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Fri 16 May 2008 04:00 AM

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Added joie de vivre for French family car

Fraser Martin finds that the Peugeot 308 will not cause drivers to spontaneously combust.

Fraser Martin finds that the Peugeot 308 will not cause drivers to spontaneously combust.

This is the French car maker's first offering from a new generation of cars that will end their badge names with an ‘8' designation. It's a development of the outgoing 307, sharing to a large extent the platform and architecture of the outgoing model and therefore giving the new car more of an evolutionary feel.

The ‘semi-tall' style of recent Peugeots has been toned back a bit in the new car with a bit less height, but more length and width but at 4.27 metres overall, the 308 is no midget.

The bulk of the increase is in the overhangs front and rear, and whilst the 308 remains a very much ‘cab-forward' design, it appears a little nose-heavy from some angles.

This is part of the price that has to be paid to ensure that the new car scoops the highest crash safety rating in the class, with a resounding five points in the EuroNCAP tests.

Styling is promoted as being more ‘feline' in keeping with Peugeot's current design philosophy but I see the now traditional Pug nose, with the bumper splitting the deep grille, as looking more like the shark in Finding Nemo than any cat.

The 1.6-litre engines on offer, one with turbo giving 138bhp and one non-turbo with 118bhp, both have 16 valves and twin overhead camshafts and have been developed with the BMW Group to bring about a ten percent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing engines in the 307.

Whilst five-speed manual boxes are available, the test cars were all fitted with fine four-speed sequential automatic gearboxes.

If criticism can be levelled, the 308 could usefully employ a fifth cog in the autobox.

In any case, the new 308 as launched, is not setting out to have buyers spontaneously combust. But there will be hotter versions and a convertible later.

Handling and roadholding are at least as good as the class average, and damping, particularly over speed bumps, is excellent. Steering is operated through a newly developed hydraulic-electro system giving constantly variable assistance and gives good feedback on cornering. The 308 is a good, comfortable, if unexciting drive.

The 308 is offered in five levels of trim - including a top-of-the-range leather and brushed aluminium option. Anti-submarine rear - as well as front - seats and up to nine airbags compliment the passive safety package, whilst ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and automatic hazard warning light switching are standard features.

Stability and traction control systems are available as standard on the upper models and as options on the cooking varieties.

Peugeot sold more than three million units of the outgoing 307 and with the 308 taking the best ingredients from that recipe, there is no reason to believe that the new car will not follow suit.

in the last six years, competition in this sector has increased 40 percent in Europe where over 50 percent of all production will be sold, and pricing on the showroom floor is all-important.In any case, the new 308 as launched, is not setting out to have buyers spontaneously combust. There will be hotter versions and a convertible later in the production cycle, as there were with the 7 series cars.

This model is a well equipped, competent small family car and has nothing to prove other than its ability to do that job well.

Handling and roadholding are at least as good as the class average, and damping, particularly over the now too-common speed breakers, is excellent.

Steering is operated through a newly developed hydraulic-electro system giving constantly variable assistance - light at parking speeds and loading up the faster you move - and gives good feedback on cornering.

It's a little vague in the straight ahead position though, but reduces fuel consumption marginally over the conventional systems employed by some of the competition. The 308 is a good, comfortable, if unexciting drive.

Reflecting the number of cars sold in the segment, the Peugeot 308 is offered in five levels of trim - including a top-of-the-range leather and brushed aluminium option - and 12 colours, five of which are new.

Anti-submarine rear - as well as front - seats and up to nine airbags compliment the passive safety package, whilst ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and automatic hazard warning light switching are standard features on the active list.

Stability and traction control systems are available as standard on the upper models and as options on the cooking varieties of the new 308. The EuroNCAP rating means that front, rear and side impact areas are well protected and there are three Isofix child-safety seat mountings in the car.

Peugeot sold more than three million units of the outgoing 307 - a record number of cars in the compact vehicle segment for the marque - and with the 308 taking the best ingredients from that recipe, there is no reason to believe that the new car will not follow suit.

Need to knowPrice:$15,500

Engine:1598cc 4-cyl 16v, 118bhp @ 6000rpm, 118lb ft @ 4250rpm

Transmission:Five-speed manual or four-speed auto, front-wheel drive

Performance:10.8sec 0-100kph, 195kph

On sale:Now

Rating:3/5