Located on the French Riviera and hugging the glorious Mediterranean coastline, the city of Cannes plays host to such epic global events as the International Film Festival and the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Well now the Cote D’Azur township can add another great action-packed event to its line up, the international press launch of the new Peugeot 308.
The 308 was originally launched in 2007 as a successor to the 307, and not only has it notched up over 1,300,000 sales over its first couple of generations but it’s also grabbed multiple awards including the coveted European Car of the Year. So obviously a new 308 had big shoes to fill.
Peugeot began by asking both their customers and other full-sized hatch drivers what they actually wanted, and discovered that they desired a vehicle that ‘struck the perfect balance between style and performance’, a vehicle with a low centre of gravity for greater dynamics and greater driving pleasure but to top it off, they wanted a vehicle with a strong personality. And with the new 308, that’s exactly what they’ve got.
Now regardless of the global move towards SUVs, the hatch segment is traditionally the core of the European car market and as such very important to all. Virtually every car manufacturer has an offering in this segment with the premium brands taking leadership. As a brand, Peugeot have positioned themselves as an inventive, high-end generalist and it’s this ethos plus electrification (70% of the vehicles that Peugeot offer now are electrified, moving to 100% by 2024) that is showcased in the new 308.
The new Peugeot 308 is built on an evolution of the EMP2 (Efficient Modular Platform) multi-energy platform, meaning that not only does it offer even greater efficiency, safety, driving pleasure and comfort but it also in NZ, comes in both petrol and PHEV variants.
The hatchback’s overall shape and design has been adapted to stand out in a busy category and it’s personality plus all the way. The cascading style grille introduces the new Peugeot ‘lions head’ coat of arms, which is a big deal as it’s the first Peugeot to adopt this brand new logo. Not only does it signify the giant leap in the brand’s upmarket identity but behind it sits the radar for the adaptive cruise system (one of many state of the art driver’s aids that the new 308 has. The grille itself is bookended by Peugeot’s signature DRLs and slim, matrix LED headlights and it’s all underscored with stylised lower vents.
The new 308’s profile includes chiseled character lines, pronounced wheel arches and sills, sporty alloys and Peugeot’s coat of arms on the front wings, while the rear boasts claw-like LEDs, a characteristic full width style line, a rear diffuser between integrated exhaust tips and an extended roofline spoiler.
With CO2 being the ‘new currency’ in the automotive industry, the new 308 has received extra aerodynamics attention and according to Peugeot they’ve reduced its C02 by 2g which is a lot, it now boasts a Cx of 0.28.
Size wise, the 308’s wheelbase has grown by 55mm increasing the cabin space for extra passenger comfort. The length has been increased by 11cm to 4.36m and the height is now 20mm lower, making its dynamic proportions very different from previous generations.
The 308’s excellent build quality is apparent the moment you slip inside the cabin, a feeling that’s accentuated by the reassuringly heavy thud when you close the doors.
The front seats have been awarded the AGR (Aktion für Gesunder Rücken) seal of approval and as such are very ergonomically form-fitting and comfy, while the cabin materials, including embossed leather with an Adamite colour signature thread, Alcantara and deep drawn aluminium emphasise its premium position.
The ‘high-vent’ dashboard architecture offers both efficiency and driver/passenger comfort and this layout means that the central 10-inch infotainment touch screen is in a more natural position and easy to reach. The brand new infotainment system, the PEUGEOT i-
Connect is as simple to use as a tablet with swipe and slide functionality, it has a three-finger touch home menu feature and configures quickly with your phone. TomTom provides the navigation and Focal provides the tunes with 10 speakers and 690 watts of power.
The press event was actually based at Cannes-Mandelieu airport, which came with an array of premium private jets that filled the runway beside us.
Peugeot had organised different driving routes that best suited the model being tested, (Hatchback or Station Wagon, Petrol, Diesel, PHEV). As I was concentrating primarily on the GT hatch, it meant that I drove the same hour thirty or so loop in both the Petrol, 3-cylinder 1.2L PureTech 130 (96kW/230Nm) with an 8-speed EAT8 gearbox and the HYBRID 225 (162kW/360Nm) e-EAT8 PHEV powertrains, commencing with the petrol.
The route was pre-loaded into the TomTom live traffic navigation system and displayed in full colour on the 10-inch infotainment screen. It came complete with way points too so all I needed to do was keep an eye on the rather hectic French traffic.
Despite being on the wrong side of both the car and road, the 308’s cabin felt like a perfectly natural place to be. The seats are cosseting and yet allow you plenty of unrestricted movement, while the cabin itself feels spacious, certainly for a hatchback. The tiny steering wheel makes entry and exit easy and provides unrestricted views of the 10-inch 3D instrument cluster behind, (which I had personalised to include the navigation option), all changeable via the indicator stalk.
All round visibility is good with wedge style A-pillars, large and stylish door mirrors and a frameless rear view mirror plus as mentioned before, all the toggles and switches are well within reach.
The absence of a gear stick in the centre console again unclutters the landscape and having the drive mode toggle (with options such and Sport, Comfort or later, Electric only) so close at hand, made it easy to switch up or down to suit the pace required. There’s also a dedicated slot for wireless phone charging too.
The route guidance took me straight onto the Autoroute and the 1.2L quickly nipped up to 100km/h. The road noise was minimal and the suspension seemed to literally absorb all the blemishes from the tarmac below. There’s a nice weight to the wheel that gets progressively heavier as your speed increases.
Free of the Autoroute the voice guidance took me off into the hills around the Prealpes D’Azur National Park and all the twisting winding roads that it entailed, essentially hatchback heaven. In Sport mode, The 308’s roadholding is quick and nimble with a throttle response to match, sure it’s a 1.2L 3-cylinder so not exactly supercar territory, but nevertheless the hatch’s agility was smile inducing, with plenty of driving fun to be had. French van drivers appear to have no sense of fear and will squeeze their big diesel vans through the tiniest of spaces, however, despite the new 308 being larger than before, it too seemed to breathe in well when required.
Returning safely back to the base in Cannes, I swapped into the PHEV. The new 308 is Peugeot’s first electrified C-Segment vehicle, which they say is a revolution for them and it’s easy to see why. The 1.2L was quiet, but the PHEV is quieter still, and quicker, more techie and more fuel efficient. It combines a 1.6L ICE engine with a 81kW electric motor, powered by a 12.4kWh battery and giving you up to 60km of EV only range. What’s more, it switches seamlessly between the power sources.
As I said, the route was the same so I got more involved in what the 308 had to offer. The adaptive cruise control is easy to engage and the long range (75m) blind spot, traffic sign, pedestrian and cyclist detection gives you an extra set of eyes front and rear. The 308 comes with “OK PEUGEOT” voice recognition command to control the infotainment but for some reason I couldn’t trigger it, guess it’s my English accent. It’s all very smart and loaded with aids but there’s also a few upgrades next year (Drive assist 2.0 – Semi-automatic lane change, Anticipated speed and Curve adaptation) that will take the 308 to the next level.
Running just below the infotainment screen is an i-toggles panel that can again be personalised in display order. They allow you quick access to features such as Media, Climate and Mirror Screens, but in the PHEV, there’s also quick access to the EV screens which display the energy flow, charging details and efficiency statistics, which are reported to be 1.2L/100km and emissions of 27g/km.
My pick of the two 308 hatchbacks would be the PHEV and have it dressed in Olivine Green. It exemplifies all that both the model and the brand has to offer, with oodles of personality thrown in for good measure. Cannes may be renowned for celebrities and the Film Festival, but the new 308’s signature lights, state of art driving aids, 360 degree camera and dynamic hatchback driving action really was the feature presentation.