Peugeot 308 VS Abarth 595
- Super cool interior
- Practicality plus
- Looks and feels premium
- Sparse back seat
- Turbo lag an issue
- A tad pricey
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
There’s clearly something in the (presumably Perrier sparkling) water over at Peugeot HQ. Once a perennial European also-ran, the French brand has been on something of a hot streak of late, producing super-solid offerings right across the board, headlined by the very good 3008 and 5008 SUVs.
It is, of course, still a European company, and so if its SUVs are good, the brand's humble station wagon - a body style that remains ever popular in France - should be blooming fantastic. And a 2018 update has seen Peugeot throw in some extra safety kit, and overhaul the ownership program, at no extra cost.
But there’s only one way to really find out, of course, so we snaffled the keys to the 308 Touring in top-spec Allure trim to put it to the test.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Seriously, it's cars like the 308 Touring (and the best from Skoda and others, to be fair) that make you wonder exactly how SUVs took such a stranglehold on the Australian market. It's super easy to drive and park, as practical as a rolling Swiss Army knife, and it looks pretty damn good to boot.
The only real question mark is the price, with near-enough $40k feeling rather a lot for a wagon that misses some of the creature comforts and interior material choices of cars in that price bracket.
Is Peugeot's 308 Touring a desirable SUV alternative? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
It’s effortlessly understated, the 308 Touring; both inside and out. The two-tier and textured Peugeot grille looks clean and purposeful, while the rear-end design is clean and simple, too. In fact, the only angle we’re not in love with is the side-on view, where it looks somehow swollen and top-heavy in the middle.
Inside, the doors are wrapped in soft-touch materials, And I LOVE the interior. It’s unique and super understated - the very definition of minimalism - which kind of hides the fact that some of the materials feel a little hard and cheap in places. The moonroof (a cost option) is terrific, too, spanning the length of the cabin.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
At 4585mm long and 2043mm wide, the 308 Touring is seriously practical, and yet small enough that it never feels intimidating to drive or park in the city.
The biggest number, of course, is reserved for that whopping boot. With the rear seats in place, you can expect 625 litres of storage space, but drop the second row and that number swells to a seriously impressive 1740 litres. That really is heaps, and it means you can carry big suitcases with a car full of passengers, or flatpack furniture should you ditch the rear-seat riders.
For passengers, the front-seat space is ample, with a single cupholder and room for bottles in each of the front doors. The entertainment connections are simple, with easy-reach USB and AUX connections and the ability to mirror your smartphone on the big screen in the cabin.
The backseat is a little tighter, though (a reminder that this car is actually based on a small hatchback). The legroom is ample behind my own (I’m 176cm) driving position, but headroom feels cramped, and the door trims protrude into the cabin in a way that will eat into shoulder room if you were to go three across the back.
Weirder still, there is nothing in the way of creature comforts back there. Rear air vents are the most obvious omission, but there’s also nowhere to plug a phone in.
You’ll find two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat, as well as two cupholders in the pull-down seat divider. Happily, there is room in each rear door for bottles.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
Price and features
The 308 Touring is available in just the single trim level, the high-spec Allure, and will cost you a not-insignificant $37,990 plus on-road costs. Our's was then fitted with nappa leather trim and 18-inch alloys, as well as a sunroof, boosting the as-tested price to $41,690.
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Engine & trans
I really like the 308 Touring’s turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine. It’s loud from outside the car, sure, but its unobtrusive from the cabin, which is what matters, and the low-down power delivery really suits the city-based nature of the wagon.
It will generate 110kW at 3750rpm and 370Nm at 2000rpm. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and sends its power to the front wheels. It's enough for a fairly leisurely 10-second sprint from 0-100km/h and a 209km/h top speed.
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
The 308 Touring is really very impressive from behind the wheel, and feels genuinely premium on the road. That rattling diesel is loud from outside the car, but not from the cabin, and it feels solid and connected to the road below. There’s a reassuring heft to the steering, too, and it leaves you feeling like you're straddling a line between premium and mainstream.
Yes, there is a tonne of diesel delay when you first plant your right foot - so much so that you can actually get the front tyres chirping unexpectedly when it finally gets going - and the Touring is simply not that fast.
But it also, somehow, never feels underpowered. The grunt all lives at the low-end of the rev range, making it well suited to the stop-start sludge of city life.
In short, it's a solid and comfortable performer in the city, and it handles itself just fine on tighter corners (even if it takes an age to close the gap between them) too. The ride is terrific, as is often the way with French cars, the steering inspires confidence and the practicality and perks are just ridiculous.
So, who needs an SUV, then, when you can have one of these low-riders instead?
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
The basic safety stuff is all there, like six airbags, a reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear. But Peugeot has upped its safety game with more advanced tech, like a driver-fatigue detection system, blind-spot monitoring, active lane keep assistance, AEB and even speed-sign recognition.
The 308 range was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when assessed in 2014.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
Peugeot deserves massive kudos for overhauling its once-underwhelming ownership program, and the 308 Touring now arrives with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assistance offered throughout.
Servicing is required very 12 months or 20,000km, with Peugeot’s capped-price-servicing program limiting annual maintenance costs to between $500 and $820 most years, depending on the service required.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.