New Peugeot GT 308 has plenty of panache and is great to drive

When it comes to cars South Africans are notoriously snobbish. The talk round any braai fire inevitably at some stage turns to motoring and more often than not BMW and Mercedes are named as top contenders in their market segment.

001-off-my-wheelsBrian Joss – Lower down the ladder Volkswagen’s popular Golf  7 gets mentioned. And it competes in the same C-market segment as the new Peugeot 308 along with the Ford Focus and the Audi A3 Sportback but the French marque hardly enters the conversation as it always seems to fly under the radar. But this may soon change.

The French manufacturer has a long and proud history and their cars have carried the “lion” logo with pride through the years.

The Peugeot GT 308: a stylish looking car that won’t be out of place outside the grandest hotels. Picture: Motorpress
The Peugeot GT 308: a stylish looking car that won’t be out of place outside the grandest hotels. Picture: Motorpress

The family business that came before the present Peugeot company, was established in 1810, and made coffee mils and bicycles, according to Wikipedia. Emile Peugeot in November 1858 applied for the lion trademark. Armand Peugeot built the company’s first vehicle, an unreliable steam tricycle, together with Leon Serpollet in 1889, followed by an internal combustion car with a Panhard-Daimler engine. As in the best of families there was some argy-bargie and Armand Peugeot founded the Société des Automobiles Peugeot  in 1896. The  lion has gone through several dramatic changes since 1847 when Peugeot made saw blades and and they chose the lion as the logo to reflect the strength and suppleness of its saws and its other tools. There were various versions of a gilt lion which were later replaced by a new generation logo, the lion in outline which was first seen on the 604 in 1975. It hasn’t changed much although it has evolved in to a more fluid design. And it is this same logo that the new  Peugeot 308 GT Line carries with pride.

It’s a stylish looking car, with plenty of panache as only the French can do. The 308 made its worldwide debut in May 2013 and in 2014 won the European Car of the Year beating the BMW i3 and the Mercedes Benz S-Class along the way. The records show that the Golf 7 took the title the previous year.

The second generation 308 which I put through its paces in and around the Peninsula, over some mountain passes, stretches of long open road and in some gridlock traffic was a dream to drive, even when the roads were jammed. I’m not generally a fan of manual gearboxes:  my first choice is always automatic, that’s probably because I’m lazy. But the sixth speed manual box fitted to the turbocharged 1.6 hatchback worked superbly. The changes were smooth and precise and I always knew when to move up or down thanks to the information included on the Peugeot’s i-Cockpit instrument panel. It took a while to find the right driving position (the steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach), but once I found it, it was supremely comfortable with the bucket seats offering good support. French cars always have their odd quirks: in the 308, the needle in the rev-counter travels in an anti-clockwise direction.

You can also change to Sport mode and you can feel a distinct difference.  It firms up the electric power steering, sharpens the throttle response while the info screen will show the power and torque delivered and turbo pressure, among others, and gives a more dynamic driving experience, as opposed to the more relaxed style when the sports mode is not activated.

There is no doubt that the new 308 is a quality product: the finishes are excellent and there are no icky bits of cheap plastic and the cabin is neat with a distinct lack of knobs sticking out everywhere. The 9.7 inch infotainment centre is easy to use with all the data you need just a finger touch away. Although operating the aircon via the screen is not without its problems. Interestingly, the 308 is equipped with an electronic parking brake which means that there is even more space in the cabin and adds to the clean look. And the doors close with a satisfying thunk.

I really enjoyed driving the Peugeot 308 GT Line. The 308 uses the EMP2 platform that it shares with Citroën’s Picasso C4 (tested) and the result is a smooth ride indeed, even over the gravel stretch on my test route. The 308 slid around the bends with great aplomb, and at no time did I think I was losing it.  The 308 is responsive and it pulls off quite easily at a low rev range. The engine is also quiet, so quiet that when I visited a shopping mall, I thought I had forgotten to turn off the engine, so I went back to check.  There was hardly any cabin noise to speak of. And it hums along happily at the legal limit with power to spare. I also didn’t detect any turbo lag.

Boot space is generous at 420 litres expanding to an enormous 1 228 litres when the back seats are folded down. So you can easily pack a month’s shopping into the boot or holiday luggage. Included is a full-sized spare wheel, unusual, when most manufacturers are using space savers. One thing though, I thought the boot lid was somewhat heavy and you needed a bit of muscle to lift it. However, it’s easy to load.  Speaking of space, the Peugeot can accommodate three adults with ease at the rear with ample headroom, although not so much legroom but none of the passengers complained.

For the petrol heads who like figures: the new 308 GT is THP four-potter. The high pressure turbocharged 1.6 (1.598cc to be precise) puts out 151 kW @6 000 rpm with torque of 285 N.m @ 1 750 rpm. There is also stop-start technology which helps to reduce fuel consumption, although my figures didn’t quite match Peugeot’s claimed 5.6 litres/ 100km giving a range of 950 km from the 53 litre tank. I calculated I used a little over 6 litres/100km, which is not too bad, over a test route which included mountain passes, city driving and deserted country roads.

Peugeot says the 308 GT can go from  0-100km in 7.5 seconds with a top speed of  235 km/h.

Now something about the design: it has a sleek aerodynamic shape; the grille has three blades with the Peugeot lion in the centre; the headlights have 62 separate LED (light emitting diode) elements as well as LED daytime running lights. The test car was fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres.

Safety features include six airbags, stability control, ABS with EBD, brake assist and hill-start assist, to name some.  Other nice-to-haves include dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker audio system, parking sensors front and back, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, partial leather upholstery, electric adjustment for the front seats, a massaging function up front, a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, and parking sensors front and rear and an open and go system with keyless entry and start-stop button, neatly positioned to your left on the centre console.

Summing up: I was really sad when the Peugeot 308 GT had to go back. I enjoyed driving it and with its classy French touch it wouldn’t  look out of place outside the Mother City’s grandest hotels. When next I’m in the market for a new car the GT will definitely be near the top of my list.  That said, the 308 , come to think of it, would be quite at home in my driveway.

* It carries a price tag of R391 900 (but check with your dealer) and includes a three-year/ 100 km warranty and a five-year/100 000 km full premium maintenance plan.

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