THE biggest selling family car in the UK has long been the Ford Focus, but I wouldn't buy one without first driving the very good Peugeot 308.
It's up with the Astra, Golf and Focus in almost every way and the latest 1.5 diesel engine gives it superb economy along with amazing refinement and ultra low emissions.
Power is up by 10bhp over the ageing 1.6, but it feels like a lot more and gives excellent acceleration in the bottom five of the six-speed manual gearbox.
The 1.6 is still available alongside the 1.5 for the time being, but the new engine is a great improvement in terms of torque, power and driveability.
It can sprint to 60 miles an hour in well under ten seconds and yet still gives very low emissions and excellent economy.
On the motorway it becomes obvious that sixthgear is a cruiser with very little acceleration, and meant only to improve economy over longer journeys.
It will accelerate gently but if you need more it is necessary to drop down to fifth or fourth. Urge in fourthis more than enough for quick, safe overtaking.
It also pulls happily from tickover in all six gears and is one of the most refined diesels I have driven.
I got 45.5 miles per gallon on a swift 240 mile trip going to help a daughter move house and that translates to 50 or even 60 with a lighter right foot. The official figure, for comparison only, is no less than 80mpg.
The gearbox has a lovely change but the lever has a polished metal knob which is just too cold on freezing mornings if you're not wearing gloves. I would change it immediately.
There's a lumpy ride on very poor surfaces in town, when it feels every bump, but it is far better at speed when it soaked up just about everything I could throw at it.
The handling is excellent with wonderful agility, positive and direct steering and safe changes of direction close to the limit.
There's very little roll when cornering, grip is excellent and it's possible to brake hard when going into a corner without upsetting the chassis. This kind of ability instils a huge amount of confidence in the driver.
The 308 scored five stars for safety in tests and that's as good as it gets. This is a car that will take care of you if the worst happens.
The front seats support in all the right places and the boot is a very good size, but this seems to be at the expense of rear legroom. With my six foot in the driver's seat, there is very little legroom behind.
Almost everything is controlled from a large touch screen at the top of the centre console and it's reasonably easy to use on the move.
But the rev counter is on the right hand side of the clear binnacle, and sadly it moves the wrong way - i.e. anti-clockwise. I don't like it and have not been able to get used to it even though I have now driven a few cars with it fitted. Change it back to clockwise Peugeot. Its a gimmick that doesn't please.
In Active spec, the 308 comes with LED day running lights, climate, cruise, rear parking sensors, DAB radio, BluetoothandUSB.