Peugeot 308 vs Kia Ceed vs Volkswagen Golf: 2022 group test review
Everybody likes to get mileage out of their money. Some like everyone else to know about it – and a flash car on the driveway is a big tell in that regard. If you’re in the market for a family hatchback that’s built to impress, then a Volkswagen Golf has been the default choice for decades. But all dynasties must come to an end eventually, and one of VW’s most constant rivals over that period, Peugeot, reckons it might have finally beaten it.
The French company is another regular in the family car segment, and its latest 308 is more likely to prompt approving nods and curtain twitches from the neighbours than any of its predecessors. Our first encounters have confirmed that it’s definitely taken a move upmarket, but is it enough for it to have the beating of VW’s mainstay?
Another brand that’s seen a rapid climb in the poshness stakes is Kia. Granted, the Ceed has had further to go than its rivals here, but a facelift for the latest tech-packed model has made it more appealing than ever. So which of these three is the most desirable, and is that enough to make it the best all-round package?
Peugeot 308 PureTech 130 Auto Allure Premium
1.2-litre 3cyl turbo, 128bhp
Annual road tax:
We’re testing the 308 in its highest trim level here. The GT Premium model is paired with the PureTech 130 petrol engine, while every model in the line-up comes with an automatic gearbox. The list price is £31,520, and with the £545 optional Cumulus Grey paint of our car, the total is £32,065.
Design & engineering
As with many other Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Vauxhall products, the latest 308 is underpinned by the EMP2 architecture originally developed by PSA before the Stellantis group was formed. Here it’s able to accommodate petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains.
Peugeot expects the big seller to be the 1.2 PureTech we have on test: a 129bhp three-cylinder petrol. For the money, that means it has a very similar output to the Golf – although that benefits from mild-hybrid tech, which the 308 lacks – but for much less cash the Ceed offers 158bhp and an extra cylinder.
There was a time when you’d baulk at the thought of paying as much – or even more – for a Peugeot as a VW. Sit inside the 308, however, and you’re left thinking that it’s money well spent. In terms of design, technology and the textures used (of which there’s almost a few too many going on) the Peugeot feels like a more contemporary, expensive product than the VW. We’d go as far as saying that the 308 feels more special than some premium offerings such as the Audi A3, too.
The one caveat is that the driving position isn’t great. Shorter occupants will need to jack the seat up high and the steering wheel as low as possible just to be able to see the i-Cockpit dials above the rim. The side effect of this is that it might make it a bit of a squeeze to get in and out. Regardless of the wheel itself, you feel like you’re sitting very deep in the car. Some might consider it sporty, but in reality it means that there’s not a brilliant view forward when compared with its rivals here.
We’ve ranked many Peugeot hatchbacks of the past very highly in terms of a blend of composed ride and sharp handling. Unfortunately, the 308 isn’t going to join them. While the quick steering gives a feeling of agility around town, it’s coupled with a chassis that is the least responsive here. Ride comfort itself is fine, and the 308’s greatest strength is its ability to isolate the noise of suspension knocks from the cabin better than the other two here.
Any good work that the chassis engineers have done to provide that solid refinement is undone by those who look after the gearbox. The eight-speed auto is very clunky in many ways; it often refuses to respond to downshifts (although with so little engine braking on offer, that’s often a redundant complaint), but it’s also very slow to engage if you’re coming out of a low-speed coast.
As a result, it means that you can forget about pulling out of junctions or roundabouts in any manner that might resemble a hurry. Worst of all, it’s near-impossible to bring the car to a smooth stop, with the car grabbing the brakes as it tries to engage the stop-start system. It seems like a basic fault with the calibration, but it’s one that blights so many cars with this engine and gearbox combination.
The previous 308 ranked very highly for boot capacity, but was let down by poor passenger space. This latest version has sacrificed some of the former to provide more room for people in the back, but it’s still not great.
Kneeroom is fine, but the big issue is headroom; the roof gently slopes away from just behind the front seats, so if you’re above average height, you’ll be struggling for space back there. Throw in the fact that the large C-pillars, small rear windows and tinted glass mean there’s not much light in the back, and to some it will feel a little claustrophobic – not to mention how it limits the driver’s rearward view.
At 412 litres, the Peugeot’s boot is the largest here, and it’s above average for the class. None of these cars are packed with practical boot features, but the 308 benefits from a small netted partition to the side for smaller items. There are also four sturdy tethers fixed to the interior trim and boot sill; they’re much better than the Kia’s, which are attached to the false floor and of limited use for securing heavier items.
The latest 308 has yet to be assessed by Euro NCAP, but it’s not short on safety kit. However, we found the lane-departure warning system to be very aggressive, often swerving quite violently if you even edge slightly towards a white line.
The lane-keep assist isn’t fantastic in the Golf, either, although it’s slightly more predictable than the Peugeot’s. Fortunately, it can be switched off in both cars if you feel the need – something that’s easier to do in the Peugeot.
When the VW was tested in 2019, it earned five stars, including an excellent 95 per cent score for the adult occupant protection category. The Ceed was tested the same year, but only scored four stars; it was most let down by the vulnerable road users category, where it only managed a 52 per cent rating.
Officially, the 308 will achieve 43.5mpg on the WLTP cycle. However, models on smaller wheels and with less kit are claimed to be more frugal, with returns of up to 52.1mpg.
Despite its extra power, the Kia is closely matched; it returns 47.9mpg by the same measure. The VW gives the most promising numbers of all, with 49.6mpg combined. Over the course of 20,000 miles, that’s the difference between £2,973 of petrol costs for the Golf to £3,390 for the 308. The Kia splits the two, at a cost of £3,079 over the same distance.
Testers’ notes: “The Peugeot’s centre cubby has a small hatch to slot a USB cable through – a great idea for charging mobile devices while keeping them hidden.”
Kia Ceed 1.5 T-GDi GT-Line
1.5-litre 4cyl turbo, 158bhp
Annual road tax:
The closest Ceed in price to the 308 is the GT-Line S auto. However, that model has been taken off sale; a statement from Kia confirms this is due to “success” of the facelifted model, “coupled with new supply challenges”. However, Kia insists that this is only temporary, and the auto will be available again soon. In the meantime, we’re testing the Ceed in GT-Line trim, priced at £24,985, although the model in our pictures is the base 2 trim.
Design & engineering
When the third-generation Ceed was released in 2018, it brought with it further progress for the Korean brand, moving from an affordable but ultimately anonymous family hatch into a car that could genuinely hold its own against many of the best that Europe has to offer.
Since then, the Ceed has benefited from a range of mid-life updates. The changes include a redesigned front end, where the GT-Line model gets an extra pair of intakes on the front bumper, and a reinterpretation of the brand’s distinctive ‘Tiger Nose’ grille design. The back benefits from a subtly reprofiled tailgate, and certain models get a more intricate tail-light graphic. Wheels are all refreshed designs measuring between 16 and 18 inches, while the exterior changes are rounded off with the rebranded Kia logo.
We wish Kia had put more effort into updating the cabin. New gearlever aside, little has changed here, so while the Kia’s exterior design has caught up with its rivals’, the dashboard still looks rather bland. The button-heavy design has some logical touches, but the way the touchscreen is plonked on top of the dash looks a little clumsy. Build quality is decent enough, although the silver-finished pieces of plastic trim feel rather cheap. Beyond the cosmetic, Kia has also committed to improving the Ceed’s standard safety features.
Blind-spot collision avoidance is one new feature, while a vehicle-departure alert system gives the driver an audible little reminder when the vehicle ahead in a queue of traffic moves off.
Under the bonnet sits a 1.5-litre T-GDi four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It’s an updated version of the 1.4-litre unit that the Ceed previously used, and its power output has risen from 138bhp to 158bhp, which is 29bhp more than the Peugeot.
None of these three stands out as a truly fun car to drive, but the Kia is the best of this bunch. That’s thanks in no small part to its steering, which has the most natural weighting and response, plus it’s the most precise rack of the three. Through corners the Ceed feels reasonably agile, but the trade-off is that it’s nowhere near as stable as either the 308 or the Golf; emergency manoeuvres will feel more reassuring and easier to control in the other two.
In terms of ride comfort, the Kia manages to handle most bumps well, although the larger 17-inch wheels fitted to GT-Line models mean larger imperfections will be felt more than they are in the Golf. Other noises aren’t as well isolated as in its rivals here, either. While there’s marginally more road noise in the Kia, the chief culprit is the engine. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit sounds a little thrashy when compared with the VW’s TSI unit, and is much noisier than the Peugeot’s three-cylinder.
On the plus side, the Kia’s engine delivers strong performance. A 0-62mph time of 8.1 seconds is quicker than either rival here, and it means the Ceed remains punchy at motorway speeds – even if it’s loaded with passengers and luggage. In terms of stopping power, all three cars feel strong, although neither the Peugeot nor the Kia can match the reassuring and stable feel of the Golf under hard braking.
Head for the back seats, and the Kia sits ahead of the Peugeot and just behind the Volkswagen for passenger space. Legroom is roughly 20mm down on its German rival, but headroom is fine. The middle seat is wide enough, but it’s let down by a very firm and flat backrest.
In terms of storage, the Ceed gets two cup-holders up front, bottle holders in all four door bins, and a covered cubby between the front seats that’s very deep, if not quite as vast as the 308’s similar storage area. There are two shelves in front of the Ceed’s gearlever, but neither is really big enough for the latest smartphones. The glovebox is a decent size, but not as generous as the 308’s; this is the first Peugeot in years that isn’t hampered by a fusebox hogging half of the enclosed space.
Our annual Driver Power survey gives a strong indication of just how satisfying each of these three cars will be to own, and the 2021 results show that Kia holds a strong lead over its rivals here.
In the manufacturer rankings, Kia finished a brilliant second of the 29 manufacturers surveyed. Peugeot took a mid-table result of 11th, while Volkswagen was a disappointing 17th. Kia’s dealers excelled, too, finishing third of the 21 networks covered. While Peugeot’s network wasn’t scored, Volkswagen again fared poorly, taking 16th overall.
All three of these cars are very evenly matched when it comes to depreciation. They are reasonable for the class because they maintain between 47 and 49 per cent of their original value after three years, with the Golf just coming out ahead of the Kia.
Of course, that works favourably for the Ceed; since it’s the cheapest car to buy in the first place, you’ll lose just under £13,000 in that time, compared with £15,496 on the VW and a £16,643 drop on the Peugeot.
Testers’ notes: “The Ceed is closely related to the Hyundai i30, but N performance models aside, the Kia is more fun to drive and the one we’d go for.”
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style
1.5-litre 4cyl turbo, 148bhp
Annual road tax:
For a little less than you’d pay for the top-spec 308, it’s possible to combine the Golf’s high- ranking Style trim with the 1.5 TSI mild-hybrid turbo petrol engine and an automatic gearbox. Before options, it comes to £30,295. The car in our pictures is the plug-in hybrid Golf eHybrid.
Design & engineering
Ever since its original release in 1974, the Golf has been a constant in the family car segment. Throughout each of its eight generations so far, it has almost without fail been the benchmark when it comes to classless design, sturdy build quality and class-leading refinement.
With this eighth-generation model, however, VW hasn’t sought to revolutionise the concept mechanically; in fact, it uses similar MQB-derived underpinnings to its predecessor. Instead, the focus was on setting the class standard for tech. Every model gets adaptive cruise control, for example, and all feature a 10.25-inch ‘Digital Cockpit’ driver’s display.
That is one of two screens within a cabin that has almost entirely ditched physical controls for touch-sensitive functions or on-screen controls. Unfortunately, some of this seems like a backward step. We’ll come on to the implications for the touchscreen in the infotainment section (P48), but even the lighting panel seems like a less effective design than the simple, rotary dial that has worked so well for past generations.
Perhaps more of a surprise is that the Golf no longer feels like the class benchmark for perceived quality. Beside the 308, it feels neither as special nor as solidly finished. Other things remain typically VW, though. The driving position is excellent, and there’s loads of adjustment in both the seat and the steering wheel, so it’s easy for people of all shapes and sizes to get comfortable. Visibility is the best here, too.
While that new tech on board risks alienating some loyal VW customers, the way the Golf drives remains reassuringly predictable. That MQB architecture means that the car continues to excel in areas such as refinement and comfort, the former running the Peugeot very close (only a little more road noise from the rear goes against it), and the latter still just edging its opponent.
The steering is slower than its rivals, and off centre there’s more weight to it. While this makes the Golf feel a little lazy initially, the upside is that at motorway speeds, it feels completely planted.
The VW’s larger steering wheel compared with the Peugeot’s helps, too. The Golf is the best long-distance cruiser here. Get past that initial steering weight and the Golf is quite capable in the corners, too. Of the three cars, its balance is the most neutral; there’s more front- end grip than in the Peugeot, and it means that it feels reassuring in pretty much any situation.
The 1.5-litre petrol unit is the sweetest of this trio, too. Real-world performance is pretty much on a par with the Ceed’s, but it delivers its performance with a smoother engine note that’s quieter, too. The seven-speed DSG gearbox isn’t perfect – there’s occasional low-speed jerkiness when parking – but it’s a much better transmission than Peugeot’s eight-speed gearbox.
If you’re wanting to carry taller passengers regularly, the Golf is the car to have out of this trio. In terms of both head and kneeroom, it’s the most spacious here, while the seats themselves are comfortable. Even the middle seat is wide and quite soft; it’s just a shame that the high central tunnel means that there’s a little more of a fight for foot space than in the other two.
It seems that the Golf’s interior designers really considered the smartphone user when designing the cabin. Up front, the smartphone cubby is generous enough to hold the largest devices, and it’s angled forward so that they don’t fall out while you’re driving. In the back, there are additional, slim pockets above the standard map pockets, which are perfect for holding phones, too. The central armrest cubby is a little small when compared with its rivals, though.
The Isofix points are easy to get to from behind removable clips, and there’s an additional child seat fixing in the front. The Kia’s rear-seat mounts are similarly easy to access, but the 308’s zipped covers make the brackets harder to reach.
Volkswagen provides Golf owners with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which is the same cover offered by Peugeot. The Kia leads the way here by some margin, offering cover for the first seven years and 100,000 miles – ideal if you intend to buy outright either from new or at the end of your PCP term. All three cars also benefit from one year’s free breakdown cover.
From the safety side of things, the Golf’s tech comes into its own. Among the systems is what’s known as Car2X, a system that can warn other similarly equipped vehicles about upcoming hazards in real time, or even inform drivers of the position of approaching emergency vehicles fitted with the tech.
These three aren’t great choices for company car users, thanks to the relatively high Benefit-in-Kind rates now levied against pure combustion-engined cars.
The Golf is the cheapest because it has the lowest rating, but annual deductions are still £2,973 for a higher-rate income taxpayer.
You’ll need to look to plug-in hybrid powertrains for the more affordable options. The 308 and Golf offer two each, with one of the VW’s taking the form of the hot hatch-inspired Golf GTE. Kia, meanwhile, doesn’t have a Ceed plug-in, but the XCeed crossover and all-new Niro offer PHEV powertrains.
Testers’ notes: “The Golf’s door bins are carpeted on the inside. It’s a subtle detail that stops unwanted rattling, and it implies attention to detail.”
First place: Kia Ceed
The updates to the Ceed are hardly revolutionary, but in this company it manages to edge ahead for victory. All three of these cars have flaws, but the Kia’s are the easiest to forgive – partly because they’re mostly down to subjective things such as interior design and quality, but also because it’s the most affordable option here. Cabin aside, it doesn’t feel cheap, though; in fact it’s great to drive, quick, roomy and generously equipped.
Second place: Volkswagen Golf
This result further cements our belief that the latest generation of Golf has been something of a backward step for the company. Here it’s beaten by the great-value Kia, because the Golf no longer feels special enough to justify its extra cost. However it remains great to drive, practical for people and luggage, and has badge appeal that many buyers will still find very hard to ignore.
Third Place: Peugeot 308
The new 308 is great in places but also has a few glaring flaws. Cabin quality holds its own against premium hatches, the tech on board is great and refinement is above average. However, it’s let down by having cramped back seats, uninspiring handling and a frustrating automatic gearbox that spoils every drive. If you can look past those issues, then the 308 has surpassed the Golf for desirability.
Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium Vignale
This year has seen the evergreen Ford Focus revised with some styling tweaks and a much-improved infotainment system. As before, it remains the choice of the keen driver in this segment, but it’s also more spacious inside than our three contenders, too.
Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI e-TEC SE L
Capable though these three hatches are, none has enough to topple the Octavia from the class lead. In terms of comfort, cabin accommodation and boot capacity, it leads the class comfortably, while its build quality runs the 308 very close.
Kia Ceed 1.5 T-GDi GT Line
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style
Peugeot 308 PureTech 130 EAT8 GT Premium
On the road price/total as tested
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)
Annual tax liability std/higher rate
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service
£319 (2 years)
£386 (2 years)
£400 (3 years)
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel
50 litres/repair kit
50 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down)
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos
WLTP economy (mpg/mpl)/range
Actual CO2/tax bracket
Auto box/lane keep/blindspot/AEB
Metallic paint/LED lights
Keyless entry & go/power tailgate
DAB radio/connected services
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android Auto
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