There’s a reason the C-segment hatchback class is called “the Golf class”. For seven generations the VW has been the default choice for anyone in need of a family hatch that is – if you’ve ever seen a VW TV commercial – part of the family. The question has always been: how to get the better of it?
The accomplished Ford Focus runs the Golf a close second on the local sales charts, and rivals from Toyota, Honda, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, General Motors and Peugeot/Citroën abound. It’s the latter two we’re interested in here – specifically the recently launched Opel Astra and Peugeot 308.
Both arrived at our office for testing in middle-of-the-range spec with automatic gearboxes … the Astra was the R338 000 1.4T Enjoy, while the 308 was the R357 900 1.2 PureTech Turbo GT-Line. So, how do they stack up?
Similar to the Golf, the Astra exhibits a more serious, Germanic image. Its styling is sharper and keener than its predecessor, boasting design features such as a floating C-pillar and high waistline. It’s very good looking but nonetheless typically restrained.
Especially so, in fact, when viewed against the sophisticated flair carried by the 308. With its purposeful front end, pert rear and LED front and rear lights, it still looks as fresh as they day it was revealed – and, to my eyes, is still one of the best looking in the class.
The differences carry over to the interiors as well. The Astra is airy, its conventional dash minimalist in design, and its seats large and comfy. Space is abundant all round.
The 308, however, feels far more sporty – the roof lining is black and the driver-centric dash sits high. You, meanwhile, sit low in supportive, yet comfortable, two-piece bucket seats. The seats, and much of the cabin, are half upholstered in soft leather with red stitching. Interior space can best be described as cosy in front and a squash in the rear…
Similarly, the 308’s boot is shallow (it also houses a full-size spare) while the Astra’s is much larger – it’s certainly the more practical option of the two.
Both cars boast an impressive array of standard features. The Astra features GM’s easy-to-use, seven-inch touch-screen IntelliLink infotainment system. An optional eight-inch screen is available on Sport models, but even this pales compared to the 308’s 9,7-inch system! On the 308 this controls almost all of the car’s systems which, truth be told, is not always convenient.
Notable in the Astra is its list of electronic safety devices in the Driver Assistance Pack. This includes forward collision alert, following distance indicator, lane keep assist, low speed collision mitigation braking and traffic sign recognition. Each of these systems work a treat.
The 308 offers items such as powerful LED headlamps (only available on the top-spec Astra) and dual-zone climate control. The rest of the safety and convenience specification is quite evenly matched.
Both follow the current trend of employing small-capacity turbocharged powerplants – the Astra’s 1,4-litre four-cylinder develops 110 kW and 245 Nm torque, to the 308’s 1,2 three-cylinder’s output of 93 kW and 230 Nm. Both the Astra and 308 are more than up to the task of the daily commute or a spirited jaunt.
Both offer impressive mid-range shove and, while the 308 is slower to get off the line, it feels (and sounds) more perky and willing when on the boil.
My biggest bugbear with the manual 308 was in fact its transmission. The driving experience is much improved with the auto, which provides generally smooth and well-planned shifts. The Astra’s gearbox is generally up to the task, but could be quite a bit smoother in its operation.
While neither is the “sporty” model in its respective lineup, both cars feel good when pressing on. Impressively, the Astra is up to 200 kg lighter than its predecessor; as such it feels light and sharp on the road. I was happy to reacquaint myself with the 308 as it felt much better on the road than I previously reported.
While the Peugeot is the more comfortable of the two, the Astra offers better visibility.
Niggles? Both cars returned fuel consumption figures much higher than expected (the Astra is claimed at 5,5 l/100 km combined, the 308 at 5,2). The Astra’s cabin, disappointingly rattled a fair bit. The 308’s storage space is comparatively woeful and that multi-function screen requires a bit too much concentration to operate.
So, which of these contenders is a better alternative to the Golf? The Astra was admittedly a bit of a disappointment – it has so much potential but the rattles kill the feeling of solidity and this specific model is, on the whole, just a bit dour.
The 308 is a far better, more complete car with the auto box. While it might not be as practical, spacious or perhaps good value as the Astra (the Opel’s aftersales offering outplays the Peugeot’s, and its resale is bound to be better, too), it really is the more likeable of the two in this comparison.
At the end of the day, neither can quite match the Golf’s perfect balance … and choosing between them would probably depend on personal preference. Me? It would be the 308.
Astra 1.4T Enjoy AT – 7/10
Peugeot 308 GT-Line AT – 7/10
I’m Cyberstoep’s resident (self-appointed) motoring fanatic. My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise … Read more