Road tests

New Peugeot 308 2021 review

The all-new Peugeot 308 hatchback has arrived to challenge the Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia, but what's it like on the road? We find out...

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Verdict

Peugeot’s strong form continues with the new 308. It’s among the better cars in its class to drive, and the cabin feels a cut above its rivals. It’s a relief to see that Peugeot has addressed the issues with its infotainment system too - a regular weak point of its other models. It ultimately lacks the space and practicality to topple the class leaders, but that aside, it’s right up there.

Peugeot has a new logo as part of its rebranding and push to go more premium, and its first model to wear the lion’s face (without its body for the first time since the mid-seventies) is this: the new 308

The model it replaces was a solid family hatchback, but ultimately it never quite did enough to become a class leader. This new version takes the fight to the Skoda Octavia and Ford Focus as the most technologically advanced, the most efficient and the most refined family hatch the brand has built, however.

It’s also the most eye-catching. Sleeker proportions play a part; it’s 105mm longer than before and sits 16mm lower. Whether the fitment of Peugeot shields to the front wings - Ferrari-style - on top spec GT and GT Premium models is a cool touch or a bit much, we’ll let you decide. But we reckon Peugeot hasn’t had such a handsome hatch since the 306.

The cabin is another hit, too. It’s not just the contemporary design that stands out, but the finish. Build quality feels great, and the switchgear feels slick. There’s one or two hard plastics about the place, but otherwise it’s not far shy of the premium alternatives, and certainly a match for the Octavia.

Infotainment tech has previously been one of the big let-downs of Peugeot cabins, but for the most part, an all-new system has fixed this. The new 10-inch display looks great, and is backed up by a smaller touchscreen with shortcuts for all the major functions. Loading times are quick, and while the climate controls are still touch-only, the larger display makes them easier to control. It’s a massive improvement. 

It’s not all rosy though. Peugeot's i-Cockpit positions updated digital dials above a small steering wheel, and it won’t be for everyone. If you’re of average height or below, you might be forced to set the steering wheel lower than you’d like (or the seat higher) just to see everything. The new display features 3D graphics, in effect layering two screens on top of each other to give an impression of depth. It looks quite slick for the most part, but there is ghosting with some details; sometimes you can see two needles scrolling around the dials, for example.

The biggest disappointment is the cabin space. While the wheelbase is up 55mm over the old car, which has increased legroom, despite this improvement a Ford Focus has much more knee and headroom in the back, while the Skoda Octavia is simply vast in comparison.

One area where the old model did impress was with its 470-litre boot. This has dropped to 412 litres for the new car, although it’s still more than you get in a Golf or a Focus, though. 

That’s a shame, because the 308 offers plenty to like out on the road. Under the skin there’s the latest generation of the brand’s EMP2 platform, and while we’ll reserve full judgment until we try it on UK roads, the compromise between ride comfort and handling is very promising. It’s not as light on its feet as a Focus, nor is it as ultimately comfortable as an Octavia, but it strikes a decent balance between the two. Suspension noise is well insulated from the cabin, and high-speed stability is a strong point.

The engine range offers two plug-in hybrid powertrains - a first for the 308 line-up. The two models both combine a 1.6 litre petrol engine with a 12.4kWh battery, an electric range of 37 miles and produce 178bhp and 222bhp respectively. Emissions of 25g/km are similar to the two Volkswagen Golf plug-in options, but while the Peugeot sits in the 13 per cent category for Benefit-in-Kind tax, the VW options drop into a seven per cent group, which makes them cheaper for company car drivers.

However, the Peugeot does at least offer the option of quicker charging times. A 3.6kW charger as standard, which means a home recharge takes three and a half to four hours, while the 308’s optional 7.4kW charger drops this to just under two.

The non-hybrid range options include a 1.5-litre diesel and 1.2-litre petrol, both of which make 128bhp, and UK buyers will only be able to select an automatic gearbox. 

The 1.2 petrol will likely make up the bulk of UK sales and is the car we tried on the launch. The engine is a little more audible under hard acceleration than some rival units, but at idle and at a cruise it’s very quiet. Acceleration is adequate, sprinting from 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds - but more importantly, offering good mid-range pull - and for the most part the auto gearbox is smooth. The one exception is at low speeds, when it can engage abruptly.

On the face of it, the 308 looks a little pricey. At £24,000 for the 308 Active Premium - the lowest of five trim levels - with the 1.2 PureTech engine, it seems a little high when you consider that the base Octavia starts from £21,700. Factor in the lack of a manual option and things look more competitive; an Octavia SE with the 1.0 TSI auto comes to £23,740, and it also has less power than the 308. 

The PHEV models remain fairly keenly priced too - just as long as you steer clear of the top spec 222bhp GT Premium, which costs £38,800. The 178bhp PHEV in Allure trim starts the hybrid range from £33,000 - roughly the same as the Octavia iV and £640 cheaper than a Golf that also gets less standard kit.

Model:Peugeot 308 GT 1.2 PureTech
Price: £28,650
Engine: 1.2 three-cylinder petrol turbo
Power: 128bhp/230Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Economy/CO2: 52.1mpg/130g/km
On sale: January 2022 

Most Popular

'The death of cheap cars will be a travesty for personal mobility'
Opinion cheap cars
Opinion

'The death of cheap cars will be a travesty for personal mobility'

Our appetite for small, cheap cars is as strong as ever - although Mike Rutherford warns they may no longer be profitable
12 Sep 2021
What is Skoda vRS? History and best cars driven
Skoda vRS range
Skoda

What is Skoda vRS? History and best cars driven

To mark 20 years of Skoda’s vRS badge, we rounded up some of the performance cars from the past two decades that have worn the subtle green badge
17 Sep 2021
E10 petrol explained: UK prices, checker tool and is it OK for your car?
Petrol pump
News

E10 petrol explained: UK prices, checker tool and is it OK for your car?

E10 petrol is up to 10 per cent ethanol and is available at UK fuel stations now as part of the bid to cut CO2 emissions
1 Sep 2021