Thursday, January 10, 2008

Peugeot 308 Review

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The Peugeot 307 replacement was a journey of discovery as we rustled it past vineyards, country houses and châteaux in a rustic corner of France.

WHAT'S a good antidote for jetlag after a 12-hour non-stop flight? A good sleep might help but this still does not come close enough to getting behind the steering wheel of a curvaceous hatchback with drop dead gorgeous looks.

In this case, it's the Peugeot 308 that is even more feline looking than the outgoing 307, especially when its oversized wraparound headlights pierce into your sleepy eyes with stunning sensuous energy.

Well, we did not only get one but a fleet of over 20 cars in various colours to choose from after landing at the airport of Colmar, a small town at France's eastern frontier with Germany.
Sporting a similar high-architecture profile and silhouette with the well-loved 307, the 308 certainly looks more aggressive with its much larger gaping radiator grille and prominent V-shaped bonnet.

In fact, the V-shape bonnet has a nose-like appearance and adds to the beefy looks.
At the end, it's just the long slim triangular headlights that soften the five-door 308's appearance dramatically to make the car appealing to both sexes and a wider audience.
After all, the outgoing 307 has been a sales success for Peugeot, with over three million examples produced and sold in a just six years.

Although the 308 comes with three petrol and three diesel engine options, we got to check out the 1.6-litre turbo THP and 1.6-litre VTi petrols, and the 2.0-litre HDI diesel during our stint.
Incidentally, the 308's petrol engines were co-developed by PSA Peugeot Citroen and BMW, and have even found their way into other Peugeot and BMW's MINI models.

These new engines offer high power and a muscular torque curve in their class while reducing fuel consumption and engine weight.

We'd guess that these variants are among the likeliest that newly appointed local Peugeot franchise holder Nasim Sdn Bhd might introduce in Malaysia.

All three cars come in manual transmission and so in this land of left-hand-drive cars, it was a fast relearning curve for our right arm to do the gear shifting.

Porsche Tiptronic automatic sequential transmission variants are also in the market but they were not made available during our drive.

Our first car was the 1.6THP, a superb four-potter with twin scroll turbocharger that gives an uncanny “diesel-like pulling power” at low speeds.

Just slot in the first gear and the power surges in rapidly, hardly without any turbo lag, and you feel yourself sinking into the leather seats.

There is a sporty exhaust note but the insulation of the 308 has somewhat muffled most of the engine sound from our ears.

The 1.6THP's five-speed manual gearbox is smooth, making gear changes easy and quick.

A fetching profile in a bucolic setting. Bring out the picnic baskets.The clutch pedal feel was meaty and not too stiff, with the bite coming in progressively so stalling the engine is not easy unless you have forgotten how to drive a manual car.

We managed to hit 190kph briefly on an open highway stretch enroute to Isenbourg, some 200km from Colmar, keeping in mind that the 1.6THP with 150bhp can still go faster.
At that speed, the 308 holds the driving line steadily with an assured and planted feel, enticing us to push the car even further.

But we decided to ease off the throttle to a leisurely cruise so as to enjoy the scenic French countryside - vineyards, country houses and all.

In our drive with the 120bhp 1.6VTi and 136bhp 2.0 HDI diesel variants, we could still feel the power surging in strongly although they might not match the 1.6THP's jackrabbit take-off.
The full 320Nm torque of 2.0 HDI kicks in at a low 2,000rpm, making this variant extremely easy for urban driving since we do not have to downshift as often compared with the petrol versions.

Inside, the 308 has a cosy seating, but with a high roofline, large windows and a dashboard set far away from the driver, there is a sense of space and airiness.

The rear legroom is still enough for average Malaysians but those over six feet might find it rather snug.

Our unit also came with a panoramic glass roof which extends to the back passenger side, accentuating the feeling of openness - helped by seeing the tips of pine trees rushing past above during our countryside drive.

The 308's accurate hydraulic-electric power steering gives a smooth and consistent feel for a very engaging driving experience.

Taking on the winding trunk roads near some woods around Isenbourg, the 308's taut and yet comfortable suspension with wider tracks could keep the car true to its driving line and body roll to a minimum.

The front seats' side bolsters also help to keep you planted should you want to be lead-footed on these curving roads.

On the instrument panel are a central LCD multi-information display, two large tachometer and speedometer dials accompanied by two smaller fuel and water temperature gauges.
Besides being white-faced, the dials and gauges are all chrome-ringed for a sporty and sophisticated look, which contrasts with the 308's dark dashboard.

Incidentally, the dashboard also has five circular chrome-ringed air-conditioner vents as well, giving a heavy dose of that sporty flavour. But it is one that we don't mind.

This chrome theme is even carried through the entire, with chrome-rings for the two rear air-conditioner vents, door release handles, climate control dials and even gear shifter knob.
The 308 does not only aim to excite its drivers through just its looks and handling, but also through its smell!

There is a perfume dispenser on the air-conditioner vent that slowly releases a pleasant flowery fragrance into every nook and cranny of the car.

You might think that airport perfume promoters wanting to close some sales had just splattered the interior of the 308 with their latest offerings.

Our cars also came with a satellite navigation system equipped with voice prompts and visual guidance projected onto the dashboard LCD screen and the instrument panel's multi function display.

During a car swap session, we were left struggling to change the sat-nav's language setting to English since the previous users had set it to French.

We gave up our countless attempts to reset it to English and just continued driving to our next pre-programmed destination, listening to instructions in French besides getting loads of help from the visual prompts.

And of course, a route book with tulip guide prepared by Peugeot for this emergency proved to be a lifesaver.

The 308 never comes up short in the safety department, and depending on the specifications level, can be equipped with up to nine airbags.

Other features include a five-star European NCAP crash rating, anti-lock braking system, electronic stability programme, lane departure warning system, all-round disc brakes and bi-xenon headlights.

Expect the 308 to arrive in the second half of the year to give the Peugeot brand a boost.
StarMotoring has been informed that Nasim might bring in the high-end 308 fully imported, while entry-level versions would be locally assembled.

As for pricing, expect this head-turner to be competitively positioned against its brethren European hatchback rivals.

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