When Michael, my Uber driver, noticed where I was heading, he started his small talk with: how do you pronounce “Peugeot”? Eager to impart a bit of automotive trivia, I told him the proper way to say it: “POO-zho” and that if he ever needs a refresher, every dealer has a pronunciation guide stickered on the façade. Then he asked: mura ba yun? Mukha kasi silang mura eh (are they cheap? It’s because they look cheap). At that point, I thought: Ouch! If I were working for Peugeot or owned one, that comment would feel like a knife piercing through my chest. Although I could try reiterating things like how they’re filled with quirky yet intricate details and that they’re made in France and so forth; I’m simply calling on Michael to try out the new 308, be it the hatchback or wagon. Discounting the budget 301 which I abhorred, this is the first mainstream car that lives up to Peugeot’s brand values.
The moment I saw it, I knew Peugeot was going for something more than just shock value with the 308. Compared to its previous designs such as the RCZ and to some degree, even the 208 GTi, the 308 is going more for a visual sense of quality and refinement. That may be a downer to long-time Peugeot fans, but the tidy and appealing design at least has no angle or line that’s out of place. It’s certainly more subdued and formal than any Peugeot before it and that brings up inevitable comparisons with the Volkswagen Golf. Nonetheless, at least the 308 does continue some of its playful feline touches like those in the headlights and taillights. The hatchback is certainly the sportier looking one compared to the station wagon, but personally I like the latter’s slightly tapering roofline which, dare I say it, is reminiscent of a Jaguar wagon. Interestingly, the 1.6 Petrol Allure test unit comes with a set of 17-inch alloy wheels, though the rolling stock are a size smaller at 16-inches.
Inside, the 308 continues with Peugeot’s move towards something classier. The cleaned up cockpit is by itself, more reminiscent of a concept car than a production compact. Immediately, I noticed the lack of physical buttons. The center stack, where you usually find a plethora of controls, is now just a piece of plastic with a strip of chrome and a large volume knob. Everything, and I mean everything, has been migrated to a large 9.7-inch touchscreen that provides access on everything from climate controls to infotainment to even vehicle settings. The touchscreen icons themselves are large and easy-to-hit, but the laggy response still has me wishing for separate controls for the climate at the very least.
Perceived material quality, is by and large, a strong feature of the 308’s interior. Most plastics are pleasing to the eye and the liberally placed metallic highlights work very well to spruce things up. Still, there are some areas of hard, scratchy plastics particularly in the area below the touchscreen. A piece of advice to Peugeot: if you’re not going to put any controls in that blank piece of plastic next to the volume knob, might as well go all out and make it look like the dash is floating.
The removal of the physical buttons is by far not the most controversial aspect of the 308. That award goes to the adoption of a small diameter steering wheel coupled with an instrument panel that’s mounted above the dashboard. Peugeot calls this the “i-Cockpit” concept and it’s supposed to improve driver visibility while eliminating the need for costly solutions like a heads-up display. Does it work? Having to look over the steering wheel instead of through them to see the gauges may take some getting used to, but yes, it does work. Taller or bigger drivers will understandably not rate the adoption of this set-up as a success, but what I found is that if you lower your seating position to more than your usual, it becomes fine. And on that note, the 308 does offer a lot of seating adjustment to keep things comfortable. Plus, the suede and leather combination seats also do a fine job of keeping everyone firmly glued in their thrones during spirited driving.
Though the front passenger will have nothing to complain about, the rear accommodation is less than stellar. Young children will find it easy to get comfortable, but more legroom is needed in order to fit three full-grown adults. The luggage space, whether on the hatchback or wagon is plentiful.