As well as sampling a 308 SW, our correspondent’s spring break in France also presented a chance to get the local perspective on how the indigenous competition measures up.
When in France, I always take the chance to go to a Maison de la Presse and search through the car magazines. In recent years, this has allowed me to discover publications dedicated to ‘classic’ Citroëns, Panhards and other wonders, proving to myself and sceptical family members that there are others out there with a passion for the quirky and yet banal.
I usually also buy a more mainstream monthly, and more often than not it’s L’Automobile; on this occasion, I bought the March 2018 issue.
L’Automobile is, to my mind, the closest that France has to Car Magazine. Having written that, in some respects I think that I am doing it a disservice these days. It may be my poor understanding of the French language, but I don’t find that it has the same quipping, forced irony that has developed in Car for many a year now, a style inspired by the Clarkson era Top Gear, I have always thought. It’s also a bit more consumer-focused than Car, rather than for the enthusiast. Overall, I enjoy reading it.
A source of amusement is the blatant if dead-pan delivery of jingoistic bias. It’s really quite refreshing, if bemusing, to find that almost all of the benchmarks are PSA or Renault made cars with only the odd accreditation of a VW group or BMW product – the marque with the ‘three pointed star’ doesn’t feature at all, nor does Ford, nor Opel.
My reference here is to the feature in the ‘Guide d’Achat’ section called ‘Le Top du Neuf’ – a photo of the relevant pages is included in the body of this article.
Here is a selection of podia among the different classes:
- Peugeot 208
- VW Polo
- Renault Clio
Compactes (‘Focus’ class)
- Peugeot 308
- Renault Mégane
- Seat Leon
- Citroën Grand Picasso
- Peugeot 5008
- Renault Grand Scénic
I could go on, but will spare you. The great thing about this exercise for me is mapping the development of my reaction to these listings. Take the Compactes, for example. Having recently driven a 308 and also given the overall view I have been consistently fed by the UK based automotive press, I immediately scoffed at the idea of the 308 being rated best in class.
My received knowledge was that the benchmark would be … well, a VW Group model. Then I started to wonder why I thought that, and to consider the case for the 308 … or the Mégane. The French duo definitely have a different flavour to them; warmer, softer, more emotional.
The 308 is a good car, worth consideration, and I wouldn’t not recommend it as such. However, would I rate it better than, say, the Golf, or the Astra, or Octavia, which do not get a mention? On balance, no, I think not and so my first reaction was probably justified.
As for the Petites, no chance in my mind is a 208 better than … the Ibiza (not even listed – the Polo gets the No.2 slot instead). Or a Fiesta. In fact, GTi aside, I think I’d prefer a C3. The 7-Places list is not so far off, perhaps, although I am surprised that they rate the 5008 behind the Picasso (recently renamed ‘Spacetourer’, so I have read in Auto Express) given that the Pug is newer, in the zeitgeist form of a pseudo SUV, and that the related 3008 ‘wins’ the SUV class prize on the same page, dumping the X1 and CX-5 into silver and bronze positions.
Only the Routières (mid-sized saloons) class features a German winner (Audi A4 – although the Talisman beats the Superb into 2nd and, moreover, I suspect that the new 508 might go straight in at No.1 once it has been driven and tested by the L’Automobile team).
The Citadines (City cars) class is won by the KIA Picanto (Twingo second, Aygo 3rd (ahead of its PSA cousins)); and, no French badged car at all is represented on the podium of the Cargos Discount (cheap estates[?]), although the Dacia Logan MCV is in at ‘2’ behind the Octavia Combi and ahead of the FIAT Tipo SW.
Now, I am fully aware that certain UK automotive publications also display local bias. Autocropley in particular bats rather enthusiastically for JLR and other manufacturers with interests in the UK (most recently, I have noticed it giving a number of warm embraces to Vauxhalls).
Car frequently and bemusedly awards top slot in tests to JLR models, which are hugely more expensive than their comparators, even though the main body of the test would have led one to believe that they were being whipped by the Audi, BMW or Tesla also in play. It has been especially generous about the overpriced, overweight and yet undernourished E-Pace of late.
Of course, it is harder for UK-based magazines to show a bias as there are no indigenous, mass manufacturers any more. I do recall in the 80’s how Autocar, Motor, and What Car? were ludicrously positive about the Metro, Maestro and Montego and then, later that decade, placing the R8 Rover 200 at the top of its class (which I personally believe was far less of a suspension of disbelief – the 200 was a competitive model, thanks mainly to Honda’s input). Car – then edited by one Steve Cropley – even described the under-developed Maestro at launch as ‘Very good – later it might be brilliant’.
So, maybe the local bias shown by L’Automobile shouldn’t have been such a shock to my system. However, the nonchalant way in which the journalism just defaults to making the French-badged models the benchmark did feel that way. On reflection, maybe they are not that far off and they certainly feel more relevant in the context of living in or at least staying in France.
French manufacturers are undoubtedly making a better fist of fighting off the VW Group hegemony than did their British counterparts. And, for all their faults, I say, “long may that continue”.