Car review: A French toast to Peugeot's new 308

The Peugeot 308 Allure is a lively hatch that is refined and boasts premium features.
The Peugeot 308 Allure is a lively hatch that is refined and boasts premium features.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
The Peugeot 308 Allure is a lively hatch that is refined and boasts premium features.
The Peugeot 308 Allure is a lively hatch that is refined and boasts premium features.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

Peugeot has much to celebrate with the new refined, well-built 308

Can a 1.2-litre three-cylinder car clock a century sprint of 10.7 seconds, a top speed of 200kmh and a consumption figure of 5.2 litres/100km?

Peugeot claims its new 308 hatchback can. Those figures would have been impressive even for a bigger car with a hybrid drivetrain, but are nothing short of astounding for a hatch with such a modest engine.

But are they achievable in real life?

During a test-drive over three days, the car averaged 7.1 litres/100km. That is still rather commendable, even if it is not quite 5.2 as measured by regulators in Europe, where vehicles seem to enjoy strong tailwinds all year round.

The car is generally lively, with a throttle that is calibrated for efficiency and yet is more responsive than what you have come to expect of a Peugeot.

Its transmission is a traditional six-speed automatic, not the jerky robotised manual that is often found in small European cars.

Hence the 308 enjoys smoothness and a good measure of linearity in its progress, which in turn contributes to its acceleration.

In short, its 10.7-second sprint to 100kmh feels real.

Its 200kmh top speed, on the other hand, seems a tad optimistic even though there isn't any opportunity in Singapore to verify that.

But given a long, straight and flat stretch of autobahn (and a strong tailwind), who knows?

What is more certain is that the new French five-door has made a big leap forward in terms of refinement, fit and finish, and equipment level.

The only tell-tale sign of Peugeot's inability (or refusal) to keep up with the times is the car's complicated cruise control stalk. Fiddling with that thing on the go is probably as unsafe as texting.

Otherwise, the car is now on a par with its fellow French models, and even Volkswagen and Opel.

The cockpit is wrapped in soft plastics, panels are aligned perfectly (you can tell visually as well as aurally), and the cabin is as quiet as that of a 2-litre executive sedan.

The last trait is amazing, considering that cars with such a small engine tend to rev high and are more prone to vibration and harshness.

Yet the 308 feels relaxed most of the time - proof that its six-speed autobox makes good use of what the puny engine has to offer.

The three-cylinder unit is turbocharged to churn out a decent 129bhp and an enviable 230Nm of torque from 1,750rpm. It is actually more punchy than equivalent three-cylinders used by BMW Group.

What's more, the 308 is a pretty light car for its size, tipping the scales at 1,150kg when empty. The hatch measures 4,253mm by 1,804mm by 1,472mm (tall). It seats five quite easily and offers a luggage space of 470 litres. That makes it slightly shorter, but wider, taller and lighter, than the VW Golf.

What takes the cake, though, is its list of premium features. The higher Allure variant boasts full-LED lighting, keyless acccess and ignition, electric parking brake, 9.7-inch multi-media touchscreen monitor, navigation, panoramic glass roof and Park Assist.

Those who enjoy driving will welcome the 308's well-sorted dynamics and a suspension that offers a good compromise of handling and ride comfort. Its straight-line stability is one of the best there is. The only flaw is that its front left-quarter visibility is poor, making sharp left turns a bit harder to judge.

For those who just want a car that is comfortable, well built and generously equipped, know that the Pug hatch is now harder to beat than ever before.

christan@sph.com.sg