Monday, June 17, 2024

2023 Peugeot 308 Range


TWO years have passed since Peugeot’s really rather good 308 departed the local line-up. The old range consisted of a conservatively designed hatchback and wagon with an innovative i-Cockpit interior.

It was something of a return to form after the dreary, bulbous 307 and 308 which were pretty dire to look at and not a lot of fun to drive. While the second-generation 308 was a bit staid looking, it wasn’t actively ugly, either.

The second generation also meant the return of a proper GTI halo sports variant, which attained a small cult following but didn’t set the countryside alight the way the Golf GTI does. So it disappeared two years before the rest of the range.

An extended absence of a model isn’t one any car company enjoys. With all the travails of the automotive industry and a reasonably successful European launch, it has taken all this time for the local operation to secure the kind of supply that won’t make prospective customers mad when they come to order one.

Peugeot cheerfully admits that the market is more interested in its 3008 and 5008 SUV pair. In an amusing moment during the launch press conference, the interest in the 308 was framed in such a way that to the untrained ear it might have sounded like there had never been a hatchback ever and that folks were just now discovering them as an alternative to an SUV.

For 2023, you now have three 308s to choose from. The first, starting at a hefty $43,990, is the GT Hatch. A $5000 stretch to $48,990 scores you the GT Premium hatch and a further $1500 to $50,490 the returning wagon, in GT Premium spec only.

The base car comes with Alcantara and fabric on the seats, a 10-inch 3D-effect digital dashboard, a 10-inch touchscreen with all-new and vastly improved software, sat nav, 18-inch alloys with Michelin Primacy tyres, a six-speaker stereo, Matrix LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, wireless charging, reversing camera and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Stepping up to the GT Premium adds a ten-speaker Focal Audio stereo, different alloy wheel design, Napa leather interior, sunroof, powered front seats with massage function, around-view cameras and active lane positioning.

The wagon, while in GT Premium spec, loses the stereo but picks up a powered and gesture-activated tailgate, which probably explains the smaller-than-you-might expect price rise.

Safety specification includes six airbags, ABS and stability controls, forward AEB with low light cyclist and pedestrian detection, reverse cross-traffic alert, driver attention detection, post-collision braking, blind-sport detection and two lots of ISOFIX ports plus three top tether anchors.

The new i-Cockpit takes in both the digital dashboard, the media screen and a series of programmable soft switches under the screen as well as further physical shortcut switches under those. The i-Toggles are very useful for jumping to nav or Apple CarPlay, letting you choose five shortcuts in lieu of menu-diving.

Of particular note is the new dashboard which is a bit more coherent in the sense that the configuration items are fewer. The 3D effect is really nice and reminiscent of Toyota’s efforts with the old Echo’s central dashboard, which was set up in such a way that you didn’t have to change the focus of your eyes as much as traditional dials.

The hardware backing both screens is also much better than before although curiously the massage selector is still really sluggish.

The hatch has a 50mm longer wheelbase which goes mostly to rear seat occupants. That’s nice because the old car was a bit tight for a six-footer. Things are slightly improved but there’s no rear armrest for the seat and therefore no cupholders. There are two USB-C ports, though, and good headroom. Very comfortable bench seat, too, except probably for the middle occupant. That’s hardly unique to the 308.

We prefer the Alcantara and fabric of the GT model to the Napa of the GT Premium, but that might just be personal taste.

The front seats are incredibly comfortable for long runs and we felt very much at home in them. There seems to have been a gentle tweak to the physical positioning of the i-Cockpit’s elements. The instrument pack seems slimmer and slightly higher set so you feel less like you’re looking over the tiny steering wheel. Might just be an illusion or false memory, but it really wasn’t until the more upright seating position of 2008 and 3008 that this setup felt more comfortable.

Perhaps one of the most important new features is not on the car itself, but on the ownership side. Peugeot is now offering prepaid service plans for three or five years. If you stick with the long-standing Assured Pricing, you’ll pay $2489 over five years. That’s in the Kia ballpark.

Peugeot says that in their research customers can be a little put off by the concept of European servicing costs. The prepaid servicing plans offer a substantial discount. A three-year package goes for an even $1000 (saves $427) and five years $1800 (saving $649). I don’t think you need to be an accountant to see how much better that is.

Driving Impressions

What hasn’t changed for the three cars is that choice of the 1.2-litre Puretech turbocharged three-cylinder. In this state of tune you get 96kW and 230Nm of torque driving the front wheels. The old six-speed was good but has been replaced with Aisin’s excellent eight-speeder (the Euro transmission of choice for front-wheel drive cars).

The power figure is hardly going to dislodge your socks, but the 230Nm torque figure at least gives it a go. It will sprint to 100km/h in a tenth or two under ten seconds but it really hauls in the gears on the freeway.

It revs quite sweetly, too, and never really feels like a triple because it has so little lag. It’s a good overtaker on the freeway without being outstanding but you don’t feel like you’re going to run out of puff as the engine revs through the gears.

A smooth highway will deliver a quiet cabin, with coarser surfaces blasting a bit of rumble through the shell. It’s not intrusive, just annoying and less of an issue in the Focal-equipped cars if you turn up the volume a little bit extra. Due to sensible rules, we didn’t share cars so are unable to tell you what it would be like conversation-wise with any authority – but intuition says it’ll be fine.

Like the old 308, there’s a lot of fun to be had. There’s a very fine balance of ride comfort and handling ability, a little sharper now on the EMP2 platform. It’s so nice to thread through a series of bends, with good strong brakes, a positive turn-in and absurdly-compliant front suspension.

The rear is pretty well tied-down too for a torsion beam arrangement and like the way that a too-fast corner entry didn’t result in understeer but a little helping hand from a gentle shift at the rear to help point the nose in the right direction. Shades of the sublime old Peugeot 306 there, except with the passive rear steer cleverness.

Moving to the wagon, it doesn’t feel any slower and nor is it any noisier, a trait again shared with its predecessor. It remains fun to drive, too, although the rear isn’t as playful which is probably for the best.

Those wishing for more power and with the wallet to match will have to wait for next year’s plug-in hybrid 308. There won’t be a new GTI, sadly.

The new 308 is what you might expect from Peugeot in 2022 – interesting to look at, plenty of gear and a slightly unnerving price point. Then again, Peugeot seems to thrive on a challenge in the local market and don’t seem too worried about chasing volume.

It’s almost a pity that a sub-$40,000 version isn’t available to bring a few people into the dealers to show the Germans how it can be done.

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