First drive: Peugeot 308


The 308 is Peugeot's best-selling 3-series model, a range which dates back to 1932. After sales of over 3.2 million worldwide and with almost 229,000 finding homes in the UK alone, Peugeot has face-lifted its small family rival to meet the challenge from newer rivals such as the Ford Focus.

I headed to Cardiff to try them out and see if the 308 can still compete with the more modern rivals.

So what's changed? Well, most obvious is the 508-esque face-lift. Changes include a shorter nose, with the previous mouthy look replaced by a smaller, neater chrome-lined grille. There are also smaller front headlights and a more compact front bumper with LED sidelights.

The changes are harder to spot at the back of CC convertible, hatchback and SW estate versions, with more chrome detailing and the latest lion badging being the only giveaways. Inside, the cabin is mainly unchanged, with just a new set of dials and some piano black detailing to freshen it up.

The latest 308 isn't just about a new look, there's also some new technology in the form of Peugeot's clever new 'micro-hybrid' technology. Basically, e-HDi models pair a 110bhp 1.6-litre diesel with a reversible alternator and five-volt battery booster pack.

Smoother than standard stop-start systems fitted to other cars I've tried, it allows the engine to be switched off for longer and there's even a handy 'eco' meter built into the trip computer that records how long you're stationary for each journey.

Sadly, the 308 eHDi isn't as green as you might expect. In fact both the Allure hatchback and SW estate versions that I drove on different sized alloy wheels emitted 118g/km of Co2 and returned 62.7mpg and 54.3mpg on the Combined cycle respectively.

However, don't fret as a stand alone greener Oxygo version will be available in July and promises to bring Co2 emissions below the 100g/km mark.

Overall, the e-HDi versions I drove on the launch seemed well-rounded. The 110 bhp diesel engine lacks puff but is a smooth, refined and torquey performer.

Where the 308 falls down, is that it rides too softly, the steering lacks feel and the six-speed manual gearbox feels imprecise.

I also had the chance to drive a 308 CC GT fitted with the 1.6-litre THP 200 engine at the launch. It proved to be a much more capable car than the others I tried, with the performance and handling being definite high points.

Considering it's a convertible, I was also surprised at how solid it felt, as there was little evidence of the dreaded scuttle shake that this type of car usually suffers from. It's a shame then, that again the same imprecise gearchange spoils a fun, open-top package.

Interestingly, I used a new Ford Focus 1.6 Ecoboost 150 Titanium that I had on test to get me to the launch. The face-lifted Peugeot will be one of its closest rivals, but apart from the smoother stop-start system fitted to the 308, it's the Ford that I was looking forward to driving home.

Why? Well, the Ford is the driver's choice. Its ride may be harder, but it handles better and the steering feels sharper. Also, I know I may have moaned about how conventional the new car looks, but compared to the 308's rather avant-garde styling, the Focus is a thing of beauty.