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The original 308 was once the car of choice for young, sophisticated thrusters. It was, at the time, the sole affordable European hatchback with an invigoratingly young and modern edge over the old and ageing Japanese alternatives. Time hasn’t been kind to it, though, and it’s now a largely forgotten choice to most.

Here comes the revolutionary (you won’t dare call it anything less) 2015 Peugeot 308, here to prove that it’s once again the most sophisticated ride among its rivals. The naysayers demand it.

At its new inflated price tag (RM132,888 on-the-road with insurance), the feat is made even harder, even if it’s now fitted with so much more kit than before. We know it has the looks, but does the beguiling new 308 have the quality and dynamic finesse to climb back up to the top?

We drive it on Malaysian roads to find out.

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Early signs were all good. Danny Tan came back from the international press drive saying that it’s quite something – exciting, apparently well-made, and most surprising of all, rewarding to drive. Comparable to the all-conquering Volkswagen Golf Mk7 and Mazda 3? Apparently it is, with the added advantage of undercutting the German opposition by a tidy sum, too.

It has a lot to live up to, no doubt. If the Golf’s great strength’s are solidity and quality, and the Mazda 3’s forte is flair and fun, the new 308 will have to straddle the two and still have enough elsewhere to make it unique in its own right. Does it really? The proof is in the pudding. Or in this case, the crème brûlée.

Driven through torturous, narrow roads on the East Coast, there’s a deftness of touch, a level of control and poise in the new 308 that didn’t exist in the old one. Yes, this has the makings of a fine chassis.

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Make no mistakes. This second-generation 308 – the first time Peugeot is using the same name for more than one life cycle – marks a significant change of philosophy for the French C-segment hatch. The drift towards more weight and power with each successive generation has been brought to a screeching halt.

Peugeot has taken the decision to pack its chunky offspring off to a health farm to shed some excess poundage and massage some ability back into its joints. Not only does the new 308 look all the better for it, but it also takes a welcome step back down the road signposted “driver appeal,” from which its two immediate predecessors had detoured from.

It has its new EMP2 (Efficient Modular Platform 2) base to thank for this. Designed in much the same way as the Volkswagen Group’s much-publicised MQB modular platform, it brings about plenty of advantages. Such underpinned, the 308 is significantly lighter than before – by as much as 140 kg, as claimed.

Surprisingly, the weight reduction is paired with less power than before. The twin-scroll turbocharged 1.6 litre direct injection engine now makes 150 hp, down from its predecessor’s 156 hp. On the flip side, peak power is delivered earlier, at 5,000 rpm instead of 5,800 rpm. Torque remains the same at 240 Nm from 1,450 rpm.

On the move, the new 308’s engine belies its more modest specification with a gutsiness that was missing in the outgoing car. It’s actually slower against the clock, this new car. It takes 9.4 seconds to get to 100 km/h, 0.3 seconds slower than its predecessor (and a whole second behind the 140 hp Golf 1.4 TSI).

Behind the wheel, however, the new one feels quicker and more powerful, especially above 60-80 km/h. There’s a tad more zip when a lower gear is called though the updated six-speed Aisin automatic gearbox, coupled with a nice new thrum from the engine. It gets on with the job with endearing spirit, marginally better than the old 308.

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That still doesn’t make it the class leader in performance, however. The Golf would walk all over it, be it from a standstill or at speed. It’ll be smoother too, as its dual-clutch DSG gearbox can deliver far sleeker shifts (except when you’re crawling in traffic, where it’s terribly jerky).

For all the claims of the “new and updated Efficient AT6 with Quickshift Technology” transmission, the Pug’s ‘box is still far from the class bests. Marginally smoother than in the old 308, it sure is, but the “rubbery” feel is still prominently there (if you’ve driven one you’ll understand), and each and every gear change can still be felt. Even the Mazda 3’s slow-reacting six-speed auto’box is preferable to this.

Turn off the highways and show it a few tight corners, and it becomes clear that the new 308 is still not quite on par with the Golf and Mazda 3 dynamically. Close, and far better than the car it replaces, but no cigar.

It’s not that the new 308 is incompetent in the chassis department. Far from it. the Peugeot has a small agility advantage over the Volkswagen because its small steering wheel is a tad sharper and more sensitive. It certainly feels just as mature and sophisticated as its two main rivals, but advantage here it does not hold.

It clings on with amazing tenacity, and remains amazingly even-keeled and composed, resisting S-bend lurch with fist-of-iron defiance. Throw the Pug around with an abandon that’s at odds with its restrained bearing and you get to appreciate just how much better it is next to its simpler, heavier predecessor.

The steering that feels a bit over-light and damped around town comes alive when pressing on. It loads up significantly through turns, sometimes overly so, giving you an artificial but believable sense of feel through the corners. Quick, sharp and decisive without being twitchy, the steering better than that of the Golf, but not the Mazda 3, which is far more communicative still.

But that’s where its dynamic abilities seem to end, the 308. The Golf is less fun to drive, sure, but it certainly feels more planted and surefooted when the going gets tough. The Mazda 3, on the other hand, is far more enjoyable to be in, with a knife-edged composure that rewards precision just as it punishes clumsiness.

The same goes with the brakes. The 308’s feel slightly over-servoed, and getting just the right amount of braking force calls for great delicacy, especially when coming to rest. The Golf’s more progressive responses would surely be more preferable to most drivers.

Refinement is another matter altogether, though. Here, the new 308 proves to be more refined than the Mazda 3 and at least as quiet as the Golf, even with the Peugeot’s standard-fit high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres. Tyre roar is dismissible up to well above the national speed limit, as is wind noise.

It scores well on ride comfort too, beating the Mazda 3 by a considerable margin, if not so the Golf. The beautiful 18-inch wheels take quite a beating on Malaysian roads, but the car avoids having a jittery ride like on the similarly-wheeled Mazda.

Most large bumps can be deftly filtered out, but smaller, sharper ones are transmitted into the cabin more often than is ideal. The Volkswagen, with its near-faultless ride quality, holds a strong advantage here, though how much of it is thanks to its more forgiving 16-inch wheel/tyre combo is yet unknown.

The choice of wheels is deep in the damned if you do, damned if you don’t category of things. The 308 would surely ride better shod with thicker, higher-profile tyres, but can you then overlook the downgrade in looks? That the 308 looks as fantastic as it does here owes a lot to the 18-inch “Saphir” alloys. Would you sacrifice it for better ride? Nasim decided against it for you.

If space is a deciding issue, then you’re looking at the wrong class of cars. The new Peugeot’s rear accommodation is just about adequate relative to its direct competitors, but it’s a far cry from the massive interiors of full-fledged Asian C- or even B-segment sedans. The Honda City, for instance, would make this one feel no bigger than a Kancil inside.

Trying the back for size, the 308 is slightly more roomy than the Mazda 3, but a fair bit tighter than the Golf. Making things worse is the fitment of a full-length panoramic roof, which doesn’t do any favours to the limited rear headroom.

Speaking of the glass roof, do consider applying a good window tint on it, lest you’d want to slow-bake the rear passengers. The so-called cover is of the thin cloth variety, and doesn’t do anywhere near a good enough job to stave off the heat. The lack of rear air-con vents (standard on the Golf and the old 308) exacerbates the problem further.

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Thankfully, the 308 fares much better up front. There’s a lovely chunky dashboard that is almost devoid of buttons. The minimalistic approach certainly works from an aesthetic point of view, where the cabin looks and feels very premium. The leather-Alcantara upholstery (with massage function up front) is a nice addition too.

Even the all-in-one touchscreen works better than you’d initially think. The interface is easy enough to master on your first try, and the screen itself is very responsive to inputs. It boots up quickly at start-up too, so having the air-con controls through the screen is a non-issue. As for its dependability, Peugeot claims to have tested it thoroughly – 4.3 million presses without failure.

Neither the Golf nor Mazda 3 comes close in terms of cabin ambience. The 308 makes use of softer, more premium-feeling materials on most, if not all of the major touch points. Its boot is generously sized too, at 470 litres (50 up from before), next to the Golf’s 380 litres and Mazda 3’s 308 litres (oh the irony).

Not all is well inside, though. The plastic piece surrounding the CD slot is hard to the touch, and as is now the norm with most right-hand drive Peugeots, the glovebox is almost completely useless. The half-hearted RHD conversion shows elsewhere too: the volume knob is placed on the left side of the centre console, away from the driver.

Much has been said of the 208’s and now the 308’s unique dashboard layout, with the instrument cluster moved way up above the small steering wheel. In theory, this moves the meters away from the traditional “through the steering wheel” placement, closer to the driver’s natural line of sight (where head-up displays usually are).

In practice, the layout is a lot more sensitive to the driver’s height and driving position than it should be. While it isn’t a problem for yours truly (167 cm short, sits fairly upright), it can be for particularly tall drivers or those who prefer a more reclined driving position. It’s certainly a case of try before buy, this one.

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Everything considered, the 2015 Peugeot 308 THP is a bit of a mixed bag. Despite its small-ish interior, questionable ergonomics and middle-of-the-road dynamics, it has got bags of character, great charm and masses of youthful zeal.

Subjectivity aside, it still has decent pace and agility, a marvellous cabin and class-leading kit count (full LED headlights, dynamic cruise control and emergency autonomous braking) in its favour. And that’s with a big price advantage over its German rival (RM129,247 vs RM164,635 for the Golf, OTR without insurance).

On top of all that, its distinctive looks instil terrific road presence. Much more than a Golf, surely. If the Mk7 looked conservative years ago, today it’s almost anonymous. That itself is reason enough to look at the new 308, don’t you think?