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What a difference a few years and, in this case, a zero makes. The Peugeot 3008 arrived last year and the world went ‘Yeah!’. It’s a cracking family SUV and in 2017 ran the Seat Ateca very close as our favourite.
Yet in 2013, when the current Peugeot 308 arrived, the world merely whimpered ‘Oh, yeah.’ It wasn’t a truly bad car as such, just a bit of a damp squib next to top-notch family hatchback rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia.
The 308's issues centred mainly on a lumpy ride and the poor rear passenger room, and Peugeot's unusual i-Cockpit design, with its tiny steering wheel and high-set dials, was polarising, too.
So, has Peugeot changed all those things on this updated 308? Er, no, it hasn’t. But it has added a new, more efficient and more powerful 129bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine to replace the old 1.6.
It has also updated the infotainment system to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, TomTom Live traffic services and improved safety kit, including blindspot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. The 308's styling has been tweaked, too, with new bumper and light designs front and rear.
2018 Peugeot 308 1.5 BlueHDi 130 on the road
Let’s focus on the engine, because that’s the biggest change. It doesn't break new ground for refinement, but being largely hushed and vibration free, it’s more agreeable than the sometimes grumbly Octavia 1.6 TDI. Despite downsizing, the motor feels at least as peppy as the Octavia's, too; from just 1500rpm, it starts summoning a head of steam, so you rarely catch it napping, but the full slug of propellant that’s available between 2000 to 4000rpm is where the true power lies, and this carries you along very proficiently in most gears. The engine will rev higher but there’s little point in making it do so, because the closer you get to its redline, the more raucous it becomes while performance wanes.
Besides, driving like the proverbial bat out of Satan’s hostelry will only dent fuel economy, and that would be a sin, because driven discerningly, the 1.5 claims a combined 76.3mpg. We know that's going to be out of reach of all but the most saintly or divine of drivers, but we managed an indicated 60mpg on the trip computer going around the M25 in mixed traffic.
What of the rest of the new 308’s dynamic repertoire? The six-speed manual gearbox has a positive change and a light but intuitive clutch pedal – a definite improvement from Peugeots of old. The brakes are a little less satisfying, with too much travel at the top of the pedal.
The tiny steering wheel (part of the i-Cockpit design) gives the 308 its usual keenness to turn in to bends, but you wouldn’t describe it as nervous. And it’s nicely weighted, staying light in town and building resistance appositely the faster you go. There’s not much feel through the wheel, but most of the 3008's rivals don't have particularly feelsome tillers, either. The 308 has plenty of grip and relatively well-tamed body roll, but the Golf remains a much sharper and more entertaining drive.
Sadly, the ride remains a mixed bag. Not only do you hear the suspension thudding over bumps, but hit a ridge with both front wheels at the same time and you’ll feel it thump, too, certainly more than in the more sophisticated Golf. That’s around town, but on the motorway, the 308 tends to fidget around as well if the road isn’t dead smooth. There are occasions when it impresses, though; potholes that would set the Octavia crashing and banging are dealt with reasonably ably by the 308.
2018 Peugeot 308 1.5 BlueHDi 130 interior
For a full report on the merits and demerits of sitting inside a Peugeot 308 head to our comprehensive review, but suffice to say with little changed, the noteworthy points remain the same. The i-Cockpit design still doesn’t suit all drivers, with many complaining that the steering wheel interferes with their view of the dials, while the high-set binacle makes it difficult to see the end of the car's bonnet.
Then there’s the driver’s seat. It has the benefit of height and lumbar adjustment and feels comfortably initially, but on the move, you notice that there’s not much side support in tight bends and the short seat squab doesn’t support your thighs that well. The pedals also feel set too high, so while your leg may be comfortably outstretched when the clutch pedal is depressed, your knees are acutely bent the rest of the time.
The 308 is roomy in the front for six-footers, but the space in the rear is appalling; there are city cars that match it for leg room, and with the standard-fit panoramic roof of our mid-spec Allure trim, head room is poor, too. The Octavia feels like a limousine by comparison.
While the Octavia’s boot is also much bigger, the 308’s luggage space isn’t too bad compared with the class as a whole (it's bigger than that of the Golf and Ford Focus), with space for a couple of large suitcases or a fold-up pram.
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