Theme : Benchmarks – Peugeot 306 to 307 = Immediate Loss of Status

In these days, it is usually described as a loss of “mojo”, although I’ve never been certain of what that word actually means.

Peugeot 307 - image from caroftheyear.org
Peugeot 307 – image from caroftheyear.org

In terms of the launch of the 307, I’d prefer to describe it as a fall from grace. I suppose I could also have picked the transition from 205 to 206 from the same stable, but I think it less obvious and memorable for me. I think I need to become instantly more specific. The 306 was the chassis benchmark in its class. It was also one of the more lovely looking mid-range hatches of its time, but I think aesthetics are much harder to benchmark, and I am certainly less comfortable opining on the way a car looks under such a heading.

As a chassis benchmark, in UK tests at least, the 306 was praised – lauded, even – time and time again. Obviously, this was most prominent for the GTi and S-16 versions of the car, but even lowly 1.4 litre, basic versions were blessed with a deft balance between fun handling and a supple ride. Then, when the more contemporary (but less lithe) looking 307 turned up, something went amiss.

Peugeot-306I feel able to comment on this transition as I was a regular renter of hire cars at the time this occurred. More precisely, the company I worked for was prepared to hire cars for me rather than stump up train fares. So I was fortunate (it did not always feel thus) to sample a number of cars in this class, and the period of time straddled the commercialisation of the mature 306 and “box fresh” (yuck!) 307.

I would always look forward with anticipation to spending a day with the 306; it was a fun thing and often meant that I would rise a little earlier in the morning and take the A5 up to Coventry rather than slog up the M1 and M45. It was, to my mind, the benchmark. It was only eclipsed as my favourite by the arrival of the Focus – an extraordinary drive at the time and, actually, it seems even more so today. Even then, there was something relatively raw about the 306; the Focus was more sophisticated and thereby lost a little in engagement with the pilot.

And then, one day, it was a 307 parked up outside my house. I got up early that morning, nosed onto the A5 and then … wondered what was wrong. The car felt flabby and loose, and yet the ride could be jarring. It reminded me of the Honda Integra EX16 I once owned (my own personal worst chassis benchmark, if that is the word). It was that bad that I reported to the hire car firm that I felt there must have been a failure with one or more of the shock absorbers. Alongside that, the gear-change went from fluid and snappy to long-winded, floppy with a tad of notch about it. And, the 1.4 litre mill felt strained in comparison with its installation in the 306 – was the car that much heavier?

So, what on earth happened? I don’t really know. There has been lots of stuff written about Peugeot ceasing making its own shock absorbers, which is plausible, but I’d postulate that the whole car felt that it had been designed to a more cynical, or, to be more generous-spirited, at least a less precise, brief. The car was taller and larger in every way, and, at the time thought of as a kind of cross-over between a normal hatch and an MPV.

Driving dynamics seemed to have been deprioritised and, I think, the car lost the passive rear-steer element of the suspension that worked so well for the 306. Either way, Peugeot went from being benchmark to also-ran in terms of making a fun, mid-range hatch. Sufficient to say, from that point I specified that I did not want a 307 when ordering a hire car (a status shared only with the Nissan Almera II, which was truly horrid).

308Although the current 308 has marked something of a return to form, I think anyone would struggle to describe it as a handling and/ or ride benchmark. The main lead-indicator that something better may be around the corner seems to come from the RCZ-R and 208 GTi 30th Anniversary models, both of which are drawing quite a lot of praise – but they are both at the sporting end of things. What we want is a new benchmark amongst the more cooking end of the spectrum, especially as the current generation Focus also seems to have let the mantle slip.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

14 thoughts on “Theme : Benchmarks – Peugeot 306 to 307 = Immediate Loss of Status”

  1. On the plus side, I reconsidered the 308 estate. One was parked near my home and I stopped to stare at it for a few minutes. I recalibrated my expectations and realised it was alright if judged on its own terms. I could even feel that it might be necessary not to use the simplest lines and arcs to connect the elements. I have to accept they are not going to make a light, elegant, utile estate like the 306 again – the market is not going for that kind of thing.

  2. Decidedly ropey they may be, but compare an ancient 307 to the equivalently aged Focus and the Peugeot ages well. Testament to Ford’s soft paint and the Focus’ surprising rustiness, perhaps. But then French cars always seem to soldier on, irrespective of the number of ancillary failures.

  3. Hmmm. Where I live the Focus seems to cope well, irrespective of the model year. The Mk1 is robust – even the window rubber resists curling. I can’t say how the 307 fares as I don’t notice them; 306s are numerous and not rusty
    either. They were incredibly popular in Denmark, even the saloon version. My brother had one, by the way. It was a good drive.

  4. The number of Citroen Xantias still on the road, at least in the Midlands, is truly bizarre. Not bad for a car apparently fashioned from gaffer tape, with a baffling set of Tupperware pots under the bonnet in leu of a suspension. Indeed a good friend of mine recently sold on his R plate (1998?) example to another friend because he was sick of running around in it, yet it simply refused to die.

    1. I have a similar problem with our family Xsara Picasso. Well over 8 years we have had it and remarkably reliable it has proven. I really dislike the bloody thing, but a combo of the reliability and incredible space (efficiency) inside means it stays around. Apparently, the C4 Picasso that replaced it is nothing like so robust.

  5. The point made with the passive rear-steer element is entirely valid. This particular rear suspension would make for a nice story on its own.
    Even the Xsara equipped with it is a so much more engaging drive then, say, a Golf.
    And due to its low profile it left a lot of space for the boot.
    The reliability of the needle roller bearing is another story…

  6. The Xsara: here was a great example of Citroen hamstringing themselves. Having driven one of these I can report that it proved a really pleasant steer and had a very comfortable interior. I made the quite brilliant observation at the time that with the Xsara you paid for the seats and everyhing else came free. Alas, Citroen clothed this quite nice and pleasant car in forbiddingly dull clothes. The styling wasn´t austere like VW or expressive like Alfa Romeo or Ford´s Focus. It had a watered-down quality or an indecisiveness about it. As a result its image undersold the car´s capabilities. If it had been styled as bravely as a Citroen should be, it would have been a much bigger success. Then it would have overshadowed its Peugeot stablemate though.

    1. I prefered the ZX to the Xsara – much more together in its styling and a very nice drive.

  7. True.
    But the seats aren’t a particularly strong point, are they?
    Too short in the base, tiny back and they wear out quickly.

    1. That would be my experience with the Picasso, although I think the short base, tiny back affects tall people more than short. My wife finds the car comfortable as well as practical – which is why it stays with us (that and the fact that my daughter loves the car as it’s the one she has spent her life being carried around inside). The side bolsters on the seat and back are wearing beneath the outer cloth (i.e. the foam seems to be degenerating), creating lumps which are uncomfortable. The side airbags in the seats went awol too, which was a hugely expensive fix as the related wiring loom had to be replaced. None of this provides enough of a reason for (the rest of) my family to want rid of the thing, though, what I need is an inconvenient breakdown!

  8. The seats were so good I noticed how good they were. Did they wear out? I can´t say. Next time I see a Xsara I will discretely look into the cabin and see if the fabric has worn through.

    R

  9. The fabric is not the problem (it’s actually quite good. Why no velour in today’s cars?). But the upholstery can’t stand being used.

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