Styling, well built, good equipment levels
Interior won’t be for everyone, rear seat space can be a squeeze
What is it?
It’s the new 308 SW. Depending on various factors, this could be your new family transport, company car, or possibly something you’ll end up renting. Peugeot has shifted in excess of 1.3m 308s in its lifetime, so whatever it is it’s highly significant to the company’s bottom line. We’ve driven the five-door hatch, now here’s the SW semi-estate. In an ocean of compact crossovers, an estate feels like a retro concept. But is it one you should bother with?
The big step forward here is the arrival of a plug-in hybrid. Beyond that, the 308 represents further evidence of Peugeot’s concerted push both upmarket and its commitment to delivering something palpably different. Few mainstream car companies have executed a more convincing design volte-face than these guys, and the new 308’s dramatic aesthetic keeps the faith with the quasi-concept car look of the 2008 and 3008 crossovers. The front end positions the bold new Peugeot badge in the middle of an equally punchy grille, the long nose doing most of the visual heavy lifting.
The SW’s wheelbase has grown by 55mm for more room in the rear compartment, and its rear overhang is 21cm longer for more load space. It’s also impressively slippery with a drag coefficient of 0.28, in part thanks to a new generation of low drag aero wheels. Peugeot has also pumped up the colour palette. Even the Olivine Green is pretty extrovert, and particularly suits the SW, for reasons we can’t quite fathom. But we’ve just checked and its not available in the UK. New Avatar Blue it is, then.
It looks better than most estates…
The SW isn’t an inherently pretty car but it’s imaginatively surfaced and doesn’t look like anything else out there – especially in wagon form. And it’s French. Vive la difference and all that.
Peugeot’s polarising i-Cockpit has received some ameliorations, the standard 10.0in touchscreen reworked and newly available with a row of ‘i-Toggle’ short-cut buttons. Peugeot calls it i-Connect Advanced. The steering wheel still looks like a TIE fighter from the Star Wars universe and sits unusually and, for many, uncomfortably low. We like the fact that Peugeot has stuck to its guns on this, but it’s so wilfully idiosyncratic that it risks overwhelming the driving and ownership experience. Don’t let it be a deal-breaker, is all we’d say.
Peugeot’s aim – get this – is to be an ‘inventive high-end generalist’ brand, marketing jibber-jabber that disguises a range of cars that are as well engineered and robust as any of its more apparently esteemed rivals. So talk of the 308 mixing it with the likes of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class isn’t too far-fetched, alongside C-segment stalwarts such as the Ford Focus and VW Golf.
The SW range is admirably streamlined for the UK and starts with the 1.2-litre PureTech 130 or the 1.5-litre BlueHDi 130 diesel. There are two plug-in hybrid powertrains, in 180 (177bhp) or 225 (221bhp) forms. Both of these are powered by a 1.6-litre PureTech petrol engine augmented by an 81kW (109bhp) electric motor and a 12.4kWh lithium ion battery, and use the e-EAT eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices for the SW begin at £25,200 for the PureTech 130 in Active Premium form.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The 308 lands in a class that is absolutely rammed with talent, endless possibilities and where deals can be done even in chip-limited times. Peugeot has rolled the dice on design, inside and out, which might deter the more conservative elements of the customer base. The rest of us should applaud this creatively emboldened approach, but on top of that there’s quality of execution, lots of tech, and highly competent if not class-leading dynamics. The Hybrid 180, in particular, ticks most of the boxes. It could also be strongly argued that the SW is the version to go for: spec it carefully and you have a fast, practical and efficient compact estate that’s also so stealthy no one will see you coming. Not exactly a 205 GTI successor but more fun than you might imagine.