Saffers are a funny bunch, brand loyal to the brands they know and often not willing to sample something from a competitor. Then there's that word-of-mouth stigma that many locals attach to things, and for some reason this is a hard thing to rectify. Take this Peugeot 308 GT Line for example. It's a very good looking car no matter which angle you see it from. During my test week I stopped at all my usual haunts and the usual suspects came out to have a closer look at the car, it's become something of a routine when I get a test car. So a close inspection reveals that the car is indeed something that catches the eye and that the interior is brilliant and the materials used and the build quality are on par with the best Germany has to offer. Then just about every single one of them had the comment; "But it's French and you have to stay away from them in SA".
I asked why and in every instance it was the same story. They know of a French car that died a horrible death/fell apart/couldn't get spares for/cost the same as a small country's GDP to repair. The thing is, in every case it was a friend of a friend's uncle's secretary's son-in-law's Matric teacher's fiance's car. They couldn't name a brand or model or even what year this happened in, but the ingrained common thread was it was French and that was not good.
I'm not sure where this started, but that preception is definitely out there and it's a pity because I've driven a few French cars and I've never been disappointed. This 308? Well there's good reason this thing is a finalist in the 2016 Wesbank Car of the Year competition. As far as I understand it, the 308 is a finalist and the manufacturer can still choose which variant gets to undergo final judgement. I know it's all technical and higher grade and there are reasons I can't even begin to understand as to which would be chosen, but the GT Line would be a great choice. It sits in the middle of the model range and it punches above it's weight. It looks great. and yeah, looks are subjective, but a deeper look at the car's inner working reveals why it's rated as highly as it is.
The 308 GT Line is a 4-door hatch with some good lines and a good size, it's not too big and it's not to compact. The styling is definitely more along the sports line and the OEM 18s are a great style for the car, particularly because they're not similar to any other wheels out there as is usually the case. Up front the LED headlights with integrated DRLs are quite striking and give a pretty mean scowl to the 308, the lines in the bonnet add to this look. The chrome grille surround and well as the large air dam in the lower part of the bumper give a chunky look. I also like the chrome surrounds for the spot lights, they have some aerodynamic curves to them.
In the rear we find some differently styled LED taillights. Looking straight on they look small, but you soon see they wrap around the sides of the car, another look I like. The rear window is small as with most of the new hatches and above it there's a small spoiler with an integrated brake light. The lower corners of the bumper are home to the exhaust tips that fit in with the shape of the bumper and car's lines. There's also some subtle skirts fitted as well as a high-gloss black diffusor that give the car a lower, wider feel. As said, looks are subjective, but yeah, I'm a fan.
Climb inside the i-Cockpit (Peugeot's term, not mine) and the 308 looks even better. While the GT Line is basically the middle child, it's still got an interior with a proper sporty look and feel. The seats are finished in an Alcantara and leather combo and are put together with red stitching, they're great. Getting a comfortable driving position was quick and easy. The next thing that I noticed was the leather-bound multi-function steering wheel... It's tiny! Ok, small would adequately describe it. It reminded me of back in the day when I had my first Mk1 Golf and I wanted the smallest and fattest steering wheel possible. A mate of mine had one that I wanted, and he stole it off one of those coin-operated kiddy rides at East Rand Mall. It was probably a bad idea and quite unsafe, but it didn't stop me from wanting it. If I has seen this wheel back then I would have been obsessed. The fact that you're able to control eveything you need in the infotainment system and the various information displays in the gauge cluster makes it even cooler. With the addition of aluminium pedals and stainless steel door sills it's quality everywhere you look.
The gauges are a bit odd. Well, for me they took some getting used to. On my first drive I sat in the car for a few minutes to set up the Bluetooth link to my phone and then simply reversed out of the parking and headed out of my complex. Before getting on the road I was choosing a cool track to play on my phone so wasn't paying much attention to the gauges. As I neared the gate to exit I looked up and put the clutch in to freewheel to the gate's code panel thingy. I noticed the revs almost running off the clocks and I had an immediate sinking feeling. There was no engine vibration and it was dead quiet too, so my next thought was an electrical malfunction. More sinking... That was when I realised that someone at Peugeot though it would be funny to make the rev gauge work backwards - sweeping from right to left as opposed to left to right. Shoo, relief!
The infotainment system is really easy to use, rather intuitive. It features a touchscreen display with a "Redline" colour scheme for the DAB radio, sat-nav, reverse camera and front parking aid. It's well-equipped and shares the same software as the other cars in the Peugeot Citroen family. Then there's the safety, something Peugeot is also very good at (5 stars at NCap for the 308). The 308 GT Line features six airbags protect help everyone on board is things go tits up. It has front and rear curtain airbags at the windows, as well as front and side airbags in the front seats to further protect both the driver and front seat passenger. Then there's the driving aids - an automatic electronic park brake, hill start assist and the usuals like ESP and TC.
The drive? Cracking! The Peugeot 308 GT Line is powered by a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine under the PureTech banner. This small capacity motor is brilliant and has a power output that surprises most who feel it in action, myself included. The 5-door 308 Active that sits a rung below this one makes 81kW with 205Nm with the 1.2 PureTech 110 motor. This car, the 308 GT Line, makes 96kW and 250Nm with the PureTech 130 motor and together with the 6-speed transmission the car drives just right. There's also a 6-speed auto option coming soon, which will be equally as good no doubt. Incidentally, the 308 GT features a 1.6 THP motor that makes 151kW, but that's not even the range topper, the 308 GTI has just hit the market in two variations - one makes a healthy 184kW but there version above that is rated at 200kW and 330Nm - from a freaking 1600cc lump!
Anyway, this car goes great, it's responsive and the power comes in quick, there's no turbo lag to speak of and when running through the gears the power doesn't taper off, it doesn't really run out of steam. It's properly matched to the gear ratios and makes for a fun drive. The 308 is also the first Peugeot to be built on the new, improved chassis they call their Efficient Modular Platform - "built to be more robust and gives you a lower centre of gravity, which improves handling. It’s also lighter and stronger and boasts an impressive 116 patents." In layman's terms, the 308 GT Line is rather chuckable, it sits well when you treat it like a red-headed stepchild. As I said, there's good reason this is a Wesbank COTY finalist. It does have a tough fight on it's hands but I think it has a pretty good chance. It's also up against it's French cousin, the Citroen C4 Cactus. Sure they're not really in the same class, but they're both finalists and they're both very good cars.
Peugeot 308 Active 1.2 PureTech From R279 900
Peugeot 308 GT Line 1.2 PureTech From R329 900*
Peugeot 308 GT 1.6 THP From R374 900
Peugeot 308 GTI TBA
3-year/100 000km manufacturer warranty
5-year 60 000 km Premium Plan maintenance plan
3-year/100 000km roadside assistance package
For more info, head on over to www.peugeot308.co.za