It's the small things that make you feel good or bad about a car, writes Brian Byrne. I recently wrote about how difficult it was on one model to disconnect driver assistance features that annoy me. If you have to do it by navigating a touch-screen, it's no good. But there are carmakers who get it right.
That was a thought when I got into a Peugeot 308 SW estate for another take on a car I have liked since it was launched here last year. While the driver assists, including the dratted lane-keeping, are default from start, there's a button on the steering wheel to disconnect-reconnect them. It's even labelled 'Assist'. Simple. Thoughtful. Designed by drivers instead of screen-time addicts. Any carmaker who doesn't do it this way should look at the current Peugeot, Citroen, DS, and Opel compact models. And learn.
This latest 308 is the third generation of that car. The style details are right on message with the latest overall Peugeot look. A sharp-looking front end with deep-set slim headlamps slightly frowning over a grille design that manages to upshift the perceived size and premium sense of the car. The hatchback version is itself quite roomy, but the wagon not only adds cargo capacity and is significantly longer overall but also has a longer wheelbase, giving even more space to those in the back seats. Equally important to my perspective, the SW proportions and profile make it visually one of the most beautiful compact offerings currently on the market.
The interior dashboard and instrumentation is a Peugeot familiar, their 'i-Cockpit' layout of small steering wheel with the driving instruments in the sightline above it rather than through it has become something of a trade-mark. It works for most people, though I think for shorter drivers there can be some issues. And I have found that when I get back into a car with a 'normal' wheel-instruments layout that I almost prefer it. Still, there's not much can be faulted with the overall design and detail, and the centre infotainment screen setup is as good as such things can be.
The quality level of seats and trim is right up with the best in the class, mass market or premium. And long gone are the days when ordinary motorists had to put up with compromises in seat comfort. The boot capacity is over 608L, cut a little to 548L when the hybrid powertrain is chosen but still a serious load carrier.
My review car had the 180hp lower-power version of two plug-in hybrid engine options. Other choices are a 225hp PHEV, a 1.2 130hp petrol and a similar power 1.5 diesel. All 308s are automatic. The claimed EV range of the PHEV is up to 60km, but unless all your driving is urban with a lot of in-traffic regeneration, I'd take 20pc off that. With no battery range left the car drives in a standard hybrid way, and I found it offered a decent 5.5L/100km overall on what would be a mixed roads commute. That's respectable. My car's powertrain was quiet, with almost imperceptible changes both through the auto gears and in switching between EV and petrol. A neat trick from this stable is that the digital speed indication glows blue when the engine is in electric mode.
As it happened, I drove both formats back to back and on the road I thought the extra length and wheelbase added to the ride quality over what is already really good in the hatchback. But really, that could have been imagination, because both offer top comfort anyhow.
PRICE: 308 SW starts at €32,765; review GT spec level car €48,495. WHAT I LIKED: I've always loved wagons and this is a perfect compact example.