Back on track

Rear-guard action fails to rattle the 308

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

PEUGEOT’S decision to contain the latest 308 within traditional C-segment hatchback dimensions – in other words, small – can work both for and against it.

Two close friends each drive current Volkswagen Golfs, and rarely transport anybody in the back. While the German car’s generous rear-seat space was appreciated the few times it was required, both admit they would probably trade a bit of that extraneous size for more of the parkingfriendly compactness and manoeuvrability of the Peugeot.

The 308 is 96mm shorter and 34mm lower than the Golf, though it is 5mm wider, and its 435-litre boot capacity is 55 litres larger. Both sit on a 2620mm wheelbase. Surely the VW offers the better experience for passengers?

You’d think so, but two four-up journeys in the Pug totalling 700km challenged that impression. It was a surprise just how accommodating that French back seat was when carrying two adults of 180 and 165cm.

Contoured cushions with firm support where required, a centre armrest with cup holders, scalloped front seat-backs and blissfully limited road/tyre noise intrusion all do their bit for a quiet, relaxed and comfortable journey in the back.

The lack of rear vent outlets – one of our earliest criticisms – wasn’t missed, either, due to the massive centre-dash vents that can supply areas of the cabin some rival cars cannot.

Later it occurred to me that the low seating, narrow rear glass, high parcel shelf and relatively shallow side windows probably make the Peugeot feel more petite inside than it really is.

From behind the tiny wheel, however, these things, along with the low dash cowl, are a real boon in the inner ’burbs. Add in the 308’s sharp steering, silky and supple ride quality and punchy off-the-line performance, and you have a taut and premium driving experience that seems well beyond its sub-$30K pricing.

So our Gallic hatchback’s packaging and comfort are not at all hampered by its compactness, and it still feels very grown up in the rough and tumble of city driving.

Even from the back seat, Peugeot’s renaissance continues. ng

BLIND SPOT

Only audio and phone pick-up steering wheel buttons are illuminated, making volume adjustment and cruise control guesswork

Grand Touring

IN CONTRAST to the short-and-sweet hatch, the 308 Touring wagon has a stretched wheelbase (increased by 110mm), a taller roof, longer rear doors and a completely redesigned back seat that prioritises space. Its 625L/1740L cargo capacity significantly trumps VW’s Golf equivalent. It’s how the better French wagons have always been, including the Citroen DS Safari (1958) and 504 Break/Familiale (1970). But why Aussies are now only offered the more expensive Touring versions (from $35K) is a mystery.

OurGarage

PEUGEOT 308 ACTIVE

Date acquired: March 2015 Price as tested: $28,340 This month: 1292km @ 6.6L/100km Overall: 2589km @ 6.5L/100km Da Pri Thi Ove