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Peugeot 308 Active wagon

 

Peugeot’s 308 Active wagon combines a tiny three-cylinder powerplant with some serious load space for a small car.

Base price: $36,990.

Powertrain and performance: 1.2-litre turbo petrol four, 96kW/230Nm, 6-speed automatic, front-drive, Combined economy 5.2 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 10.1 seconds.

Vital statistics: 4585mm long, 1472mm high, 2730mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 625-1740 litres, fuel tank 53 litres, 16-inch alloy wheels on 205/55 tyres.

We like: Character-packed powertrain, spacious cabin and load area.

We don’t like: Too much switchgear relocated to touch screen, display really necessitates $1500 sat-nav/camera package.

How it rates: 9/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? The Peugeot 308 has arrived in New Zealand with a big reputation: it was European Car of the Year for 2014.

It has also arrived with the ability to carry surprisingly big loads for a small car, with a wagon version. We test the 308’s combination of star-character with space in the entry-level Active wagon.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? We’re well used to small-capacity, high-output engines these days – especially from European manufacturers. Still, the 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol powerplant in the 308 wagon might raise a few eyebrows.

Fear not: it’s fantastic, with an effervescent character and pretty strong numbers: 96kW/230Nm is competitive with your typical four-pot small-car engine. The Toyota Corolla’s 1.8-litre makes 103kW/173Nm, for example.

You do feel the lack of pulling power low down in the rev range, but the engine is sweet, smooth and sounds great under load. The six-speed automatic gearbox plays its part: it’s well calibrated (not something that’s always been a given with French self-shifters) and there’s a pushbutton sport mode if you want a bit more aggression.

The 308’s handling feels quite sporty as well, some of which is due to the chassis (the car is based on a brand new platform called EMP2) and some of which can be attributed to the unusual driving environment. The cabin is based around Peugeot’s ‘i-cockpit’ template, with the instruments set high and a tiny steering wheel mounted very low.

The small circumference of the wheel makes the 308 seem even more agile than it is, as chassis responses tend to be exaggerated. Nothing wrong with that, although the downside is that it can give the impression of being nervous at higher speeds.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? That cabin design will be a polarizing aspect of the 308. It’s certainly a new way of organising the driving environment.

The other interesting aspect of the 308’s cabin is the ultra-simple switchgear. As many functions as possible have been moved into the touch-screen; there are only five buttons on the centre console, for example. As an aside, the impressive screen really demands sat-nav and a reversing camera: that’ll cost you an extra $1500.

The minimalist cabin design is a nice concept, but you wonder if it’s been taken too far for the sake of making an impression. If you want to adjust the air conditioning, for example – and you do often in the Active, because it’s a manual system – you have to go into the climate menu on the touch screen and operate the cool air from there.

It’s not completely clean-sheet thinking: unlike the smaller 208, the 308 retains a CD player. Although it does of course have the same media-playing capabilities through that touch-screen as its smaller sibling.

The 308 wagon is substantially larger than the hatch: there’s an extra 100mm in the wheelbase and it’s 330mm longer overall. So you get generous rear-seat legroom (theatre-style seating for better visibility as well) and truly impressive load space. Volume of 625 litres with the seats up and 1740 litres with the rear chairs folded flat beats many mid-sized wagons.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? There is no shortage of quality small wagons at the moment: consider the Volkswagen Golf and Hyundai i30, to name just a couple.

But even in such excellent company, the 308 Active is a standout machine: the powertrain is bursting with character, we think it looks better as a wagon than hatch and it’s genuinely spacious and versatile.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Lane guidance: No
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Intelligent headlights: No
  • Parking radar: Rear
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Satellite navigation: $1500 with reversing camera
  • Keyless entry/start: No
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Manual
  • Heated/ventilated seats: No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: No
  • Leather upholstery: No
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

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