Day one: This is Peugeot’s new Golf-sized car. It replaces the old 308 and, by rights, it should be called the 309. Unfortunately, they got ahead of themselves and already made one of those back in the 1980s. I like to imagine a long-serving employee has been stamping around the marketing department shouting ‘What did I say? What did I say back in 1985? I TOLD you this would happen…’ Actually, all Peugeot numbers are going to stop moving and the entire Euro range will end in an 8 forever more. More significantly, this 308 is based on a brand new box of bits which will be the basis of many Peugeots and Citroens. The very first impression it makes is a good one. It’s the noise of the central locking releasing, which is a brisk, electro-mechanical whirr of the kind they might dub onto a futuristic movie as someone gains access to the weapons cupboard. The interior looks interesting too. It’s very minimalist and has the same unusual layout as the 208 where the instruments sit high on the dash so you look at them over, rather than through, the little steering wheel. Peugeot is clearly quite pleased with this concept. It’s not a notably better way of doing things but nor is there anything wrong with it, a bit like eating all your meals with a spoon. Another interesting detail: The rev counter arcs anti-clockwise. Again, no reason to do that. But it’s quite cool that they have.
Day two: It’s raining. The 308, like all French cars, has alarmingly useless rain sensing wipers. I used to think this was because France was home to the world’s worst rain sensor maker. Actually, I think it’s more complicated than that. The rain sensing wiper setting in a PSA or Renault car isn’t plugged in to an actual rain sensor at all. It’s wirelessly connected to a building just outside Dieppe inside which is a monkey with a switch. The switch is linked directly to the action of any French car, anywhere in the world, that has its ‘rain sensing’ wipers activated. Sometimes the monkey is bored and flicks the switch with insane speed. Other times he can’t be bothered to flick the switch at all and just sits in the corner picking his own anus. Either way, it has nothing to do with the actual amount of rain falling on your car. It’s the only explanation. But hang on a sec; the 308 also has a setting for normal intermittent wipe. Bravo Peugeot, bravo. You’ll beat that pesky monkey yet.
Day three: The 308 isn’t a bad looking car, all told. I’m just not sure it really looks like a Peugeot. Mind you, given many of their efforts over the last 10 years, this is a good thing. Judging by their current TV ads, Peugeot seems to be making a big thing about design at the moment. I think what they’re really saying is, look! Our cars don’t make you gag any more!
Day four: Finding the 308 uncommonly relaxing car. This might be because it’s the week before Christmas and I’m feeling quite relaxed. It might also be because it’s a pleasant, easy car to drive. I can’t quite explain, but I like it.
Day five: Starting to work out why the 308 might be relaxing and pleasant. It’s full of things that, against expectation, actually work. For example, to make the super minimalist dash they’ve moved the interior temperature adjustment onto the touch screen. This could be deeply annoying. You want to be a bit warmer, you have to go through a menu and then you accidentally turn the radio onto Radio 1 and briefly hear Scott Mills and then want to stab yourself in the ears. But in practice, the Peugeot’s system isn’t bad. And the climate control itself must be pretty good because it’s rare you want to adjust it anyway. Another non-irritation: The way the electric handbrake automatically and snappily releases as you move away from standstill. The scope to cock this up was immense. Even VW, who are normally quite thorough about this stuff, have made a right royal pig’s knob of the auto-release brake on the Golf. Yet against expectation, Peugeot has got it right. This 308 is a very un-annoying car. Or, to put it another way, it’s very satisfying.
Day six: This test car is a petrol. That might be another reason why it’s nice to drive. A proper power band, no oily rumblings, what a refreshing change. Most people will still buy the diesel I suppose. And then in five years pull off the particulate filter and drive around farting clouds of cancer into everyone’s faces. The other spec note is that this model is called the Feline. Which I presume means that every few weeks it will come into your house and leave a dead mouse on your bed. On the plus side, it should be self-cleaning.
Day seven: There’s something about the 308 that goes beyond the stripped down dashboard and the Michael Bay central locking noise. When you give it a good thrashing it feels like the car is entirely happy with this and wants to play along. The ride could be one notch softer but overall the chassis is very nice. More than that, it has some sense of joy and fun the way good Peugeots used to.
Goodbye: The 308 is going away. This is a shame. There’s much to like about it. The dashboard, the small steering wheel, the seats, the way the thin, pale coloured blind on the sunroof creates a pleasant diffuse light over the interior. Most surprisingly, the way it drives. The 308 feels like its designers and engineers made a real effort, and it works. It’s a good car.
The car talked about here is a Peugeot 308 Feline THP 156. It has a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 154bhp. Peugeot says it can do 132mph and 0-62 in 8.4 seconds. In this spec it costs £21,345.