Peugeot's new 308 is no longer a niche rival for mainstream, affordable hatchbacks – the luxuries and the price tag have been dialled up to see it go right at the premium hatchbacks from the German establishment.

While car companies rebranding and repositioning themselves is a growing trend across the market as we approach the electric age, Peugeot is performing one of the biggest rebrands you’ll have seen yet, and the all-new 308 is the car to kick-start it all. It’s the first of the company’s models to wear its completely redesigned logo – now a crest bearing an ornate lion’s head like the brand briefly did from 1960s – and it’s also the surest sign yet that Peugeot’s competition is clearly the top end of town.

That is perhaps most clear in the price tag. Two hatchback variants are currently on offer in Australia – the GT, priced from $43,990, and the GT Premium tested here which will set you back $48,990, both before on-road costs. The 308 wagon has also made a return with the new generation, offered solely in GT Premium guise for $50,490, while the flagship 308 GT Sport Plug-in Hybrid hatchback will join the range sometime in 2023.

Given this, the cars this new 308 is going up against include the Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI, BMW 118i M Sport, and Mercedes-Benz A180, rather than the more mainstream and affordable hatchbacks it previously competed with. After all, this new model is in what was once 308 GTI territory price-wise, except there’s no new GTI model on the cards.

Right off the bat, just in looks alone this new 308 (the third generation to bear that numeric designation) is a thoroughly premium prospect. Certainly, against the three rivals’ names I mentioned before, this would be the best-looking of the bunch. The new logo is certainly a bit alien given how long Peugeot’s prior badge had been in deployment for, but the 308’s smart lines and modern fascia design make it a real looker, especially in this shade of Olivine Green.

As cars from premium brands often have, there are little gimmicks like the ‘welcome sequence’ its taillights perform as you approach the car or its puddle lights that project the new Peugeot badge onto the ground that remind you of just how much of a step up this really is. Go for this GT Premium model and you also get subtle changes such as matte black 18-inch alloy wheels to really set it apart.

Inside, there are some familiar touches from other recent Peugeot designs – the high-mounted instrument cluster and tiny flat-topped steering wheel the most noteworthy – that make it feel familiar, but there’s no doubt the overall cabin presentation marks yet another step upwards. Swathes of Alcantara, mottled fabric surfaces, Nappa leather upholstery, and bright green contrast stitching make this really feel not just premium, but a step above those German rivals.

The technology is also very impressive, with all Peugeot 308 variants featuring a 10.0-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.0-inch infotainment touchscreen as standard, although neither are your average in-car display. In the case of the gauges, this ‘3D i-Cockpit’ display is, as the name suggests, a genuine 3D display, with it using a panel in the top of the cluster to project the top layer of information out. I do like the high-mounted positioning of the cluster, although it could do with sitting just a touch higher – if you like your seat sat low like I do, you may see some overlap with the top of the wheel at the very bottom of the display.

Likewise, the infotainment system isn’t simply the usual single screen, as it has another small touchscreen below it for your ‘i-Toggles’ – in layman’s terms, it’s a row of customisable shortcut buttons for controlling the screen above it. The system on that main 10.0-inch screen is a good one, too, with it offering a good array of customisation, a decent TomTom satellite navigation system with live traffic updates, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen is also positioned well for you in the driver’s seat, with it facing you at the right angle and falling easily to hand.

Opt for the 308 GT Premium tested here, and Peugeot has fitted it with a seriously impressive array of luxury features as well. How does a pair of heated massage seats up front sound, along with a heated steering wheel? There’s an excellent 10-speaker Focal audio system as well. Add in Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capability, and it’s certainly worth the step up in my eyes.

As a whole, the cabin’s ergonomics are certainly a bit quirky with its small and oddly-shaped steering wheel, stubby shifter that’s more like a toggle switch, and its angled and unusually-positioned screens, but it all actually works in my eyes. Yes, it’s far from the straightforward affair you find in most cars these days, but that’s exactly why it’s so brilliant – it’s different, it’s characterful, it’s everything that modern car design often is not. As a driver, it really does make you feel immersed in the cabin which is exactly what you want.

With that said, the rear seats are cramped given the 308’s diminutive proportions, and there’s no rear centre armrest for passengers who you are able to make fit back there. At least the boot is impressively sized at 384/1295 litres (with the rear seats up/down respectively) in the GT Premium hatch tested here, although you do get more space in the GT hatch (412/1323 litres) and GT Premium wagon (608/1634 litres).

Irrespective of which variant you opt for, all currently-available versions of the 2023 Peugeot 308 feature the same 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine which makes 96kW and 230Nm, and comes backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

As you’d expect from a three-pot, it’s a thrummy little thing, sounding like a swarm of irritated wasps when you give it some welly. Despite that, it’s remarkably quiet when you’re on the move, and the way it delivers its power is incredibly smooth and linear. The main caveat, though, is that there simply isn’t that much of it there – the 308 may only weigh 1258kg, but a two-digit power figure still isn’t much by today’s standards given the 0-100km/h sprint is more of a leisurely stroll at 9.7 seconds. However, that strong torque figure which is accessible from just 1750rpm does make it a brilliant engine for when you’re in traffic thanks to the low-down pickup.

This engine is also nicely paired with the Aisin-supplied transmission, which has been tuned superbly to help it shift more like a dual-clutch when you’re driving it harder while still offering the smoothness of a torque converter auto around town. Thoughtfully, the paddle shifters have also been moved from the steering column to the steering wheel itself, making them far better to use.

Even with a bit of a power deficit, the 308 is still a seriously fun thing to drive thanks to its fabulous chassis. Through the bends it remains flat and composed, with its perfectly-weighted and incredibly responsive steering rack making it remarkably easy to place it precisely where you want it on the road. Factor in the small size of the steering wheel itself, and it only adds to how ‘go-karty’ it feels when you’re really pedalling it. The tighter and twistier the road, the better in this featherweight hatch.

Yet, it still remains composed on pothole-laden city streets despite using a twist-beam axle in the rear rather than a fully independent suspension setup. The only complaint you could leverage against it is there is a bit more road noise than you may want for, but in its defence, I had just hopped out of the sensory deprivation tank that is the Citroen C5 X before getting straight into this.

It’s also worth highlighting that the lack of power is one thing Peugeot already has a solution for with the upcoming 308 GT Sport PHEV. In addition to its electric assistance, it swaps out the three-pot for the 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder featured in a host of other Peugeot models. With 165kW and 360Nm on offer from that drivetrain, it will be the one to hold out for if you’re looking to have some real fun in one of these.

The three-pot will ultimately be best kept to urban duties which is where it excels in terms of fuel economy as well. After 180km behind the wheel – including hitting some Adelaide Hills backroads and some higher-speed stretches – I saw a return of 7.1L/100km against a claim of 5.3L/100km.

The thing is, when I was just sticking to city streets and a shorter highway stretch during the first part of my testing, it was hovering around that claim – it’s when you push it harder and sit at higher speeds that it has to work hard, and like the athlete on the team who’s doing it all develops quite a thirst as a result.

As with all Peugeot models, the 308 is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and five years of complimentary roadside assistance is also included. As for servicing, you can save some cash by opting for one of Peugeot’s pre-paid service packs – paying for three years upfront costs $1000 and saves you $427, while a five-year plan is $1800 and nets a $689 saving.

If the lack of power doesn’t bother you – if you only really drive in the city, it won’t – the 308 is a seriously great car that genuinely manages to beat the Germans at their own game of making a premium hatchback. It’s quirky in the best way possible, it looks fantastic, it’s a gem in the handling department, and it boasts a seriously impressive array of equipment.

With that said, there’s no doubt that it is pricey given it sits in the 50-grand bracket with on-road costs factored in, and the GT Sport PHEV that serious drivers will really want to wait for is only going to be more expensive (pricing is yet to be confirmed for Australia). Consider what it’s up against – in GT Premium spec it undercuts the BMW 118i and Mercedes A-Class, although the Audi A1 is a touch cheaper – and really it’s on the mark for this now-niche market segment of premium Euro hatchbacks.

In my eyes, it’s the one to go for of that group – I just fear people won’t recognise that it’s worth consideration against them, so small is Peugeot’s market share in Australia. I hope the brand can reach the style-conscious inner-city buyers this car will appeal to, because it’s got a real winner on its hands if it can.

2023 Peugeot 308 GT Premium Hatch List Price: $48,990
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 9/10
    Tech & Features - 9/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value for Money - 7.5/10

Pros: Tight and poised handling, looks and feels premium inside and out, fully-loaded in the tech department, impressive fuel economy
Cons: Could do with more grunt in the engine department, cramped rear seats with no centre armrest, it’s undoubtedly expensive for a car this size

In a nutshell: The 2023 Peugeot 308 is a quirky and style-forward alternative to the premium hatchbacks offered by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes – it’s just whether or not enough buyers will recognise and consider it as the serious competitor that it is and should be. For the driver’s out there, just be sure to hold your horses and wait until the GT Sport PHEV arrives next year, as it will solve the 308’s only real current issue – a lack of grunt.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Jarvis Peugeot in conjunction with Inchcape Australia for two days with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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