What is Today’s 309?

The Peugeot 309 is, I feel, a European equivalent of the kind of anonymous car  GM and Ford made in the 1970sand 1980s What is there like it today?

1983-1993 Peugeot 309 GL Profil
1985-1993 Peugeot 309 GL Profil

What makes the 309 such an oddity is that it should have been a Talbot but had to use Peugeot components and ended as a Peugeot anyway. Its development team had roots in the Rootes group and Simca: British and French. The stylists in Coventry and engineers at the former Simca centre at Poissy were forced to

DePeugeot, RePeugeot
DePeugeot, RePeugeot

absorb PSA values and also to make Peugeot bits into Talbot bits and turn them back again. It must have been disorientating.

With the dramatic failure of the Talbot Tagora and the decline of Horizon sales, it became apparent to Peugeot that nobody needed Talbot. However, much work had been done on what would have been C28 for Talbot so instead of canning the car, Peugeot directed the Talbot team to rePeugeot the car and label it 309.

Nobody knew, nobody cared: they bought it anyway.
Nobody knew, nobody cared: they bought it anyway.

Although the front end of the 309 is mostly Peugeot 205, the engines are a ragbag of Simca, Talbot and Peugeot units. It has a wheelbase that’s about 6cm longer than a 205 which means it was a slightly bigger 3 or 5 door car with a different set of engines and an interior not noticeably nicer than a 205. Check out the carry-over bits jammed onto the rear door skin. image

When the 309 appeared in showrooms it sat next to the 205 and 305. The cheapest 205 cost £4745. The 305 cost £7495 and the 309 cost £5545. The 205 had a 2418 mm wheelbase; the 305 had 2620 mm and the 309 had 2470 mm. So, the numbering and pricing didn’t really align.

Essentially, the 309 existed as a de-Peugeot re-Peugeot orphan from a cancelled range of cars that never made sense. Yet it sold well anyway. So much for marketing nostrums.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “What is Today’s 309?”

  1. It may have been ugly but the 309 was superb to drive, in diesel form at least; beautifully fluid and absorbent yet precise and agile. Possibly the zenith of Peugeot’s suspension design?

    1. Diesel with automatic was especially nice, although quite rare.
      But as for zenith of Peugeot’s suspension design, I would nominate first-gen 406. Facelifted version was somehow …more German in feel, if I could define it like that. Slightly harder, tighter controls (not necessarily more accurate…), somehow felt heavier.

  2. For me it’s no surprise that the 309 sold well. While it looked a bit bland (but basically correct), it filled a void that before existed in Peugeot’s range: a Golf-sized car. The 205 was a bit too small for that, while the 305 was already clearly mid-sized. Too bad the 200s and 300s were already occupied, so they had to do the odd workaround with the 9 at the end. The situation was corrected when they upgraded the 305’s successor to a 400 number.

    I’d prefer a 16v 309 in bright blue metallic with its double foglights to any other hot hatch of that time. I don’t know if they had nicer interiors than the example you showed.

    By the way, I think the 309’s equivalent as an anonymous car today is the Citroën C4 rather than the 308. The latter is looking too nice and stylish for that.

  3. That the resultant car had decent handling and performance is remarakable. I didn’t mention that I don’t dislike the car; more I was pondering its tangled lineage.
    Some special editions may have had nicer interior trim but I haven’t seen them.
    The 306 and 406 would be my nominees for Peugeot’s best ride/handling efforts. If we take time period into account then the 604 gets a mention as well, naturally.

  4. I have fond memories of the 309. At university a chap in our halls had a tatty example that served as our transport on various occasions. The ride was indeed quite fluid, even with five or six large bodies in it (quite often there was someone in the boot). The interior was fairly robust and resistant to the staining and smells that students bring; pizza, vodka, grass and flatulence. The brakes were poor though, and quite often the chap brought the vehicle to a complete halt by driving it very slowly into the side of the hall building.

    1. I read at the time that 9 – pronounced “neuf”, was a convenient double-entendre on “new”, albeit, surely it would have to have been “neuve” given the gender of “voiture”. Laurent?

  5. The 309 was a popular private buy at the time, and the GTI was a blast. I suppose the Seat Leon might be its modern day equivalent.

    1. The 309 is quite a mongrel and unusually was made of bits of one brand that should have been sold as another but were ‘t. If Mercedes tried to turn the Chrysler 300 into a Benz and maybe use Porsche suspension that would be as mixed up.

  6. A modern 309? I’d suggest the VAG Rapedo (or Torpid, as some would have it), or the Peugeot 301 / Citroën C-Elysée. All are universal lowest common denominator taxi-rank buckets on stretched supermini chassis. The Nuova Tipo also fits in this category, as would the Dacia Logan / Sandero, sold in some parts of the world with Renault or Nissan badges.

    As others have noted, the 309 was certainly not sub-standard by the benchmarks of its time. What’s strange is that Peugeot stumbled accidentally into the Golf / Escort / Kadett sector. having until then avoided it, since the end of 204/304 production.

    An odd 309-related fact: Some Spanish 205s used the Simca Poissy engine in place of the XA. They’re easy to recognise, not just by the characteristic rattle, but also the bonnet bulge shared with the 205 1.6 Automatic, which has carburetted XU engine.

  7. I drive a 309 diesel as my daily even today, and it gets a lot more attention than a contemporary Golf or 3 Series. It’s also one of the most practical cars you can imagine, it does 60mpg on a run and the load space is huge. Ultra reliable too. Sometimes it is easy to forget that a car designed for ordinary people to use will trigger fond memories in all those who remember them from years ago. Just be thankful they don’t suffer from the same scene tax as a Ford or a VW!

    1. In all the rush I didn’t make it clear that I quite like the 309, probably because it’s a “quiet” car. I don’t expect it atrracts the after-market people in the way Golf, Civic and Focus might. That a fundamentally decent car came of such disparate underpinnings is nice.

  8. Although it was announced at the tail end of 1985, deliveries really only began in ’86, making the 309 30 years old this year. It’s a curious car, not just because of its convoluted upbringing, but due to Peugeot’s rather half-hearted initial embrace of the model into the leonine fold. Instead of highlighting the similarities between it and the ‘Sacre Numero’, they elected to give it a different grille treatment and altered the more rounded rear of the C28 to something reminiscent to that of the Vera concept. This gave it a very severe look. Also the dash of the early models was quite unattractive.

    Most of these details were addressed with the mid-life facelift, which by contemporary Peugeot standards was really quite comprehensive and included new engines. By then it was a fully fledged member of the range. I suspect Peugeot didn’t really want it in the first place but once it began to sell, realised its value. After all, it was initially up against the less than stellar Renault 9/11 twins in its native (and biggest) market. None of which is to say there was much wrong with the 309. It was a good car – in some respects, very good indeed. It did however lack the grace of the 205 or indeed the later 306.

    1. Not only were the Renaults less than stellar, a Citroën offer in that class was nonexistent at the time.

  9. Simon: it was a transitional period. The idea of archetypal car classes wasn’t as rigid. The Visa was Citroen’s medium class car and Renault still sold the 4CV – not small but basic, like a Dacia today. Then came the Golf clones: 306, 19 and ZX, all modelled on Golf dimensions. Ford and Opel had these sorts of cars first. The French and British seemingly not – what was the first British “Golf”? The Maestro?

    1. Richard – the British Golf was the BMC 1100/1300, 12 years before the German one. Hugely successful in its home market, well regarded in Europe, and sold worldwide.

      VW built on their car’s success, BMC/BL threw it all away. I’ll never forgive them.

  10. Here’s an oddity. The 309 has rain gutters on the edge of the roof whereas the 205 does not.

    Second, it’s worth repeating that the 309’s appearance is far from ugly. The contemporary Escort wins the award for the least nice car of that class. The 309 is still bland. It is ambiguous. The style suggests saloon but it has that big rear window. You see it as part saloon, part hatch. They should have made an estate version. Missed opportunity, I say.

  11. Heuliez came up with some proposals to give “La bâtarde” a break:


    Rather utilitarian, in the manner of the Japanese “vans” of its time, but neat enough. I thought the 306 Break an agreeable looking thing, but its styling seems to be as divisive as Mrs. Thatcher.

    Also, Richard you’re being harsh on the 309-era Escort, at least in styling terms. Today I saw a perfect-condition mid-grey ’86 facelift RS Turbo being driven through the industrial estate near where I work, with far too much aplomb for a car worth a sizeable multiple of what it cost new.

    I was struck by how ‘right’ it looked – clean well-balanced shape, excellent stance, just the right amount of ornamentation and graphics. If it had been a faded maroon 1.8L diesel 5 door, I’d probably not have jumped so readily to its defence.

  12. Late to the party here. I remember CAR magazine drove a 309 across the Sahara when it was new (the car, not the desert). It held up admirably, apart from a heat shield which came off. Also, I seem to recall that the 309 had a lot of warranty claims early on because people used to close the glass tailgate whilst stood at the side of the car and the glass would shatter.

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