It’s been a tough few years for French car makers. Faced with a host of talented rivals from across the globe, companies such as Peugeot have struggled to make an impact, while increased costs have hit the bottom line.
However, Peugeot is fighting back with a new, upmarket approach that’s designed to take on the best in a variety of classes. This began with the sleek 5008 MPV, while the 208 supermini and 2008 crossover are both classy and seriously stylish choices. But perhaps the most important car in this move upmarket is the new Peugeot 308 tested here. In an effort to shake up the family hatchback class, Peugeot has redesigned the five-door from the ground up, with a new platform and engines, plus a bold new look.
As the 308 is aiming for the top of the class, it’s only right that it faces our current favourite family hatch – and Car of the Year – the SEAT Leon. We’ve lined up 1.6-litre diesel versions of both models, and it’s set to be a very close fight, with the 308 Active priced to within £25 of the Leon SE.
Selected versions of both cars come with LED headlights. The systems cast a brilliant white light at night, although the 308’s set-up tends to cause more glare for oncoming road users, as it’s slow to adjust its beam. Both models get high-beam assist, which dips the lights for oncoming vehicles. Better still, order a Leon before the end of the year and you’ll get the LED lights as part of a free upgrade that also includes sat-nav and DAB.
You get big door bins in the 308, but cabin storage is pretty poor otherwise. As in other Peugeots, the fusebox hasn’t moved in the switch from left to right-hand drive, so the glovebox is tiny compared to the SEAT’s.
Peugeot claims the 308 has a 470-litre boot, which is 90 litres ahead of the Leon’s official 380-litre figure. However, our tape measure revealed that SEAT has underestimated. The Peugeot has a floor area of 80x107cm and is 55cm high under the parcel shelf. This matches the official 470 litres, but the Leon has an 83x104cm floor and 56cm under the shelf. Do the maths and it turns out the SEAT actually provides a very healthy boot capacity of 483 litres – 13 litres up on the Peugeot.
Our Car Of The Year takes the victory, but it’s not a clear-cut win. While the Leon’s build quality, handling, practicality and user-friendliness are all excellent, the 1.6 TDI doesn’t balance performance and efficiency as well as the 308’s engine. The SEAT could really do with a six-speed gearbox, too. Rear parking sensors cost £265; front and rears are £430. Buy before the end of the year and you can get LED lights free with DAB and sat-nav.
The latest 308 is a step ahead of its predecessor. It’s comfortable, nice to drive and well equipped. But there are some negatives that take the shine off. The interior layout and infotainment system are hard to get along with, while the quality of some materials used inside could be better. From the spring, 1.6 and 2.0-litre BlueHDi diesels will be available, with the former claiming 82g/km emissions. An efficient e-THP petrol 308 will arrive next summer.
In 1.6 CRDi SE trim, the Hyundai i30 offers similar kit to the 308 – including climate and cruise control, Bluetooth plus auto lights and wipers – for just over £18,000. Emissions of 114g/km peg it back a little, though.
|Figures||SEAT Leon 1.6 TDI SE||Peugeot 308 1.6 e-HDi Active|
|On-the-road price/total as tested||£18,670/£20,830||£18,695/£18,695|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36k miles)||£8,476/45.4%||£7,551/40.4%|
|Annual tax liability (std/higher rate)||£521/£1,042||£522/£1,044|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£1,428/£2,380||£1,386/£2,310|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||13/£335/A/£0||TBC/£340/A/£0|
|Servicing costs||£487 (3yrs)||£16.99pm (3yrs/30k)|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,598cc||4cyl in-line/1,560cc|
|Peak power/revs||104/3,000 bhp/rpm||115/3,600 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque/revs||250/1,500 Nm/rpm||270/1,750 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||5-spd man/fwd||6-spd man/fwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||50 litres/£95||53 litres/space saver|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||380/1,210 litres||470/1,309 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||10.2 metres/N/A||10.4 metres/0.28Cd|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (60,000)/2yrs||3yrs (unlimited)/1yr|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||10,000 (1yr)/128||12,500 (1yr)/300|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||27th/31st||31st/26th|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||94/92/70/5||92/79/64/5|
|0-60/30-70mph||10.7/11.0 secs||9.8/10.0 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||4.7/8.1 secs||4.2/7.4 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||11.6 secs/N/A||9.0/14.1 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||119mph/2,100rpm||118mph/1,800rpm|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||52.6/11.6/590 miles||54.2/11.9/632 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||144/99g/km/14%||140/95g/km/14%|
|Automatic box/stability/cruise control||£1,250/yes/yes||No/yes/yes|
|Climate control/leather/heated seats||£350/£1,370^/£350*||Yes/no/no|
|Metallic paint/xenons/keyless go||£495/£995^^/no||£525/no/no|