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Peugeot 308 SW Sport HDi 110

Click to view picture galleryA fuel-efficient diesel engine and a
  large fuel tank means Peugeot
s 308
  range of hatchbacks and SW estates
  can be driven for miles without the
  need for stopping at fuel stations

ALL OF WHICH MEANS THAT Peugeot's 'long ranger' is ideal for long journeys or for those who hate parting with money on a regular basis. And for those customers who also want to be 'green' blue, actually, in Peugeot's case the company have recently introduced a small range of 90 and 110bhp diesel Blue Lion models with reduced CO2 emissions of 120g/km or less.

The 308 three- and five-door hatchback (but not the SW range) line-up has Blue Lion 'eco' models, with prices ranging from £14,145 to £18,895. With CO2 levels of 120g/km, this means they all have a road tax bill of £35 a year — and company car drivers will be pleased to know that they all fall into the new 10 per cent company car tax bracket.

But with the Winter holiday season upon us, Peugeot in the UK is promoting its popular 308 SW with the best-selling 110bhp HDi turbodiesel engine to skiing fans. They say the vehicle will carry five people with 1,031 litres of luggage the 600 miles to Chamonix in France on one 13.2-gallon tank of fuel — that's around 45.4mpg. This costs about £65 each way — much cheaper than flying — and with CO2 emissions of 139g/km this works out at 28g per person, so no global warming and melting the snow from these holiday-makers.

I can vouch for those figures because I bettered them. It just so happens that I used a Peugeot 308 SW Sport HDi 110 for a recent drive to France and back and my test vehicle, with two passengers plus luggage, returned 50.3mpg. That gave a range of 663 miles, although the on-board computer was sure I could actually manage 700!

Cars that will succeed in 2009 in a depressed market will be the ones that do the most for most people — especially as regards to right size, competitive price, low taxes, versatility and economical running costs. The 308 SW does most of those things. Except it looks expensive against the competition.

The relatively-new five-door 308 SW estate range comes in S, SR, Sport and SE trim and equipment levels, with 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engine options ranging from 95 to 175bhp and HDi 1.6 and 2.0-litre turbodiesel units with power outputs from 90 to 136bhp. Prices range from £14,995 up to £21,545 but a mainstream model 110bhp diesel model should be obtainable for around £16,500.

There are bargains out there; this is a competitive market sector — and the market leader in all ways, the Ford Focus, is readily available at discounted prices and is driving reality into showroom prices. My test 308 SW HDi 110 carried the lofty official on-the-road price of £18,595 plus options. Not a chance. What Car? magazine's target price is £16,914 — and dropping as the market gets tougher.

However, the 308 line-up (of three- and five-door hatchbacks plus SW estates and the new CC coupé/cabriolet due out in April 2009) is, after the 207 supermini models, Peugeot's second best-selling model range. Sales of the 308 are reported to be stronger than the marginally smaller 307 range it started to replace in stages from September 2007. In 2008, around 27,000 UK customers — split 50:50 between fleet and retail — will have driven away from the showrooms in a new 308 model of some type.

The 308 is a grown up and more curvaceous version of the previous 307 which, incidentally, is still on sale. The styling is more robust but the 308 still sports the Peugeot 'feline face' with the almond-shaped headlights although the nose is now far more pronounced and, for me, not as pretty. Also not quite so pert is the tail, that makes the rear-end look a bit 'dumpy'. The sides have more exaggerated sculptured lines and the 308's wedge shape, with its rising waistline and coupé roofline, gives an impression of speed although the rear windows are smaller and that limits rear and rear-quarter vision.

The 308 SW is longer, wider and lower (4,500, 1,815 and 1,564mm) — and also has a longer wheelbase (2,708mm) — than the 308 five-door hatchback, and on the road this endows the SW with a better and more controlled ride.

The panoramic glass sunroof, where fitted, is 27 per cent larger than that fitted in the 307 SW. In all areas this extra length and width has been put to good use: there's more legroom for rear passengers and an overall feeling of spaciousness. The load space, too, is impressive, with 674 litres with five seats in use, increasing to a massive 2,149 litres with the seats folded. The seating is one of the cleverest features of the new 308 SW, which can be ordered as a conventional five-seater estate or with the option of a third row of two individual seats at an added cost of £495.

Now there is nothing new about seven seat estates or MPV people carriers. However, the individual nature of the middle and third row of seats in the 308 SW means that there are lots of seating combinations — and they all fold flat to make up a long load floor. The seats can be swapped around, they fold to form tables and they can be removed. In truth, the rear row of seats — if used as a seven-seater —are very limited for leg space and suitable only for children.

They also limit the boot floor space if the vehicle is being used for five people or less; the sixth and seventh seats need to be unclipped and removed rather than folding away into the floor. I would much prefer to use the 308 SW as a five-seater estate and have its massive load space easily available rather than mess around with taking seats out and storing them in the garage.

The Sport specification does not refer to 'sports' performance; it is all about equipment levels. You get, amongst other items, air conditioning, electric windows, alloy wheels, central locking, seven smart air bags, cruise control, panoramic sunroof and an electronic stability programme — which should be standard on all models but isn't. The 308 is a family vehicle, and for maximum safety ESP is as important as ABS.

The 1.6-litre HDi 110bhp turbodiesel engine comes from PSA Peugeot-Citroen and it is widely used by them and others. We know it well. It is strong, torquey, relatively quiet and fuel efficient. It is one of today's well-respected engines and there is very little I can add to what I've said before. Fitted to the 308 SW, this unit provides for a top speed of 115mph. Zero to 62mph acceleration takes 12.5 seconds and the official combined cycle fuel economy is 53.2mpg.

My test car returned, over nearly 700 miles, 50.3mpg — which I rate highly. The CO2 emissions are 139g/km which means an annual road tax bill of £120. The six-speed transmission was relatively slick, the ride comfortable so long as the road surfaces were smooth. Potholes and rippled surfaces did upset the composure, more so when the SW had very little weight in it. Talking of weight, the 308 SW will most likely appeal to 'active' families because of the load carrying space but for those who tow boats, jet-skis or caravans, the towing capacity is only 1,000kg.

Niggles include the high-ish price, the cramped third row seating (made worse by the fact that these seats do not fold into the floor) and an offset driving position. Irritating, too, is the fact that there is no ESP as standard on some models.

Redeeming features include a huge boot, versatile seating, strong engine, well equipped, comfortable ride and, of course, it's economical to run. Overall, the Peugeot 308 SW is a very good example of what the lower-medium 'family car' sector can offer today's financially and tax-penalised private and company car users: versatile interior space; compact road space; and interesting but still rewarding to drive. The 308 SW isn't perfect and isn't exactly cheap, but it is a buyer's market for now so a deal can be done. Do one, and you'll be sure to enjoy happy motoring in 2009. — David Miles

Peugeot 308 SW Sport HDi 110
| £18,595
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 12.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 50.3mpg | Power: 110bhp | Torque: 180lb ft
CO2 139g/km | Insurance group 7E