The Peugeot 308 has never been a car to set pulses racing, but don't be fooled by its understated looks. Peugeot's sold over 84,000 since the 308 was released in 2007, making it the company's second most popular car on these shores in recent times. Clearly, our French chums are onto a good thing, so it's no surprise to see the comany has released three brand new 308 models for 2011 -- the five-door hatchback, the SW estate and the CC coupe convertible.
We went hands-on with the £19,295, five-door, e-HDi hatchback model, which promises high economy and low CO2 emissions, to see what all the fuss is about. The range starts at around £15,245.
Fix your face
The 308 e-HDi has received a facelift for 2011. While it's hardly breathtaking, it's a fairly handsome car from some angles. This latest model boasts a range of tweaks to its front end, including slightly modified headlight clusters, boomerang-shaped LED day-running headlights, and a less pointed bonnet snout than we saw on the previous car. It holds its own alongside new rivals, such as the 2011 Ford Focus.
Peugeot has applied a range of tweaks beneath the surface, too. The company has put the 308 on a diet, reducing the weight of all models in the range by a fairly significant 25kg, in a bid to improve fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions.
In the e-HDi model, the company's also fitted low-rolling-resistance tyres that travel across the road surface with less drag than standard rubber, and a new 1.6-litre HDi FAP 112 Euro 5 diesel engine.
Sadly, the car's eco credentials aren't quite up there with the very best in its class. The car emits CO2 at a rate of 119g/km and has a combined economy of 60.1mpg, which isn't quite as good as the market-leading Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion. That car spits out 99g/km and returns 74.3mpg. That said, Peugeot also has a special edition 308 Oxygo up its sleeve, promising numbers that are more in line with its most Earth-friendly rivals.
Stop starting on me
The 308 e-HDi sports a 'micro hybrid' system. This is a fancy term for stop-start technology. It switches the 308 e-HDi's engine off when the vehicle reaches a standstill and reactivates it again when the driver pulls away -- all in the name of burning less fuel.
We've seen this sort of tech before on family econoboxes, but Peugeot's implementation is memorable for several good -- and not-so-good -- reasons. Peugeot's solution only shuts down the engine if the driver engages neutral when the vehicle is at a standstill -- the engine will continue to run if you merely dip the clutch. This can be slightly annoying if you're in stop-start traffic, as it means you physically have to move the gear lever into the neutral position and back into gear each time, rather than merely dipping the clutch temporarily while you wait for traffic to start rolling.
Thankfully, the restart is quick and relatively judder-free. The system even comes with a counter, mounted adjacent to the speedometer, that records the amount of time the 308 e-HDi has spent not burning fossil fuels. It's something of a gimmick -- we'd have preferred the counter to show how much fuel we'd saved, or how much CO2 we'd prevented escaping into the environment -- but it serves as a reminder that switching the engine off instead of idling is worthwhile in the long term.
Despite its namby-pamby focus on low emissions, the 308 e-HDI is pleasant to drive. The engine pulls strongly above 3,000rpm, and it's reasonably quiet and refined, particularly in traffic, when its start-stop system shuts the engine off. The car's suspension is soft and comfortable, without being too wallowy when cornering at normal speeds, but push it harder through twisty roads and it begins to lean quite noticeably.
The 308 e-HDi's cabin is a pleasant place to be. It feels light, contemporary and airy, thanks to the enormous, panoramic glass roof. Those who feel shy about having their bald spot on show to people on buses can deploy a set of motorised blinds at the touch of a button.
The car's entertainment set-up doesn't break any new ground. Our test car was fitted with Peugeot's Smartnav Dynamic Navigation Unit, which has its ups and downs. It accepts seven-digit postcodes, which negates the need to enter lengthy street names and makes entering your destination easy, and it offers live traffic updates that show traffic hot spots. But, given that the unit costs £659 and lacks the features of some third-party GPS systems, you may want to think twice about adding it to to your car's spec sheet.
The price is frightening
Peugeot offers a rather charming-sounding JBL audio system in its 308 CC coupe convertible, but the audio set-up in our e-HDi is standard fare for family hatchbacks. That said, the stereo features plenty of options for external connectivity, to bolster the usual AM/FM and CD playback features.
Peugeot offers an auxiliary input port, which lets you play sound from any audio device over the car's speakers, for a reasonable £42. Those who want something more hi-tech can also opt for the USB Box connectivity set -- a £235 option that lets you play music via an iPod or mass-storage USB device. Sadly, there's no option for a DAB radio.
Bluetooth connectivity is well catered for in the 308. The most expensive option in this area is Peugeot's integrated Bluetooth system, which wil set you back an eye-watering £296 with an LCD display, or £245 without the display. It's expensive, but it does allow you to answer, hang up and dial calls using voice control.
If that's too rich for your blood, Peugeot also provides the option of a third-party Supertooth One hands-free kit, which clips to the sun visor, for £65. We'd recommend shopping around for similar gadgets, though, as there are plenty of rival systems available for less.
The Peugeot 308 e-HDi is a solid all-rounder. It's comfortable, looks smart and drives well. It can't quite match some of its rivals when it comes to emissions, fuel economy and technology, however. It's hardly a bad car, but rivals, such as the Ford Focus, offer slightly more.
Edited by Charles Kloet