While the Peugeot 208 GTi grabbed a lot of attention at the ongoing Paris Motor Show, a small group of South African motoring journalists got the opportunity last week to travel to France and drive the new 308 — the European Car of the Year and a vehicle destined for the South African market next year.
The roll out of the 308 range for local motorists will be staggered and will comprise the following — the GT-Line in March, Active in June and the much anticipated sports version, the GT, in September. The 308 is a five-door hatch with neat proportions, but there is little evidence on the exterior to suggest that what lies beneath its bonnet is perhaps one of the sweetest engines around at the moment in this particular segment.
Sure, our test car came with some attractive 17-inch alloy mag wheels and the appearance of sitting quite low, but there is little else to suggest that the three-cylinder 1.2-litre turbo- charged PureTech petrol engine is such a treat. This will be the same engine we will find in the GT-Line (96kW, 230Nm, six-speed manual) and Active (82kW, 205Nm, 5 speed manual), although the GT will get a 1.6-litre engine (151kW, 285Nm, six-speed manual).
Perhaps it also has something to do with the low weight of the car (965kg), thanks to a lighter engine and use of aluminium in construction. But I have to admit that on the open road, the 308 is one of the best cars I’ve driven in a while. It is definitely a driver’s car but doesn’t compromise when it comes to the practicalities of town driving. The small sports leather steering wheel, which has minimal function buttons, feels comfortable and the car handled well through the sweeping bends at speeds faster than we should have been driving as we took on the French highways and then the rural farm lands.
Yet, all the while, you feel this is a car that wants to be pushed. We duly obliged! Trucks are banned from French roads on a Sunday, which was perfect for us as we opened up the engine with a little more enthusiasm than we should have. Noise intrusion in the cabin, even at high speeds, is minimal. Short shifts with the chunky six-speed gear stick has the speedometer working overtime and it will redline at 6 000rpm with indecent haste. Switch to sports mode and although the car didn’t necessarily feel a lot quicker, it certainly sounds better, with a throaty growl filtering in to the cabin.
The speedometer and rev counter also illuminate to a bright red colour for effect. Interior quality is excellent. Soft-touch materials are used on the dashboard and brushed aluminium trimmings are tastefully used on the door handles and in various other places. The dashboard is quite understated, with a navigation screen taking centre stage. Apart from that, it is just the essentials — and the effect is uncluttered class. An automatic release handbrake is becoming increasingly common these days and the 308 is no exception. Not only is it a function that works well, but it also saves space and looks a lot more sophisticated than a normal hand brake.
Our test vehicle came with a panoramic sky roof and the seats were a combination of leather and Alcantara. The 308 is equipped with a surprisingly large boot and extra storage space is available by easily folding down the rear seats. Judged by a panel of motoring journalists as the European Car of the Year and after driving it over two days there simply aren’t any surprises there.
Pricing for the Peugeot 308 will only be confirmed closer to launch date but the GT-Line is likely to cost around R339900; the Active R275 900 and the GT R384 900.