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

The new Peugeot 308 is an accomplished all-rounder with its sights set firmly on the best cars in this class. Visually it stands out from the crowd, it’s good to drive, has a beautifully built interior, and whichever version you go for, it won’t cost the earth to run. Top-spec models like ours are expensive, though; cheaper models (and the less-powerful of the two hybrids) make more sense.

With more and more models sharing parts and platforms in an effort to reduce costs and improve economies of scale, it’s becoming increasingly important that each is given its own distinct personality.

Historically, the Stellantis group, which includes brands such as Citroen, DS and Peugeot, and now Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jeep and Vauxhall, is pretty good at differentiating its models – not only visually, but in the way they drive.

Its latest generation of Volkswagen Golf-sized family cars is based on the EMP2 platform. We’ve already driven the DS 4, while a brand-new Vauxhall Astra will arrive in showrooms early next year. We tried Peugeot’s equivalent, the 308, on European roads last month but now we’ve had a go in the flagship Hybrid 225 on UK roads to see if it deserves your attention.

While we appreciate looks are subjective, the 308 certainly stands out among its rivals. Furthermore, the Olivine Green colour of our test car is the only no-cost paint option on the new 308 – you’ll pay extra (up to £695) for blue, black, grey, and even white. It looks fantastic in the autumn sun.

The cabin is a masterpiece in modern design. Quality is very good on the whole, save for some cheaper plastics on the centre console, while the seats are both comfortable and supportive. 

That interior centres upon a standard-fit 10-inch infotainment system, which is responsive if not the most intuitive to use; a row of touch-sensitive shortcut buttons beneath it gives access to the functions you use most often, with additional physical piano keys for systems such as the climate control and heated rear screen. GT and GT Premium cars get a 3D digital instrument display, offering two layers of information and bringing important details to the fore.

Buyers get the familiar line-up of Active Premium (from £25,200 for the 1.2 PureTech 130), Allure, Allure Premium, GT and GT Premium specs, with even basic cars getting 16-inch wheels, LED lights, plus that 10-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Moving up the range brings extra luxuries and safety features, so the top-spec GT Premium features a Focal stereo, 360-degree cameras and larger 18-inch wheels.

Peugeot is persevering with its wide engine range, which at the moment includes one petrol, one diesel, and a pair of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Pure-electric versions of the DS 4 and Astra have been promised by 2024, and we expect the Peugeot to follow suit with the 308. While prices for the conventional 308 may look high, every model gets an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard – there is no manual option.

Pleasingly for company car drivers, the hybrid powertrain is available on all trims except the entry-level Active Premium. Allure buyers will have to make do with the less-powerful (178bhp) Hybrid 180, although both plug-in variants get the same electric motor; the Hybrid 225 we’ve got here simply has a slightly punchier petrol engine.

From the moment you turn a wheel it’s clear that the 308 is a sportier and more engaging alternative to the comfort-focused DS. That’s not to say the Peugeot’s ride is harsh – far from it, the 308 just feels more poised and more controlled.

And that’s true even of this heavier hybrid model, which stays admirably flat during fast changes of direction, its agility aided by the small steering wheel that comes as part of the brand’s polarising i-Cockpit dashboard set-up. It’s not brimming with feedback, but whether you like this design or not, it definitely contributes to the 308’s sense of fun.

Like a lot of plug-in hybrids, however, the Peugeot is at its most relaxed when running around on electricity. It settles into a quiet cruise at motorway speeds but flooring the accelerator reveals a harsh, strained sound from the petrol engine. It’s a shame, because the boost from the electric motor shows the 308 to be quite a quick car.

Peugeot claims up to 37 miles on a charge, although in reality we found this to be nearer 30 in normal driving. That should still be enough for most commutes, however, and the advantages for company car drivers are clear when it comes to Benefit-in-Kind tax. A Mercedes A 250 e sits in the lower eight per cent bracket thanks to its longer zero-emissions range, but the 308’s 12 per cent rating should still ensure low bills.

Of course, to maximise those low running costs, you’ll need to plug the 308 in regularly. As standard, both hybrid models come with a 3.6kW on-board charger, upgradable to 7.4kW for £300. The latter reduces the charge time from three and a half hours to two, but we wouldn’t bother – most PHEV drivers will simply top up overnight.

One disadvantage of the hybrid model is the compromised practicality. Boot space on this hatch variant drops from 412 litres in the petrol car, to 361 litres. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, because that’s still a good chunk more than an A-Class, and not far shy of 100 litres more than you get in a SEAT Leon e-Hybrid. There’s no underfloor storage for the charging cables, but there’s an estate version of the 308 should you need more room.

The biggest issue we found was cabin space. It’s a problem we found on the DS 4, as well as on the latest Astra when we sat in one for a studio shoot a few months back; despite the 308 being 105mm longer than before (even the wheelbase is up 55mm) it isn’t the most spacious car in its class. Head and legroom are both adequate for average-sized adults, but nothing more.

Model:

Peugeot 308 Hybrid 225 EAT-8 GT Premium

Price:£38,800
Engine:

1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol + elec motor

Power/torque:

222bhp/360Nm

Transmission:

Eight-speed auto, front-wheel drive

0-62mph:7.6 seconds
Top speed:146mph
Fuel economy/CO2:

213.8-266.2mpg, 24-30g/km

On sale:Now

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