ROAD TEST: Peugeot 308 wagon is a Touring de force
Peugeot's 3008 and 5008 SUVs are spearheading the French brand's bid to re-establish itself as a player in Australia after a decade or so of decline and decay, caused by a lack of commitment from management, sporadic new product, overambitious pricing and that endemic French malaise: a well-earned reputation for unreliability.
It's a shame the brand still carries reliability baggage, because Peugeot, when inspired, is capable of very good things.
Such as the 308 Touring we're testing today. And, please, I know it's not an SUV but don't stop reading. This is just as good as, if not better than, a family wagon.
Peugeot's answer to the VW Golf, the 308 has been lauded as the French maker's best small car since the 306 of the mid-1990s.
It's had a few updates since launching in 2014, most recently late last year, when it picked up a suite of driver assist safety tech from the 3008, upgraded touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity and mirroring, a new shift by wire six-speed automatic, hands-free parking and the usual facelift/new rear lights treatment.
Priced at $37,990, the Allure Touring is the sole wagon in the 308 range. It runs a 2.0-litre turbo diesel with a relatively humble 110kW of power and a solid 370Nm of torque, driving the front wheels.
Standard equipment also includes one-touch windows all around, dual-zone aircon (plus a small chilled glovebox), leather wrapped steering wheel, cloth/Alcantara upholstery, manual seat adjustment, 17-inch alloys and manual tailgate.
Adjusting aircon temperature, distribution and fan speed is really easy with a set of manual controls, which the 308 does not have. On Peugeot's touchscreen, it becomes needlessly and dangerously distracting and difficult. You can't use voice to enter an Australian address into the navigation and digital radio is missing.
The driving position is unique. Analog dials (the 308 misses out on the digital instruments fitted to the 3008) are on top of the dash, so to see them properly you must have the steering wheel set low and the seat set high.
If you prefer it the other way around, le tough. The cute, petite steering wheel does feel sorta-kinda sporty - but the rest of the car isn't. Comfortable and supportive on long drives, the driver's seat has ample adjustability. It's tight in the back seat - typical of French cars - and though the high, firm bench is well suited to kids, they won't appreciate the absence of air vents and 12V/USB outlets.
Boot space is more generous than the 3008 SUV, with a whopping (for its size) 625L in five-seater mode (3008: 590L) and up to 1740L with the back seats folded (3008: 1670L), which also extends the boot floor to 1.8m.
The ride, on optional 18-inch wheels with 225/40 Michelins, is much firmer than the SUV, especially around town. On rough country roads, it's more compliant, though lacking the suppleness that once characterised Peugeots. This would be more evident on the standard
17-inch wheels, with taller tyres.
Adaptive cruise control and rear cross traffic alert are absent - partly compensating for the latter, the standard rear camera includes 360 degrees top down and 180 degrees rear views. Standard are auto emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping, fatigue alert, auto high/low beam and speed sign recognition.
Peugeot's 2.0-litre turbo diesel packs considerably less wallop here than in the 3008 SUV (133kW/400Nm) and the 0-100km/h trip takes a leisurely 10 seconds.
However, it's a sweet engine, with that characteristic oiler tractability - after a moment of lag when you first squeeze the accelerator - and strong overtaking performance.
Peugeot diesels are renowned for astonishing fuel economy. You can easily do mid-to-high fours on a highway cruise, which will give you more than 1000km from the 53L tank, while 7.0L-8.5L/100km around town, assisted by automatic stop-start, is hardly hoovering it down, either.
The six-speed auto does its thing without fuss. There are no paddle-shifters because they are not needed.
At almost 1400kg, much of it up front where the diesel lives, the Touring is no lightweight, and this is noticeable in corners where it feels nose heavy. The car turns accurately and predictably, with good feedback and strong front end grip, but the Peugeot lacks the balance, poise and agility of a Golf.
That said, it feels exceptionally solid, roadholding is safe and secure and the brakes are powerful and progressive.
I want an affordable European car but not a Volkswagen. The French are much nicer. Less competent, but nicer.
I drive long distances, so diesel works for me and, while I want a wagon, I don't want an SUV. It's a toss up between this and the Golf wagon. I'll test drive both.
VERDICT 3 STARS
Yet more proof that SUVs are not the only answer to the family wagon question. In most respects this is just as good as, if not better than, the 3008 GT, plus it's got a bigger boot and it costs $11,500 less.
PEUGEOT 308 ALLURE TOURING
PRICE: $37,990 (average)
SERVICE/WARRANTY: $3150 for 5 years (ridiculous) 5-year w'ty (good)
ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 110kW/370Nm (average)
SAFETY: 5 stars, 6 airbags, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping (good)
THIRST: 4.6L/100km (excellent)
SPARE: Space-saver (bad)
BOOT: 625L (big)
HOLDEN ASTRA SPORTWAGON LT, FROM $29,490
Super sharp pricing on new Euro import, with a punchy 110kW 1.4 turbo/six-speed auto, driver assist safety tech, great handling and 540L of boot space (1630L with all seats folded).
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF 110TDI HIGHLINE, FROM $38,990
The benchmark drive, with a 110kW 2.0 turbo diesel/seven-speed DSG. You're gouged an extra $1600 for driver assist safety that's standard in the Peugeot. Boot space is 605L/1620L.