Peugeot’s Golf competitor arrives in its latest guise with one aim only — to take the crown as the best family hatchback
Photos by Azfar Hashim & Joel Tam
The family hatchback category has been a hotly contested one over recent years, but you don’t have to be a genius just to figure out who has been dominating. Yeap, the Golf has and still is the family hatchback to have; in fact, it’s such an idiot-proof solution as it packs so much into one package. And let’s also not forget how many variants it’s available in: 1,302 different ones, so there’s definitely one for everyone out there.
Ok, so I was just exaggerating and it doesn’t come in that many variants. The Mark 7 version on its own comes in a total of five models: a base 103 bhp 1.2-litre, then a hot-selling 121 bhp 1.4-litre, followed by a 160 bhp 1.4-litre ‘Sport’, the much-loved 217 bhp GTI and lastly, the revered 276 bhp R. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there’s a Golf for everyone.
Well there are other family hatchbacks available out there you can park your money at, namely the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, Opel Astra, Renault Megane, Chevrolet Cruze, Toyota Auris and BMW 116i even. Heck if you want something unconventional, you could even consider the new 5-door Mini. But Singaporeans have spoken and their choice, it seems, is still the Golf; like how the Corolla Altis is the ultimate choice if you’re looking for a family sedan.
Now what if you’re bored and want to be different? Something latest would be even better; for those, Peugeot presents their latest 308 hatchback.
I must say though, that at just one glance, it got my attention; while the Golf and the rest of the crowd seem to be a little angular, the 308 here has less sharp edges and more rounded surfaces, which is good, as it won’t stab pedestrians at zebra crossings. Then there’s the face - my word, it’s bloody handsome. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Channing Tatum of hatchbacks.
Viewed from the side, the 308 has all the proportions right, and you don’t get front and rear overhangs that make the car look awkward. Hunkered shoulder lines plus that broadened rear fender adds up to give the car a sort of presence. Oh, and another nice touch is that tail-lamp that resembles Pacman…
Inside, the 308 is a clear distance from its predecessor; while the previous 308 was idiot-proof and perhaps even bombproof, the new one here features more style and thoughtfulness in terms of overall quality. Most importantly, at least in here you know it was designed with a theme plus the designers were given freedom to explore their creativity and not just put together something under order of the company’s finance people or a boss that cares more about manufacturing costs. And I appreciate that about this car.
You get clear and concise control buttons and everything else — climate control, radio, multimedia, GPS, car’s real time info — all integrated into one screen. Sure, you need time to get used to toggling among the different functions but it is so darn clever as it prevents unnecessary clutter in the centre console. Then there’s the smallish steering wheel — wrapped in leather, it feels nice to the touch and makes people with tummy feel comfortable driving. This, I am sure, would also be appreciated by expecting mummies out there; but because it’s so easy for her to drive, you could end up making more babies than expected…
Build quality is so German, it’s hard to tell it apart in a blind test. But I’m sure you’d agree with me on this though: The locally fitted two-tone leather does look a tad out of place in a family hatchback like this. Terracotta brown or all black would’ve been appropriate enough; the red and black combo here seems, hmm, just too punk rock.
Minor gripe aside, there were some other more important issues with the 308’s interior that should have been sorted before the car was even approved for production. Being 2 mm shorter and with a wheelbase that is 17 mm lesser than the Golf, rear legroom has been compromised; and this is quite a disappointment considering how its predecessor, despite having a 14 mm shorter wheelbase, still feels very spacious for three adult passengers at the back. This one falls short in terms of legroom and you really have doubts about ferrying three comfortably. Perhaps the saving grace is the standard glass roof that gives a good (or false) sense of airiness throughout the cabin.
To be fair, praises must be given at how generous the boot space is. At 480-litres, it easily trumps the previous 308 (345-litre) and most importantly, the Golf’s (380-litre). And with the rear backrest down, it expands to 1,309-litres; that’s 39-litres more than the German if you must know. However when you come to think about it, Peugeot should’ve donated some of that space to improve passenger legroom instead…
Now lets get on with the technical bits. Under the bonnet lies a petrol-driven 3-cylinder, 12-valve 1.2-litre turbocharged powerplant, and mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, it whips out 129 bhp and 230 Nm of torque available from as low as 1,750 rpm. Now for comparison’s sake, the Golf 1.2 TSI produces 104 bhp and 175 Nm, the Mini One some 102 bhp and 180 Nm and the Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T 114 bhp and 165 Nm. Hence, it makes the 308 the most powerful among the other 1.2-litre turbocharged cars in the market; but in a funny twist, it takes the same time, 10.2 seconds, to get from 0 — 100 km/h as the VW and Mini. Mind. Blown.
The 308 bumbles along the expressway in a respectable and refined manner, with engine noise and transmission shifts barely felt when you’re conservative with the accelerator. The cabin is also well insulated against wind and road noise, showing just how much focus - pun intended - Peugeot put on the car’s overall refinement; for example, to actually hear some noise from the engine, you have to work it and push near the 5,000 rpm region.
Then at the same time you would notice how the tachometer is designed in a strange manner; we’re all used to seeing the needle climb in a clockwise direction, but in here, it’s the reverse. Which means you get a tachometer that climbs up in an anti-clockwise direction instead which is confusing and uncomfortable at the same time; the genius who thought this was interesting ought to be fired from the job. Not the sort of French quirk I was looking for…
In terms of handling, the 308 is one of the those rare hatchback that has a good performance/comfort balance although it still does feel slightly stiffer than the Golf’s; plus, if you’re currently driving the older 308, you would definitely appreciate how much more comfortable it is here. The steering response is, pretty much, faultless when you attack a series of bends — there’s good weight and feel to boot. Even body movement is well controlled and it’s also in this aspect that it edges the Golf.
Speaking of which, it is very obvious that the 308 wants to outdo the Golf. Looking at the equipment list, it also gets Park Assist standard which will help you get in and out of both parallel and reverse parking lots — a God sent feature for all urbanites who find parking your own car one of the top 10 stressful things to do in life. Blind spot monitor, usually seen only in more expensive cars, is surprisingly standard here too.
As a direct competitor to the Golf, the 308 has all the right boxes ticked. And looking at the $137k asking price, it slots comfortably between the $129k Golf EQP and $152k Golf Sport — obviously a strategy by the local Peugeot dealer to steer more attention away from the German by pricing the well equipped 308 ‘Allure’ version in that manner. “I can’t decide which Golf to get” — well, get the 308 then. “Damn it, my neighbor already has the Golf” — the 308 it shall be. “Why must the Mini be so expensive?” — just take the 308. You see, there are just so much reasons to get the 308. Ok, so the rear legroom is not exactly class leading and the tachometer needs serious getting used to, but as a whole, the 308 Allure delivers the best value-for-money in the family hatchback category — the lower road tax and insurance premium another trump card.