The latest Peugeot 308 has more than earned its spurs in a tough market sector. The diesel models continue to make the most sense to UK buyers but if you run lower annual milages, have a look at the 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine. It's available in 82, 110 or 130bhp outputs and with 60mpg+ economy figures, it looks a winner.
Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you probably know that the Peugeot 308 is a bit of a hot ticket. It has scooped the 2014 European Car of the Year award without breaking sweat, judges praising its quality and lightweight chassis construction, and offers a genuine alternative to those who felt that buying a midrange hatchback was a joyless exercise in choosing between a Ford Focus and a Volkswagen Golf. One trend that similarly won't be big news to the clued-in amongst you is that of the downsized petrol engine. Car manufacturers have realised that by bolting a turbocharger to a tiny petrol engine, they can post some eye-catching economy and emissions figures without sacrificing peak power. The engines are inexpensive and light, which is undoubtedly a win-win.
There are two PureTech 1.2-litre engine designs on offer here, a normally aspirated unit with 82bhp and a preferrable (and much more efficient) turbocharged e-THP unit offering either 110bhp or 130bhp. The 82bhp unit doesn't have much pulling power, delivering quite a limp-wristed 118Nm of torque. The e-THP unit, in contrast, musters a more satisfying 205Nm from the same 1198cc capacity, all of which means you'll get to 62mph in 11 seconds and run on to 120mph. If you need to go faster, there's also a 130bhp version of this engine, which really delivers the goods, getting to 62mph in 10.3 seconds and posting a top speed of 125mph if you choose the much quicker-witted auto over the manual. Although the electrically-assisted steering and supple suspension at first lull you into thinking the 308 is a bit of a pudding, drive the car a bit harder and it really ups its game. The six-speed manual gearbox provides some welcome old-school interaction with an otherwise high-tech car although the shift action is curiously noisy. While we're on the subject of noise, we must pass comment on the Sport button that's fitted to higher spec version. While it sharpens the steering and throttle quite acceptably, we're not sold on the way it adds unwanted noise to the three-cylinder soundtrack. It sounds quite agreeable without the added amplification.
The fact that this is an all-new model yet it still retains the 308 name should tell you something. That something is that the 308 badge now has some respectability, something that eluded the old 307. The previous 308 had morphed into quite a good looking car and the latest model is even more handsome. The front end features a sculpted bonnet and sharky headlights but there's a maturity, a confidence, about the styling. It's not trying too hard. We like that. There's a choice of five-door hatch and SW estate bodyshapes. Unless you choose the entry-level version, the interior is dominated by a 9.7-inch touch screen. There's a small strip of buttons for locking, demist and hazard lights and then virtually everything else is controlled by the touch screen, making for a very clean-looking interior. The 308 gets the tiny steering wheel debuted on the 208, but in this instance it's possible for shorter drivers to see the dials over the top of it. The contra-rotating rev counter is a neat touch, the oversized manual gear knob less so. Interior build quality is very good, with some of the interior fittings feeling like they wouldn't be out of place in an Audi or BMW. Specify the full-length glass roof and there will be occasions when the sun will dazzle you from the big touch screen quite badly, in which case you'll need to draw the blinds. It's a rare design glitch. Space all round is more than adequate and the 470-litre boot is excellent. That's in the hatch. The 660-litre space you get in the SW estate is class-leading.
Prices start at around £16,000 for the 110bhp hatch, adding around £1,250 to the asking price of the 82bhp VTi. Believe us, that's money well spent. From there it seems quite a large step up to the 130bhp car at around £18,000, but Peugeot grade you up a trim level with the e-THP 130 variant, so you're not comparing oeufs with oeufs here. Specify both cars in Active rather than entry-level Access trim and the difference is around £800. If you're thinking of using the car for towing or plan to fill it with gear, the added muscle of the 130bhp motor might well swing your decision. There's a premium of around £1,000 to go from the 5-door hatch to the stylish SW estate but whatever bodystyle you choose, equipment levels look good. Starting with the Access model, you can expect air conditioning, remote central door locking, cruise control with speed limiter, DAB digital radio, LED daylight running lights and Bluetooth connectivity. Step up to the Active variant and there's standard dual zone air conditioning, an electric handbrake, rear parking sensors, and an integrated 9.7" touch screen with satellite navigation. The Allure receives full LED headlamps, 17" alloy wheels, a reversing camera and front parking sensors while the range-topping Feline includes a panoramic Cielo glass roof, Alcantara trimmed sports seats and the Driver Assistance Pack with an impressive collection of driver assistance and safety devices: Dynamic Cruise Control, Emergency Collision Alert and Emergency Collision Braking System.
One complaint that's frequently levelled at this sort of downsized petrol engine is that real world economy figures rarely get close to those promised by the manufacturer. Fiat has run into this issue with its 0.9-litre TwinAir engines, as has Ford with its 1.0-litre EcoBoost powerplants. Peugeot's PureTech engine has a few more cubic centimetres to play with but it'll be an optimist who buys this car and expects to replicate 61.4mpg Peugeot claims for the 110bhp engine or the 58.9mpg figure attributed to the 130bhp car. The respective CO2 returns are rated at 107 and 110g/km. Go for the normally aspirated 82bhp model and the figures are nothing like as good - 55.4mpg and 117g/km. It's not utterly impossible though. A standard production 308 PureTech e-THP hatchback not long ago established a fuel consumption record, averaging 99.1mpg and travelling 1,124 miles on one tank of fuel on the Almeria circuit in Spain under the supervision of the French test authority UTAC (Union Technique de l'Automobile, du motocycle et du Cycle). It ran for more than 32 hours, consuming 51.4 litres of fuel. And to think they didn't even get to use the Stop and Start feature that Peugeot seemed so proud of.
Peugeot has really come good with this generation 308, a car that now mixes it on talent with the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, outscoring both in certain regards. If we were paying our own money, we'd probably choose one with a diesel engine, but that's based on the need to cover fairly high mileages. Were we to use the car a bit less, this 1.2-litre PureTech engine appears to be a prime contender, especially in e-THP turbo form. It's refined yet characterful, has some respectable urge, especially in 130bhp guise, and its light weight and sharpness of response is a good fit for the design ethos of the 308 as a whole. It's actually probably a better partner in that regard than a hulking great diesel. Overall, this is one to definitely put on your shortlist.