​First Drive: Peugeot 308

​First Drive: Peugeot 308

Peugeot's family hatchback has returned and it certainly means business. It's been given a brand new makeover and, according to Peugeot, represents the brand's biggest step forward in producing quality cars.

In order to get those UK new car sales back on track, Peugeot is relying on its new C-segment hatchback to make a good impression. The new-look 308 has been put on a crash diet, blessed with a new modular platform and boasts Teutonic styling from every angle.What is it?

This is the bigger and better second-generation 308, which has been stripped down to cut weight and completely redesigned to improve on the quality of its predecessor. Using a mixture of composites, aluminium and steel in its construction, the 308 is now 140kg lighter than the current model, improving both its performance and its efficiency.

The 308's back-to-basics styling is Peugeot's promise to provide class-leading quality, putting it head-to-head with Volkswagen's Golf and the Ford Focus – only with a price-tag that's roughly £2,000 cheaper. But the fight doesn't end there, as Peugeot hopes to put the pressure on the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class.

What's under the bonnet?

The 308 will first be offered with the choice of three petrol and two diesel engines, but the range is due to expand with the introduction of ultra-efficient turbocharged units in 2014. The petrol engines range from an 82bhp 1.2-litre VTi three-cylinder unit to two 1.6-litre THP turbocharged engines which can produce 125 and 155bhp. The diesel alternatives include a 92bhp 1.6-litre HDi unit and a 115bhp 1.6-litre e-HDi engine, which are both capable of achieving more than 75mpg.

The petrol engines come out on top in this battle. The two diesels suffer from noticeable turbo lag and delayed acceleration out of the corners, but that's no problem for drivers who seek a comfortable car for regular journeys. The 1.6-litre engines have the most punch and offer greater low-end torque, and both diesel and petrol units feel refined and notably quiet. Sadly, the slightly jerky six-speed gearbox makes it difficult to achieve smooth changes up through gears at high speeds, but the 153bhp unit can take you from 0-62mph in under 10 seconds – and it sounds good too.

What's the spec like?

Peugeot has aimed to keep the new 308 as bold and simple as possible, while giving buyers more for their money when it comes to on-board technology. The new model comes with the option of four trim levels from the basic Access, the Active and the Allure to the top-end Feline. Each is competitively priced and comes with a number of features, including a full panoramic glass roof on Feline models.

To look at, the new model resembles a compact version of an Audi A3 and inside and it's safe to say it oozes quality from every instrument. Elements of the interior styling are distinctly Germanic, including perfectly-shaped and -weighted door handles.

Any 'untidy' looking buttons – pretty much all of them - have been stripped from the cockpit and neatly tidied away into the 308's high-mounted touch-screen centre console, which is satisfyingly easy to use on the move. It features a compact steering wheel and a new i-Cockpit cluster, designed to keep drivers' eyes on the road.

It comes with a class-leading 380-litre boot compartment so there will be no problem fitting a full weekly-shop in the back and its all-new LED headlights designed to improve road safety after dark, make night time driving an absolute doddle. Even the basic Access model remains well-equipped as standard with electric power-assisted steering, cruise control, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless start and park assist.

Any rivals?

Yes, and not just one. While the 308 will remain a competitive rival to the VW Golf and Ford Focus, priced around £2,000 more cheaply, Peugeot is confident that 65 per cent of the new model's sales will come from new customers. The brand believes the 308 is on a par with the Audi A3 and could even give the Mercedes A-Class a run for its money.

What's it like to drive?

It's hard not to be impressed by the 308's progress. It's comfortable to drive and tracks nicely on both motorways and country roads. It does suffer from a hint of body roll when pushing on through corners, but that's expected from a standard C-segment family hatch.

The most impressive feature has to be the fully-electric power assist steering. At low speeds the steering wheel is feather-light, so manoeuvring into a parking spot is completely effortless. But pick up the pace on the motorway or along some twisty B-roads and the steering wheel automatically tightens up to improve wheel response – it's like having an automatic sport mode.

The AOL verdict

In comparison to the outgoing model, the new 308 is a remarkable transformation. This is certainly one of the better looking family hatchbacks on the road and while it isn't the quickest, its attention to detail and ability to put a smile on your face more than make up for it.

The Knowledge:

Model: Peugeot 308 1.6-litre THP Feline
Price: £21,345
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo petrol
Power: 156bhp
Max Speed: 132mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
MPG: 48.7mpg
Emissions: 129g/km
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