Launched at the end of 2013 for the 2014 model year, the all-new Peugeot 308 is a signal of intent from the French firm. Peugeot aims to take the fight to the family hatchback class leaders, the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus.

The previous Peugeot 308 was launched in 2007 as a replacement to the 307, and like its predecessor, it struggled to match the class leaders. Thankfully, the all new 308 is a more impressive package, due to a special lightweight chassis that also underpins the latest Citroen C4 Picasso. Depending on which engine you choose kerb weight is reduced by up to 140kg compared to the old car, and also has much improved efficiency over its predecessor.

Peugeot offers the 308 in four trim levels, which start at the basic, entry level Access model and extend up to the flagship Feline. However, the best sellers are likely to be the mid-spec Allure and Active trims.

The 308's buyers can also enjoy a wide range of very efficient engines, which include the 1.6 and 2.0-litre BlueHDi diesels, and two three-cylinder petrols. Furthermore, the Peugeot 308 comes as a six speed automatic, or five or six speed manual.

More recently Peugeot has extended the 308 range with the addition of a more practical SW estate. A 308 GTi hot hatch is also set to arrive, underlining the fact that Peugeot intends to take the fight to the Volkswagen Golf GTi in the hot hatch segment.

There has been no comment as to whether Peugeot will be adding a 308 CC convertible to the line-up.

Our choice: Peugeot 308 1.6-litre e-HDi 115bhp Allure

Styling

Peugeot has clearly used the design of its elegant 208 supermini to influence the 308. The forgettable design of the old car has been replaced by a more upright stance and there are plenty of neat details dotted around the exterior.

The top spec 308 Allure and the Feline models get LED headlamps but the slim lights and narrow grille common to all models make the 308 one of the best looking cars in its class. The bulging rear wheelarches add an aggressive air to the 308's profile, and the small light clusters and slim rear screen are also smart touches.

The interior of the 308 maintains Peugeot's current run of classy design and is comparable in quality to that found in the impressive SEAT Leon. The dashboard layout has a clutter free, hexagonal theme with most systems being controlled via the central touchscreen. Small tasks such as altering the cabin temperature can be time consuming due to the complex system of sub-menus, though.

Another interior design flaw that affects the 308, is that Peugeot has placed the dials too high on the dash, and the steering wheel doesn't adjust up enough for some drivers to see them through it. If you need to lower the wheel a little and do so, then the wheel obscures the odometer.

Peugeot hasn't skimped on standard kit, and throws in sat-nav, rear parking sensors and a digital radio. Very few extras are offered on the 308, apart from metallic paint and the Cielo glass roof.

If, however, you want heated leather seats, you'll have to choose the pricer Allure of Feline spec cars, but even then they're an option. A word of warning, though – the massage function isn’t particularly effective.

Overall, then, the 308's cabin is largely well screwed together, but isn't always easy to get on with. Similarly, some of the lower-level plastics feel a bit cheap but generally, the interior is certainly executed better than in rivals such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

Driving

An all new platform underpins the 308, and it has been designed for a mix of cruising comfort and sharp handling.

On the whole, Peugeot has delivered on its remit for sharper dynamics and the 308 has decent turn-in and feels agile in corners. As with some of its rivals, Peugeot won't allow the stability control to be 100 per cent disengaged, but the system now allows the rear end to move around before it kicks in.

The 308, however, is affected more by body roll than our Car of The Year, the SEAT Leon, and becomes easily unsettled by mid-corner bumps that don't upset the SEAT.

In terms of cruising ability, though, the Peugeot has the upper hand, despite the 18-inch alloys on the Feline-spec 308 giving a firmer ride and adding road noise at motorway speeds.

The 308 can be powered by one of three, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines: the 1.2 VTi, 1.2 e-HTP and 1.6 THP, or one of four diesels: the 1.6 HDi, 1.6 e-HDi, 1.6 BlueHDi, or 2.0 BlueHDi. Our choice of 308 is the 1.6-litre e-HDi. It's clearly set up for comfort rather than outright pace, but the diesel engine is hushed, and returns a very credible combined cycle of 74.3mpg.

While the range of engines in the 308 are impressive, Peugeot's manual gearbox is sloppy - feeling loose and at times, imprecise.

The 308 GTi will be powered by the 270bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine from Peugeot's Audi TT rival, the RCZ-R.

Reliability

In the past, French cars have not had the best reputation for reliability, and even current generation Peugeots have been known to suffer from some annoying electrical issues.

In the smaller Peugeot 208, owners have reported problems with the touchscreen and this is something to watch out for on the 308. On the plus side, however, it uses plenty of tried-and-tested components, and Peugeot throws in the industry-standard three-year warranty.

The 308 also has a five-star Euro NCAP rating, but only the Allure and Feline models get the latest technology safety systems.

The current 308 platform is already used on Citroen's C4 Picasso, so extensive testing should mean it doesn't suffer the reliability of its predecessors. The same platform is also likely to underpin the next generation Citroen C4.

However, Peugeot's dealers need to improve: in our 2013 Driver Power satisfaction survey, owners voted them 26th out of 31.

Practicality

Practicality for the Peugeot 308 is a mixed bag. The 308's wide doors make for good access to the rear seats, but cars with Peugeot's optional Cielo panoramic roof have very little headroom in the rear, as even average-height passengers will brush the roof with their heads.

Cabin storage isn't great with a small glovebox and equally small armrest cubbyhole. Another practicality issue is the narrow rear window, plus thick C-Pillars hamper rearward visibility.

However, the cramped rear does mean that the boot capacity swells to an impressive 470 litres with the rear seats in place, and two under-floor storage bins expand this by a further 35 litres. Overall, Peugeot has given the 308 90 more litres than the Volkswagen Golf.

Should you need more practicality, the Peugeot 308 SW estate may be worth your while.

Running Costs

With a lighter platform and improved aerodynamics, Peugeot has made the 308 into one of the most economical cars in its class.

Our choice of 308, the 1.6-litre e-HDI diesel, has a combined cycle of 78.5mpg, and emits 95g/CO2. Petrol engines, however, are less impressive with an average CO2 figure of 130g/km.

The 308 has never held its value well, and our experts predict that over a three year period, it will lose around £1,000 more of its value than the SEAT Leon.

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