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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Peugeot kicks-off
  2008 with its very own
  ‘08’ — the new 308.
  Offering more choice
  and more models,
  it promises good
  news for Peugeot
  buyers everywhere...”

LET'S START 2008 WITH GOOD NEWS. Peugeot's latest new model range the family-sector 308 hatchback launched last September is now joined by three-door hatchback versions with the same choice of trim levels as five-door variants: Urban, S, Sport, SE and GT. Automatic transmissions for 120 and 140bhp petrol five-door models also join the line-up. Further 308 SW and estate models will be arriving in spring 2008, with CC coupe-cabriolet variants following early in 2009. Diesel-hybrid 308 versions scheduled to come to market in 2010.

You may remember that the Peugeot 308 recently reached the final of the European Car of the Year competition, so it is an important model range for family car buyers to consider.

The 308 range, like the 307 it replaces, has to sell against the likes of the new Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra and the VW Golf. However, unlike them, the 307 never regularly makes the UK top ten sales charts. Nevertheless, Peugeot expects to sell around 40,000 308s in the UK in a full year — the same number as the replaced 307 range.

Hatchback prices, with the addition of three-door versions, now start at 11,995 and rise to 20,045 depending on the body style, trim level and engine option. Expect to pay around 15,895 for the best-selling (retail market) 308, the 1.6-litre petrol SE five-door model and 16,495 for the likely top-selling business user model, the 1.6-litre diesel Sport five-door.

There are now seven engine options: four petrol units ranging from 95 to 150bhp; and three HDi diesel engines with 90, 110 and 136bhp power outputs.

The new 308 models use a modified version of the outgoing 307 platform but with a greater emphasis on aerodynamics. Peugeot has kept the increase in overall weight to a minimum by making good use of lightweight materials such as aluminium in the suspension system, high strength lightweight steel and composite body panels and re-designed impact areas. These changes contribute to improved safety, better performance and fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions. The 308 has achieved a Euro NCAP 5-star rating for occupant safety, four stars for child occupant safety and three stars for pedestrian protection.

The new 308 is Peugeot's first model to carry the new '8' generation figure, and it is both longer and wider than the 307 models it replaces.

Standard equipment on all models includes power steering, driver airbag, passenger airbag, side airbags, curtain airbags, remote control central locking with deadlocks, electric front windows, reach and rake adjustable steering column, radio and single CD player, passenger and driver seat height adjustment, ABS, trip computer and electrically-operated door mirrors.

Unfortunately, the desirable (some would now say indispensable for added road safety) Electronic Stability Programme is not available until customers reach the Sport level of specification, and air conditioning is only included as standard on S specification vehicles and above.

The S version adds front fog lights, manual air conditioning and body-coloured door mirrors and door handles.

The Sport grade (third out of five in the pecking order) version adds steering column airbag, cruise control with speed limiter, rear electric windows, front seat arm rests and boot net, fully body-coloured exterior, leather-clad steering wheel, Electronic Stability Programme, radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility and diversity system, sports front grille styling and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The penultimate SE version adds the ambience pack with fragrance diffuser and ambient interior lighting, Cielo panoramic glass roof, electric folding mirrors, comfort pack (lumbar support, height adjustable rear head restraints, under seat storage trays, flip-up tables and rear seat arm rest), electro-chromic rear-view mirror, visibility pack (auto headlamps/wipers), dual-zone air conditioning, sports style rear bumper and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The range-topping GT version models add half-leather interior, carpet mats, tyre pressure sensors, alarm, rear parking sensors, headlamp washers, Xenon directional headlamps and washers, Bluetooth hands-free kit, colour multi-function display and 18-inch alloy wheels.

At 4,276mm, the new 308 five-door hatchback is 74mm longer (and 53mm wider) than the outgoing 307, and, together with a with a 12mm reduction in height and wider front and rear tracks, it looks sleeker. In fact, it appears all together to be a much bigger and imposing car than the 307. The by now trademark 'smiling grille' is available with two types of finish, depending of the specification chosen. The deeply sculpted bonnet, with its pronounced and not-so-perfect nose, and the long front overhang makes the car look front-end heavy. The longer SW versions will look better balanced overall.

But it is the interior that shows the biggest and most improved changes. Let's not mince words here — I think the quality is vastly improved over the 307. The layout of the controls and instruments is much better and more logical, and the fascia and door trims are superb. They have a nice soft feel with variations in textured finish. We really are talking about a much better car — close to 'premium' class — and customers should love it. The curved fascia panel is positioned much further forward in the car and the centre of the fascia is now dished inwards, giving both front occupants greater free space. The design also gives a lower forward sight line and that creates an impression of more space as well as improving visibility.

The rear seating space is also superior, with adequate width for three adults. The backs of the front seats are neatly sculptured to improve knee room, but it is not plentiful. The rear headroom is also not great for a six-footer like me, and the panoramic roof system, which adds even more light to the inside of the car, cuts down further on headroom.

In addition to improved interior passenger space, the extra overall length has given the 308 five-door hatchback more luggage room: 430-litres with the rear seats in position; 1,398-litres with the three rear seats folded.

The handling, ride comfort and roadholding are also better. The wider front and rear tracks offer a flat and controlled ride with little bodyroll or fore-to-aft pitch. The suspension absorbs potholes and bumps with relative ease, and the steering has a sharp turn-in and responsive attitude with good feedback. While not quite as good as the new Ford Focus or VW Golf in the handling department, it is certainly comfortable.

The 308 feels a solid and 'well planted' car, and this will appeal to all customers as it is definitely a move up in class and refinement. I cannot understand why Peugeot has not equipped all 308s with the Electronic Stability Programme system fitted as standard — there's no question that it makes sense in the interests of improved handling safety, particularly for less experienced drivers or when the car is fully loaded.

My test model was the 308 SE five-door with the petrol THP 150bhp engine from the PSA/BMW/MINI joint venture. This model is priced at 16,895 although with the ever-present long list of extra cost options fitted (SatNav, alarm, 17-inch alloys and front parking aid) the price was pushed up to a very hefty 19,895. It will not be the best selling 308 model overall, but — if you like your family car to have some get-up-and-go — it is certainly the best performing petrol engine in the range.

For the retail customer who does not cover a huge mileage, this is the engine of choice. It has the power to give a top speed of 133mph with 0-62mph acceleration in 8.8 seconds; with an official average fuel economy figure of 39.7mpg (35.7mpg actual). And with 167g/km of CO2, twelve months' road tax will cost its owner 165.

However, thanks to a twin-scroll turbocharger, this petrol engine performs just like a turbodiesel unit as far as torque or 'grunt' is concerned. Maximum torque is 180lb ft from just 1,400rpm which makes it the most responsive small petrol engine on the market. Put your foot down and go — with the minimum of gear changing. This performance is really user-friendly, and not just on the open road for overtaking slower moving traffic in the minimum possible time — but also it remains very smooth and flexible to drive in heavy stop-start traffic or in town. In fact — but not to be recommended — it will allow the car to pull away from standstill in third gear.

The only downside is that it could do with a six-speed transmission to make it even more economical for motorway driving. The gearbox is not one of the 308's best features as it is not very precise or slick to use and comes with a long gearlever throw. The partnering of this engine with a six-speed transmission in the MINI is much better and more refined.

In most ways the Peugeot 308 is a very fine and well-styled car; much better than the 307. But it has to compete against some serious competition and I'm not sure that even the excellent range of engines is enough to draw customers away from a new Focus or Golf. The car has no advantage with price because the standard equipment is not really generous enough and the 'must-have' options make the final on-the-road price pretty steep. That noted, Peugeot is starting 2008 with free specification upgrades for some 308 models. The only other real niggle was the clumsy gearchange action. On the plus side is the great engine, much improved quality with excellent room in the front and the comfortable ride. The question is: Will '08 be the year you put an '08 on your drive? There are plenty of reasons why you should. — David Miles

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Peugeot 308 SE 5-door THP 150 | 16,895
Maximum speed: 133mph | 0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 35.7mpg | Power: 150bhp | Torque: 180lb ft

CO2 167g/km | Insurance group 13E

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