Overall rating: 4/5
Few cars can lay claim to trumping the Skoda Octavia Combi's boot size, but the 308 SW does just that and in a better looking package that addresses the rear legroom problem of the Peugeot hatchback. Factor in a diesel engine that can trump a hybrid for emissions and economy and the French company could be onto a winner.
In the Metal:
You have to imagine that turning a sleek hatchback into a load-lugging estate is a thankless task for a car designer, second only to grafting on a boot to make a 'shatchback', but with Peugeot offering an estate version of its mid-sized offering since the introduction of the 204 estate in 1965 it was something the designers of the 308 were always going to have to contend with. To our eyes they have done a decent job with the 308 SW. The rear end has a decent glass-to-metal ratio that matches that of the rest of the car, not leaving an afterthought feeling that some estates can. You also have to be a total car bore (or have a 308 hatch to hand) to notice that the wheelbase of the SW is 11cm longer and that the rear-door opening is wider, but you will appreciate the changes as they address one of the criticisms of the standard car - that of rear legroom. By mounting the back seats 29mm further back Peugeot has made the SW the 308 to have - for families and those who carry passengers regularly.
And of course all the possessions of those passengers is what estates - sorry SWs - are for. While you may not immediately pick up on the longer wheelbase you cannot help but notice the 22cm that has been grafted onto the back. For their part the Peugeot designers tried to hide the appendage with a swooping roofline and up-kink in the rear windows, but they possibly needn't have bothered as it detracts from what is a gargantuan load area. The Skoda Octavia Combi has long been the king in this territory (though the Honda Civic Tourer is a serious contender), but with 660 litres the 308 SW is 50 litres ahead of the Czech. That space can be boosted to 1,775 litres with a simple pull of two boot-mounted toggles for the 'Magic Flat' rear seats.
It is a decent space too; wide and low to the ground for ease of access and with rails, dividers and luggage nets to keep all of your worldly belongings in place.
The introduction of the SW sees a range of new Euro 6 compliant powerplants added to the Peugeot 308 range as a whole. The updated diesel line-up is headed by a 120hp BlueHDi engine that offers a combined fuel consumption figure of 3.2 litres/100km (88.3mpg) and emissions of just 85g/km (82g/km in the hatchback). By way of comparison, the similarly sized, but hybrid powered, Toyota Auris Touring Sports emits 92g/km. Despite the impressive environmental figures the 1.6-litre Peugeot unit punches well above its weight, taking only a second longer to hit 100km/h from standstill than the punchier, 150hp 2.0-litre BlueHDi option. The big engine is itself impressive with emissions of 99g/km for the manual version (with small wheels) or 108g/km when mated to the new six-speed automatic transmission.
The big news on the petrol front is the introduction of a turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder e-THP engine that promises to return 4.7 litres/100km (60.1mpg) on the combined run with emissions of 109g/km. Related to the entry level Vti engine, it uses direct ignition and turbocharging to offer up 130hp - some 15hp more than the 1.6-litre unit that it effectively replaces. It is a punchy little unit that loves to be revved, which only serves to heighten its three-cylinder thrum. This engine was used by Peugeot to set a new economy record of 2.85 litres/100km (99.1mpg), but you will not see that in real life, especially if you opt for the Driver Performance Pack from the options list. Only available with this engine for the moment (it will be offered with others in time) the system includes a 'Sports' button that, once depressed, firms up the steering, quickens the throttle response and takes the engine noise, digitises it and pumps it into the cabin via the speakers. The pack doesn't make the 308 SW much quicker, though the engine response is appreciated, and the sportier tone of the three-cylinder engine can become addictive.
A shame then that the engine actually takes a lot of the comfort and poise out of the drive. The heavier diesel engines do a better job of keeping the front end in check and smoothing over bumps. A 308 SW powered by the lightweight petrol unit was found to be more susceptible to a fidgety ride over uneven surfaces, especially on the larger wheels of our test model. Those wheels also contribute a lot of road noise around the 100km/h mark on the French roads of our test route. It will be interesting to see if Irish road surfaces have any effect on this.
What you get for your Money:
Prices and specification will be announced closer to launch in July but you have to guess the SW will follow the trim lines of the 308 hatchback, which will mean Access, Active and Allure models. A premium of between €1,000 and €1,200 for the SW does not seem unreasonable, which would give the SW a starting price of just under €20,000. What is likely to be the top seller - the new 1.6-litre BlueHDi in mid-spec Active trim - could come in around the €25,000-€26,000 mark. Assuming like-for-like specification, the popular Active model should come as standard with a 9.7-inch touchscreen system (Active cars have to make do with a regular radio), Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and 16-inch alloys along with LED daytime running lamps and rear lights.
The gathered Peugeot executives were coy when questioned about further additions to the 308 line-up (this was the SW's party after all), but we do know that the saloon variant that was recently unveiled at the Beijing Motor Show is unlikely to make it to Europe. A GTi or R model is still on the cards with a production ready 'concept' possible at the Paris Motor Show in September ahead of a 2015 introduction.
One model that will not be introduced is a new 308 CC. It just does not fit into Peugeot's plans, but fret not if you have your heart set on a drop top 308, as the current model will remain in production for the time being.
Irish buyers have traditionally veered away from estates, even when some manufacturers tried to tempt them with coupé-like rooflines. The Peugeot 308 SW is unlikely to change our view of estates as a nation, but it does give the 308 an extra feather in its cap, one that is likely better than the hatchback model it joins in the showroom.