech 1.2-litre turbo engine is available with either 110bhp or 130bhp. Even the 110bhp powerplant musters a satisfying 205Nm of pulling power from its tiny 1198cc capacity, all of which means you'll get to 62mph in 11 seconds and run on to 120mph. If you need to go faster, the 130bhp version of this engine really delivers the goods, getting to 62mph in 10.3 seconds and posting a top speed of 125mph if you choose the much quicker-witted auto over the manual.
Although the electrically-assisted steering and supple suspension at first lull you into thinking the 308 is a bit of a pudding, drive the car a bit harder and it really ups its game. The six-speed manual gearbox provides some welcome old-school interaction with an otherwise high-tech car although the shift action is curiously noisy. While we're on the subject of noise, we must pass comment on the Sport button that's fitted to higher spec version. While it sharpens the steering and throttle quite acceptably, we're not sold on the way it adds unwanted noise to the three-cylinder soundtrack. It sounds quite agreeable without the added amplification.
This revised 308 features a sleeker bonnet that flows into a vertical grille that has a central Lion badge and the 'Peugeot' name sculpted into the upper trim. The revised elliptical headlights come with integrated daytime running light LEDs to produce a distinctive front light signature.
Other design-led changes include a re-styled front bumper with three lower grille openings to ensure effective engine cooling, while the rear lamps show a smart three-claw light signature. Plusher variants all feature a large glass roof as standard. Otherwise, things are much as before, this car exhibiting a mature, confident look. It's not trying too hard. We like that.
The interior retains the 'i-Cockpit' design that sees the driver looking the instruments over the top of the steering wheel. As before, there's also a 9.7-inch centre dash colour monitor incorporating 'Mirror Screen' technology which allows you to connect in your smartphone using the 'Android Auto'/'MirrorLink' or 'Apple CarPlay' systems. There's also a faster-acting navigation system with voice control that connects into the TomTom real time traffic monitoring service.
Other features are as before. The contra-rotating rev counter is a neat touch, the oversized manual gear knob less so. Space all round is more than adequate and the 470-litre boot is excellent. If you need more space, there's a 308 SW estate variant with a 660-litre boot extendable to 1,660-litres with the rear bench folded.
Prices start at around £19,500 for the 110bhp hatch. From there, you can add a further £500 to get yourself the 130bhp version of this ubnit, which comes with the extra advantage of a 6-speed manual gearbox. If you're thinking of using the car for towing or plan to fill it with gear, the added muscle of the 130bhp motor might well swing your decision. Either way, there are three trim level choices - 'Active', 'Allure' and 'GT Line'.
There's a premium of around £1,000 to go from the 5-door hatch to the stylish SW estate but whatever bodystyle you choose, equipment levels look good. Across the range, there's standard dual zone air conditioning, an electric handbrake, rear parking sensors, and an integrated 9.7" touch screen with satellite navigation. The 'Allure' receives a Cielo panoramic fixed-glass roof, full-LED headlights, front fog lamps, front parking sensors, power-folding mirrors, leather-effect upholstery, a rear seat armrest with a ski-hatch, an electric parking brake and, on petrol versions, larger 17-inch wheels. The range-topping 'GT Line' includes a sports steering wheel, aluminium pedals and larger 18-inch wheels, as well as niceties like LED sequential indicators and a reversing camera.
One complaint that's frequently levelled at this sort of downsized petrol engine is that real world economy figures rarely get close to those promised by the manufacturer. Fiat has run into this issue with its 0.9-litre TwinAir engines, as has Ford with its 1.0-litre EcoBoost powerplants. Peugeot's PureTech engine has a few more cubic centimetres to play with but it'll be an optimist who buys this car and expects to replicate 70.6mpg Peugeot claims for the 110bhp engine or the 62.8mpg figure attributed to the 130bhp car. The respective CO2 returns are rated at 95 and 104g/km.
It's not utterly impossible though. A standard production 308 PureTech e-THP hatchback not long ago established a fuel consumption record, averaging 99.1mpg and travelling 1,124 miles on one tank of fuel on the Almeria circuit in Spain under the supervision of the French test authority UTAC (Union Technique de l'Automobile, du motocycle et du Cycle). It ran for more than 32 hours, consuming 51.4 litres of fuel. And to think they didn't even get to use the Stop and Start feature that Peugeot seemed so proud of.
Peugeot has really come good with this improved 308, a car that now mixes it on talent with the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, outscoring both in certain regards. If we were paying our own money, we'd probably choose one with a diesel engine, but that's based on the need to cover fairly high mileages. Were we to use the car a bit less, this 1.2-litre PureTech engine appears to be a prime contender.
It's refined yet characterful, has some respectable urge, especially in 130bhp guise, and its light weight and sharpness of response is a good fit for the design ethos of the 308 as a whole. It's actually probably a better partner in that regard than a hulking great diesel. Overall, this is one to definitely put on your shortlist.
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