THIS is the car we thought would never happen again; a Peugeot that strives to be a cut above not just mainstream competition, but also anything similar in size at any price.
For about 15 years from the mid-1980s, models such as the 205, 306, 405 and 406 rose above the pack thanks to exciting dynamics married to exquisite design. Of course, greedy pricing and patchy tech – French automatics were always rubbish, for example – meant that their full impact in Australia was somewhat watered down.
In the 2000s, Peugeots degenerated into dreary and at times ugly and unreliable dross, to the point of near bankruptcy a couple of years ago. Today’s billion-euro T9-series 308 is Peugeot’s last chance, and its greatest hope.
We’re already fans. In base 96kW e-THP guise, the second-gen 308 has beguiled on several occasions: first on an international drive last September, then at COTY 2014 (where it very nearly beat the winning BMW i3), and most recently in a comparo against the Volkswagen Golf and Renault Megane, though the German pipped the base Access on price, space and equipment.
Considering how average its hideous predecessor was, calling the French five-door hatch a comeback kid is an understatement.
And now it joins Our Garage for the next six months. Well, seven months as it turns out, because miscommunication on both sides saw a well and truly used 5000km press car from WA arrive on our Melbourne doorstep.
This was a golden opportunity because in the weeks before our correct Active 96kW e-THP auto arrived, we experienced first-hand how it stacked up in light of Peugeot’s repeated promise that quality and durability have improved under an obsessive new regime that included 120 percent more testing cycles and more than four million kilometres of research and development.
We added another 5000km in six weeks, criss-crossing Victoria and New South Wales, and not a single squeak, rattle or breakage blotted the Peugeot’s performance. The hard-worked 308 averaged 6.5L/100km while impressing with its spirited acceleration, light-footed handling agility, cosseting ride and brilliant refinement.
A Melbourne-Albury round trip in biblically torrential rain and almost cyclonic winds did not phase the gutsy Peugeot, parting the temporary Hume Highway River like Moses.
And we preferred ours to the less supple Allure 1.6 and GT versions we were driving up there to assess. The 1.2 turbo-triple Active is definitely the range’s sweet-spot.
This is starting to sound like a long-term report in reverse, but how can we pass up the opportunity to assess an older car that has not been prepared for us? The only issues with old CTV-21E were useless rain gutters (get ready to get a soaking if it’s wet enough out there) and tighter rear-seat legroom than the admittedly longer Golf.
Anyway, in the end we didn’t want to give ‘Bluey’ back, until our lustrously red replacement landed with just 10km on the odometer. What a contrast.
No reversing camera is a massive oversight (though the rear sensors do include a handy ‘pictogram’), but otherwise CWY-07A is well equipped, bringing useful goodies such as Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, lumbar and height adjustment for both front seats, a rear backrest ski-port, multi-function central touchscreen and 16-inch alloys (wearing Goodyear Efficient Grip 205/55R16 tyres that are outstandingly supple).
In 1300km of running-in mileage, the 96kW/230Nm 1.2 three-pot turbo feels almost as peachy as old Bluey’s did at 10,000km.
It’s so encouraging to see that the Peugeot of old is back.
Even after more than 5000km in a navy blue Active, we were anything but washed-up with the 308
ROOTING around the driver’s footwell searching for a dropped phone revealed this horror – a gaping hole for the steering column, serving as a reminder that Peugeot isn’t quite at Japanese levels of quality yet. On the other hand, CWY-07A continues the 308’s run of otherwise impressive workmanship, with no mystery noises or loose trim. Also, the size-16 shoes that often operate these pedals have space to spare, and that’s not always the case with cars originally engineered for LHD.
Date acquired: March 2015 Price as tested: $28,340 This month: 1297km @ 6.4L/100km Overall: 1297km @ 6.4L/100km