There's more to Peugeot’s family estate car than a big boot! The fact that the 308 SW can carry seven makes it one of a kind, as no other direct rival offers so many seats in a vehicle of this size and type.
But while the French firm has been keen to promote the 308 – which launched its ‘8’ generation models – we’ve been disappointed it hasn’t done more to distance the new-comer from the 307, with which it shares underpinnings.
Clearly, however, the manufacturer hopes the SW estate version will change our minds. On paper, it looks good, offering plenty of versatility, a spacious interior and new gearbox. There’s a choice of four trims – S, SR, Sport and SE – and the top two have a third row of seats as standard. As you might expect, the extra two places have limited legroom, so they aren’t much use for adults. But they’re fine for children.
The SW’s practicality is a big selling point, as all the seats fold down or can be removed completely to create a huge load space. The process isn’t as clever as some of the fold-flat systems that are used in MPVs, but the ease with which the chairs flip or can be taken out is impressive.
The middle seats all slide forward independently, and thanks to clever floor mountings you can have either two or three chairs in the second row. Remove all the back seats and the load space is an incredible 2,149 litres – that’s more than a Mercedes E-Class estate. Access to the boot is through a wide opening, and there’s a separate glass tailgate, which is useful if you have only a few bags to put in or take out.
In terms of family-friendliness, the 308 SW is streets ahead of its estate rivals, and strong enough to take on many compact MPVs.
The driving environment is good, as well. It’s identical to that of the hatchback, with the same upmarket feel and quality materials. We like the layout, but the fiddly stereo and the shallow cup-holders on the centre console are disappointing.
However, the panoramic roof is impressive, and with more than 5.5 square metres of glass in the panel overhead ensures the cabin is incredibly light and airy. It stretches nearly the entire length of the vehicle, so passengers in the back can enjoy the view above, too. The other big news in the SW is the introduction of a six-speed gearbox. Its arrival can’t come soon enough for Peugeot, as it replaces the widely criticised, vague five-speed transmission.
With a positive and pleasingly weighted action, it’s as good as that of leading competitors. And, mated to the 110bhp version of the 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine, the driving experience is considerably improved.
The powerplant itself is refined but quite noisy, especially under load, although it happily keeps up with the traffic, and is punchy enough in gear. There’s decent body control and even in tight bends, the Peugeot is con-trolled and reassuring.
Ultimately, the 308 is composed, comfortable and adaptable – and a big improvement on its predecessor.