Peugeot 308 2014The new Peugeot 308 impressed me before I’d even actually driven it – because the office was effusive.

CJ’s eyebrows were raised. Sean even said he’d consider one over a Volkswagen Golf. I, that most committed of Golf admirers, swooned. Could it really be so? CJ tossed me the keys and told me to fill my boots.

So I drove it to Central London and back. Forget your Nurburgring hot laps, this is as stern a test as any for a new car.

It’s a pretty looking thing, the 308, with Germanic detailing yet a French richness of detail. I particularly like the tightly defined front end, a nice contrast to the gawky 308 – and praise be, the wholly undesirable and pointless ‘semi-tall’ design has been ditched. Back to a normal profile and it’s all the better for it.

Inside, it’s fantastic. Interesting, innovative and made from materials better in quality than a Golf. Seriously. There may still be patches where the German’s assembly is tighter, but Peugeot is clearly spending more on the bits it fits inside than Volkswagen. And it really is all the more lovely because of it.

Peugeot 308

It again has the small steering wheel/raised-up dial pack, like the 208, but it feels ‘right’ from the off here, rather than something it takes you ages to get used to. Perhaps the extra size of the car helps. It’s one super-looking dial pack too, not least the supremely quirky reverse-sweep rev counter. Oh, and when even the needles for the dials are as nicely sculpted as these are, you know a lot of thought has gone into the design.

Pity this didn’t stretch to longer windscreen wipers, but there we go.

Nice seats have a bit of a bucket feel and the driving position feels right in all areas apart from the position of the pedals, which are still too close. New platform it may be, but the old grumble remains. So you slide the seat further back than you would otherwise, and spoil the legroom of the person sitting behind you. That’s something you don’t have to do (or suffer because of) in a Golf.

Our test car was a Feline THP, the 156hp turbo petrol whose oddly uneven low rev power delivery I immediately noticed. Why it seems to put out its power in jerks I’m not quite sure. Punchy, yes, but not linear.

It is very smooth though, and sounds not unlike the 208 GTi I had on test last year (well, it is the same engine, albeit detuned). The gearbox feels similar too though, so is notchy and not particularly precise. And the brakes are just as sharp.

Here’s a surprise, though: the chassis is just as sharp too. Is there a family hatch that doesn’t wear GTI badges but does dart about as eagerly as this? Wheel-nibbles are enough to have it responding, which itself should take decades off the age profile of the person it appeals to. But without a GTI ride, note – the flowing damping at speed is lovely.

So, a positive first few miles. Some of the old faults remain, but the car itself is appealing: charismatic and talented. At last! A Peugeot family hatch you’d choose on appeal, not just price (they are very keen here, mind).

But I’d still take the Golf. Why? That’s another blog post…