Johannesburg - You can’t help but notice the European Car of the Year decal stuck on the back window of our test car. It was in plain view every time we approached the car in its parking bay, and, when behind the wheel, it served as a gentle reminder popping up in line of sight with every glance in the rear-view mirror.
Peugeot won the esteemed award in 2014 with its second-generation 308 hatch, and now it’s for damn sure going to advertise the fact. An overindulgent, self-gratifying stick-on memento it might be, if the 308 were a mediocre car. But it’s not. It’s marvellous, and if I was responsible for it, I too would make sure that every unit leaves the factory with the honours applied to the back glass like trophies on mantelpieces.
Gone is the previous 308’s bulbous, upright and polarisingly French styling, replaced by a more rakish look with crisp edges and a generally more agreeable shape. It’s as though Peugeot’s design team left for lunch wearing baggy Members Only jackets and worn out loafers, and came back with Merino wool waistcoats and polished wingtips.
I can’t help but notice a touch of German flavour here, in everything from the radii of body creases, to the slender window lines, to the clean-cut grille section. I’d hate to think designers rolled a Golf 7 into their workshop for analytical purposes, but would that really be a bad thing?
Same is true of the Audi A3-like interior, which is built to A3-rivalling quality levels. It’s as upmarket as it is moody with perfect amounts of leather, suede, chrome, satin silver and piano black accents, and it’s all assembled with excellent attention to detail.
It also borrows Audi’s recent minimalism themes and takes them to a new level. The centre part of the dashboard, where in other cars you might find a smattering of switchgear, here only has a single volume-control knob and a slim strip of buttons for demister functions, door locks and hazard lights.
Almost all functionality happens via the 9.7-inch colour touchscreen. While this does indeed keep clutter down, I do wish that basic temperature adjustments didn’t require numerous finger jabs and subsequent eyes-off-the-road situations. A simple hot/cold rotary dial opposite the volume knob would have been a lot better.
And while we’re on the topic of things that could be better, let me just say rear legroom is a bit cramped, and the boot’s floor isn’t as deep as in competitor hatches (there is a full-size spare, though).
Also, I’m not sure why Peugeot insists on these tiny steering-wheel diameters. A bigger one would not only feel less toy-like, but might also allow drivers to see the speedo cluster through its rim, rather than over the top of it. This layout slightly compromises my ideal seating position - although not quite as much as in the smaller 208 hatch with a similarly tiny steering wheel.
MEATY TORQUE CURVE
The way this Peugeot drives, however, makes it easy to forgive these shortcomings. Our test car was the more powerful of two 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol options available, with outputs of 96kW and 230Nm.
This so-called 308 GT Line punches way above its weight with a meaty torque curve picking up just below 2000rpm and lasting right up to redline at 6000, making for infrequent gear changes and a relaxed driving style.
It’s also by far the smoothest spinning triple I’ve yet experienced (no doubt the well insulated cabin helps) and, because it can cruise comfortably at low revs, its real-world fuel consumption averaged little more than seven litres per 100km. Not quite as low as Peugeot’s claimed 4.8, but still very good given how strongly it pulls. And, literally as I write this, a press release has dropped into my inbox naming this 1.2 PureTech Turbo as 2015 International Engine of the Year in the 1 to 1.4-litre category. Well deserved.
The GT Line rolls on stylish 17-inch rims with fairly low-profile tyres, but the ride quality is exceptional. You’ll get fancier independent rear-suspension systems in Ford’s Focus and top-end Golfs, but the 308’s more basic cross-member type setup still handles road wrinkles very well. A light steering ratio and smooth manual shift action make it fun to flick around when traffic clears up, but it would be a stretch to call it sporty. I’d say it favours comfort over agility.
The GT Line comes equipped with auto lights and wipers, six airbags, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, six-speed manual gearbox, steering controls, massaging seats, and much more for R329 900. The only option available is navigation for R10 000.
Although the 308 is bound to be swallowed up in sales charts by the usual C-segment suspects, it now makes a strong case for itself with a more sophisticated look, extensive spec sheet, a brilliant engine and, above all else, faultless build quality. Pity about that silly steering wheel, though. - Star Motoring
Peugeot 308 GT Line
Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power: 96kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 230Nm @ 1750rpm
Consumption (claimed): 4.8 litres per 100km
Price: R329 900
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Maintenhance plan: 5-year/60 000km
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