Peugeot's 308 is a bit like a wedding tradition; something old, something new, something borrowed - er, okay the blue part doesn't work. As for the rest, this car uses the 307's platform; a new set of petrol engines developed alongside BMW; and facial architecture now instantly recognisable as being from the Peugeot brand.
Forget the old 307's boxy lines. That car used a high roofline to offer sackloads of interior space. It was successful - it boosted Peugeot NZ sales by 60% - but lacked a little flair. That's been addressed here, not just thanks to the thrusting nose and those attractive lines, but to entirely new proportions. The borrowed platform uses the same wheelbase as before, but with longer overhangs adding 74mm to the length, a 53mm width increase and a lower roof line. The interior's still spacious - the roof's only dropped 12mm, and thinner seats offer more rear legroom - but the car looks swoopier, and feels less pedestrian.
It feels pretty good to drive, too. The wider track, the stiffer body with its lower centre of gravity and the revised MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspenders all work well. This 308 won't give a hot hatch a fright on a demanding piece of swervery - there's too much body roll, for starters. But owners will appreciate the comfortable, even plush ride with suspension compliance particularly impressive given the rough country Alsace roads we traversed on the international launch.
Also impressive was the 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbo petrol engine, with its generous torque spread, and the 1.6-litre diesel which proved ideally matched to the manual gearbox. Regrettably only the 100kW, 240Nm 2.0-litre diesel (with particulate filter) will arrive here as the 1.6 isn't available with an auto. Still, there are two petrols; that 110kW, 240Nm turbo and the cooking model - the 88kW/160Nm 1.6.
Peugeot expects 90% of sales to be the diesel or the 1.6T, but all will be loaded for bear. Standard fare includes ABS brakes, a scent diffuser and a 30GB hard drive, with all but the base model fitted with ESP as standard. We'll also get seven airbags in our 308s - part of the car's five-star Euro NCAP occupant crash test rating (not to mention the four-star pedestrian score and three-star child protection).
Making the car safer extracted a toll - the 308 is a good 70kg heavier than its predecessor, and 40kg of it's via safety-focussed changes.
Inside, the newly redesigned dash works well. Forget the quirky placement of controls you may be used to, this all seemed intuitive, though the sloping central section that's designed to emphasise cabin space means some of those dials are a bit of a stretch.
We found the range of interior colours on offer refreshing, but what owners will really appreciate are all the thoughtful little touches - the storage tray under the parcel shelf that's accessible from the rear seats or the boot; the boot-mounted bag hooks; the in-seat vibrator...
No, I'm not kidding. For our cars will get the lane departure system that vibrates the seat squab if you stray across a white line. Veer left, and your left thigh gets the buzz; cross the centre line and you're right thigh will vibe. Remember those allegedly fat-busting buzz belts? If you do, don't be tempted to weave down the road to lose fat as you drive. I doubt the cops will take an understanding view.
Peugeot NZ's feeling pretty bullish right now. Our sales are bundled with Australia's, which puts us above Japan in the internal pecking order - though that won't save us from a price rise. Which is perhaps why new boss John Keenan has specced the cars to the max. He sees Peugeot as making safety sexy; as offering affordable style with hidden benefits that could pull buyers from the mainstream.
He's taking a risk with his prediction, for there are a lot of very good cars in this segment. He ripostes with, "people need to realise that to be safe, and to care for the environment, they need to pay for it. All the things hitting headlines are our strengths. There are a lot of good cars around, but many can't offer what these 308s can."