Paul Horrell31 March 2014

First drive: Peugeot 308 SW

Paul Horrell drives the estate version of the European Car of the Year. Better than a Golf wagon?

A month ago the Peugeot 308 won the European Car of the Year trophy. The BMW i3 didn't. Nor did the Tesla Model S. At the time, the wider world viewed this outcome with widespread bafflement.

But it wasn't as odd as it seemed. Peugeot has been working on some new versions of the 308.Way ahead of time, the manufacturer let those of us who judge CotY have a go in some of those variations before the official launch. On condition we kept mum until today.

Er, in no way, then, was it a jury-nobbling exercise. But I'm not here to debate the rights and wrongs of that. Let's talk about the cars.

First off, the 308 SW. That's estate in Peugeot-speak. It's an excellent device. They've gone to the trouble of lengthening the wheelbase so it's roomier in the back seat than the hatch, as well as absolutely colossal in the boot. It's got a clever one-hand seat-fold arrangement that gives you a flat floor in a jiffy. And it looks good and drives as well as the hatch - I know because I tried them back-to-back.

Next there's the 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine. Even in the estate (the shorter and lighter hatchback does yet better) this engine goes through the official cycle at 60.1mpg while making 130bhp and 173lb ft of torque. Those are numbers that would have looked good for rattly diesel a couple of years ago. But this is a sweet, torquey, responsive, revvy petrol. It vastly over-delivers on its diddy 1.2-litre displacement.

Also new is a greatly revised 1.6-litre 120bhp diesel, labelled BlueHDi. This one comes in an eco-special 308. It takes maximum advantage of the new car's 140kg weight cut versus the predecessor, and it has a long gearbox and active grille shutters and low rolling resistance tyres and whatnot. All of which gets it down to just 82g/m, a figure better than the equivalent Toyota Auris hybrid.

The best thing about the BlueHDi is it doesn't feel like a parsimony peddler. The special tyres still manage to get a grip, the ride isn't fidgety, the engine doesn't have flat spots. The better for your company car tax and children's health, it even meets Euro 6 regulations.

Oh and there's also a new 180bhp diesel engine, again meeting Euro 6. It squeezes you forward with most satisfyingly ease. I tried it with a nicely responsive and efficient six-speed auto, and very quick-acting belt-drive start-stop system.

None of these things will change the world in themselves, but they do show that the French have now got their wits about them and can comfortably compete on bodies and powertrains with the best out there.

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