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Peugeot 308 SE 5-door 2.0 HDi 136

Click to view picture galleryLooking for a smart family hatch?
ve probably already got Fords
  Focus and VW
s Golf on your
  list. Another entry that should be
  there is Peugeot
s five-door 308...”

AS IS THE NORM THESE DAYS, Peugeot's latest 308 family hatchback is a little longer and wider than the model (the 307) it replaces. And, hardly surprisingly, it has also put on a few pounds in weight although Peugeot has done its best to minimise these gains by using lightweight materials, such as composite body panels and aluminium and high-strength lightweight steel, wherever possible.

Buyers of family cars usually rate safety highly, so they will be reassured to know that despite the lightweight parts, safety is still one of the 308's strongest points: the 308 has a 5 star Euro NCAP rating for occupant safety plus four stars for child occupant safety and three stars for pedestrian protection.

The new 308 model range, available in both three-and five-door body styles, has seven engine options comprising of four petrol units (95 to 150bhp) and three HDi diesel engines (90, 110 and 136bhp). Tested here is the most powerful diesel model, the 2.0-litre HDi with 136bhp and a six-speed manual gearbox.

Longer, wider and lower than the 307 it supersedes, the 308 is undeniably striking to look at. The first thing you notice is Peugeot's trademark 'smiling grille' and Yes, the long-ish front overhang does tend to make the 308 look slightly nose-heavy in side profile. But richer chrome detailing, the strongly-contoured V-shaped bonnet, large feline headlights and pronounced flat-edged wheel arches covering wider front and rear tracks ensures it looks purposeful.

And fit for purpose. Not only is the new 308 physically bigger than the 307, but the extra 'bulk' gives it a more upmarket look. You don't have to get inside to know this is a good quality family hatchback. Open the door and slide behind the contoured driver's seat and that first impression is quickly confirmed — thanks to wraparound windows that give the 308 the largest expanse of glass in its class. You also enjoy an excellent all round view of the road. In the front there's lots of leg, knee, shoulder and head room. The 308 definitely feels bigger inside than its external dimensions would lead you to expect — more so because of the panoramic Cielo glass roof that floods the cabin with light.

The standard-fit, full-width, 1.26m-long Cielo roof effectively extends the raked windscreen right back to the rear passenger compartment. No worries about all that sun and how much Factor 50 you may need to slap on, because the heat-reflective, tinted glass has been treated to filter out 90 per cent of the sun's ultraviolet rays. For conspiracy theory owners who don't want the CIA's spy satellites sneaking a look at them and their passengers, there are two electric sunblinds to cover up all — or, if you wish, just part — of the roof at the push of a button. Family drivers will be pleased to note that there's even an anti-pinch system to prevent little fingers getting in harm's way.

308 models enjoy a good level of standard equipment. All models come with manual air conditioning, power steering, driver and front passenger SMART airbags, front side and curtain SMART airbags, remote control central locking with deadlocks, electric front windows, electrically-operated door mirrors, height/reach adjustable steering column, passenger and driver seat height adjustment, trip computer, radio/CD player, ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist.

Our five-door test car — the penultimate SE version with an on-the-road price of 18,145 — adds the Ambience Pack (fragrance diffuser and ambient cabin lighting), the Cielo panoramic glass roof, powered fold-back door mirrors that auto-fold when you lock the car, a steering column airbag, rear side airbags, Comfort Pack (lumbar support, flip-up tables, under-seat storage trays, rear armrest and height adjustable rear head restraints), auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear electric windows, cruise control with speed limiter, Visibility Pack (auto headlamps/wipers), 'dial 'n' forget' dual-zone air conditioning, sports style rear bumper, sports front grille, white instrument matrix and dials, 16-inch alloy wheels, three-spoke leather steering wheel, front fog lights and an Electronic Stability Programme.

Fitted options — full leather, metallic paintwork, Multi-Media system (with colour SatNav, GSM phone and MP3 music storage), ultrasonic alarm, 17-inch alloys and a front parking aid — added 2,950 to the price. For the record, the hands-free GSM phone system lets you make your calls using the keypad on the centre console, the control on the steering wheel or the voice-recognition function.

And all the 308's audio and multi-media functions can be controlled via the fold-away 7-inch monitor, the keyboard, buttons on the steering wheel or voice recognition. The SatNav maps can be viewed in either 2D or 3D on the 7-inch colour screen. In the 3D view you see a simulated aerial view of your route with the horizon in perspective. And, another big plus, the SatNav's spoken directions are excellent, well-timed and even tell you the name of the road you're turning onto.

The cabin is smartly trimmed with good quality soft-touch mouldings and a tactile curved fascia, all notable for a subtle mix of pleasant-to-touch textured plastic and rubber finishes. Five chrome-ringed air vents, shipshape controls and switchgear and white-faced dials all add to the notably upmarket feel. The optional (900) black leather upholstery looks the business.

And it doesn't stop there. The rear seating space is equally pleasant and accommodating and it is wide enough for three adults. The 308's rear seats are set several inches higher than the front seats to provide those sitting in the back with a better view out on their journey. Add to this comfy seats with good backrest angles along with a supportive centre rear armrest and you'll understand why passengers under six feet will enjoy travelling in the back — even when sitting behind other near-six-footers in the front.

But wherever you sit, you'll find the 308 to be nicely civilised. And if you need some fresh air, all four electric windows feature one-shot auto up/down operation. Another bonus: along with improved interior passenger space, the extra body length provides 430 litres of boot space. Fold down the 60:40 split rear seats and you'll have a 1,398-litre load bay. The boot also has a power socket, four bag hooks and a luggage net — and a multi-section storage tray under the boot floor.

Under the 308's skin is a modified version of the outgoing 307 platform. The new bodyshell is 10 per cent stiffer and contributes to the Peugeot's capable and polished road manners — and they're good enough to satisfy most spirited drivers. Even on the optional 17-inch alloy wheels, the 308's soothing ride takes all surfaces, including bumps and potholes, in its stride. The wider front and rear tracks provide a controlled ride with little bodyroll and steering turn-in is sharp and responsive with decent feedback.

Hustled along twisting roads, the driver will find plenty of penalty-free grip with minimal roll and pitch; although unless the driver has a tidy technique, his passengers may not be as forgiving as the 308 is slingable.

Brakes are effective, with large ventilated discs up front and there's good pedal feel and good control and they pull you up very quickly. Also looking out for your safety is the Electronic Stability Programme that incorporates Traction Control and Dynamic Stability Control.

Overall, its combination of good ride, reassuring roadholding and relaxed refinement will appeal to a lot of buyers (particularly for those with a family), and especially those for whom driving thrills are not a number one priority. Which isn't to say it's not up for some hard-charging; just that it is primarily a family hatch. But if you want to switch your priorities there's always the 308 GT.

So far we haven't even mentioned what lies beneath the 308's V-shaped bonnet. The 1,997cc HDi unit diesel engine is refined and its 136bhp and 240blft of torque get the 308 to 62mph from standstill in a smidgen over 10 seconds and on to a top speed of 129mph. Along with improved performance, it delivers better fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions. Our test average worked out at 46.4mpg. The official figures are 39.2 Urban; 51.3 Combined; and 62.7mpg Extra-urban.

On motorways it cruises quietly with a relaxed gait (70mph at 2,000rpm in top gear — but do watch your speedometer as what feels like an easy 70mph often turns out to be far higher) and feels agreeably 'well planted'. Pick-up in both fifth and sixth gears is good at the legal limit on motorways. In fact, even fourth is quite happy on the motorway — so much so that it's quite easy to forget to change up. A quick burst up the motorway during our test drive to get to an appointment near St Albans was enough to demonstrate just how well the Peugeot 308 acquits itself in traffic.

And, unlike many modern cars, there are lots of places for all those bits and pieces that need housing in a family car, including: a handy storage compartment in the rear parcel shelf that can be accessed from either the cabin or the boot; a central front armrest that adjusts for height with storage below; a 10-litre refrigerated glovebox; big door pockets, a handbag hook; under-seat storage trays and a drop-down sunglasses box in the driver's headlining.

And you can even fill the cabin with your favourite scent by using the standard-fit fragrance dispenser. A well-considered touch for families is the driver-operated switch that locks the rear doors — perfect for young passengers with idle hands. As, too, is the drive-away automatic central locking and the visual on-screen and audible warnings from the parking sensors. Also deserving of mention are the three-stage heated seats — they warm you up but, thankfully, will never over-cook you. The clever hinged front headrest design lets you get it just right.

All-in-all, the five-door Peugeot 308 is for the 'Family Guy' who, when he's out on his own, wants to drive as he did back in his single days. But it is also a car that makes it easy for him to be a responsible Dad when duty calls. — MotorBar

Peugeot 308 SE 5-door 2.0 HDi 136
| 18,145
Maximum speed: 129mph | 0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 46.4mpg | Power: 136bhp | Torque: 240lb ft
CO2 146g/km | Insurance group 11