Did They Really?

What are we looking at here – is it possible to tell?

2002 Peugeot 307 c-pillar.

In all the excitement arising from recent Opel Astra articles here, we utterly overlooked the events of October 2001. Peugeot UK’s press fleet had a busy time with the launch of the “radical hatch” 307 (as Car called it). Today I will have a closer look at a car I really don’t think about. Rather than dig into its specification and features, I want to ask if we can see it as an example of design vagueness? There is nothing to hang on to, visually. How can we explain this?

The Astra and Focus of the same time remain strong forms, with a clear identity. The Golf too has a character of its own. All three cars are characterised by a consistently and homogenously applied aesthetic rule set. The odd thing is that the 307 also has this if you analyse it. However, the result is a form that fails to make a strong statement.

The theory is that a clear rule set, consistently applied produces a shape that is memorable and satisfying. Think of the Citroen CX and 190E, for example. I had a close look at the car for details that would be able to stand on their own and found none, except perhaps the gammon-slice rear lamps. That is telling.

The 307 replaced the 306, swapping crispness and tidiness for a more rounded shape, with roundness applied at virtually all scales. At the time Car called it radical. Why? Because it seemed a bit taller than average, and the magazine described this as a semi-MPV design. Honda did this with the Civic of the same time period, another car I can’t call satisfying or enjoyable to behold.

These days, the 307 stands out for not standing out. All of the examples I saw while photo hunting were light metallic grey. That adds to the problem but does not account for anything much.

The architecture in no way sets itself apart – it is as humdrum as we like to think of Toyotas being humdrum (though they are mostly not). Dimensionally, the 307 is indeed a bit taller, 1510 mm compared to the Astra (1425 mm), Golf (1430 mm) and Focus (1430). All four cars are within a 100 mm length range, though. The 307 is 4200mm long, the longest of the four but the shortest is just 90 mm shorter (the Astra). At the scale of a car, that variation is measurable but not pronounced. If you have to measure a difference you haven’t really made one, as the saying goes.

2001 Peugeot 307

The 307’s big stylistic difference, if it is one, is the blending of the bonnet to the a-pillar though only the Golf’s silhouette would be picked out as different if you matched the four cars at once. The angularity and graphics of the Astra and Focus disguise the bonnet-to-body transition angle.

Something else is happening with the 307. It is the radii on the graphics and on the sculpture. There is nowhere for the eye to land except on the pointy inside corners of the lamps that touch lower than the oval grille which is cut out of the soft landscape of the bonnet.

In Car, October 2021, writer, Paul Horrell presented the car as radical, pointing to the sub-MPV architecture. Indeed. The visual space of the forward-positioned A-pillars is not usable; at the rear, there is less leg-room than the outgoing 306 (in a car 200 mm longer). And Horrell himself says “If only the Peugeot’s packaging weren’t such a pratfall. It’s not a cramped car, but it manages to negate the apparent advantages of its semi-tall outline. The irritating pedal layout highlights the offence.” He concludes by saying “It’s more of an incremental machine than its body architecture might have led us to hope.

So, not really radical at all.

Author: richard herriott

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

38 thoughts on “Did They Really?”

  1. Good morning, Richard. I have never sat in a 307. The car is noticeably quite tall and to me it suggests a roomy interior, which it doesn’t have, according to Paul Horrell. I never really thought much about the 307, but that’s not exactly great, is it? The irritating pedal layout he mentioned isn’t exactly an asset either as you use these almost all the time when you drive. It’s not like a switch in a bad position that you only use occasionally.

    Still, someone in my office has one of these and owned it from new, so he must be very fond of it. It’s dark blue, so if you’re interested I can take a photo this afternoon. He might work from home today, though šŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks, Freerk. There are a few of these around my Ā“hood so, yes, someone still wants to keep it on the road. I have to entertain the possibility that being dirt cheap combined with strong sales help keep this one visible on the pavement. The 306 was a very popular car here – you see lots around still and the 307 carried on on its coat-tails for the first few years. Your neighbour might have got a better, later one. The big surprise for me is the rear legroom. The 306 has an amazing amount (it *looks* like even more than the bigger 406) and the 308 is more cramped. ThatĀ“s so odd, given its 200 mm longer. The styling is what bugged me though, as much as the fact that it didnĀ“t move the game along or even seem to be as pleasing as the 306. For some reason anaesthesia and “maturity” turned into the ambition of chassis engineers at the turn of the century. And then the appearance is so hard to engage with. It is different to the 306, yes, but doesnĀ“t bring much to the party. Was all that blandness there to hide the height?

    2. Rear legroom shouldn’t be too much of a problem because the main reason for making cars tall is that passengers sitting higher up don’t need so much room in the longitudinal dimension because their legs are hanging down vertically instead of being stretched out longitudinally. When you look a the seats of the 307 (I couldn’t find a good picture of it) you see that at least the front seats are mounted at least ten centimetres higher than in a normal car. Peugeot needed all the space it could provide to improve crash safety which was pretty awful in the 306. All that safety equipment eats into interior space – thicker doors, airbags everywhere, thicker door posts.
      I have a general aversion against tall cars (and the resulting high centre of gravity) and therefore never liked cars like the 307 whose biggest sin surely must have been that it inspired the Golf Mk5 (MAGE – most awful Golf ever), small wonder that both cars were created under the same design director. Ten centimetres of additional height wreren’t just a couple of centimetres, they put the 307 in a different class with competitors like Touran, Meriva/Zafira. It was just Peugeot’s stubborn insistence that the 307 wasn’t a minivan that put it against the standard Golf or Astra. The 307 was not only ugly it also was one of those Peugeots with outsize windscreens with have all kinds of negative effects like being unnecessarily heavy, letting lots of heat into the car, needing large and heavy wiper mechanisms and creating acres of useless dashboard top surface.
      I found some sales 307 numbers – they made 3.6 million examples of it, more than a third in the first two years and then sales numbers faded away.

    3. My father has one, a 1.6 HDI SW from 2006, so it has to suffer the horrible front end restyling.
      I never liked this generation of Peugeots but in truth itĀ“s an honest workhorse: comfy, practical, very economical and reasonably nimble. And the SW body is not as ugly as the 3 or 5 door.

      IĀ“m surprised to learn that the 307 has less legroom that the 306, but fortunately the SW wheelbase is 10 centimetres longer than the 5 door. This summer we got 4 adults, two children (one of them in a seat in the third row) and our luggage for 5 days in the car, travelling in relative comfort. Mind you, in the summer you donĀ“t need too much luggage…

      Of course, itĀ“s nothing more than a transport tool; any attempt to drive briskly around bends you notice the tall body.

    4. It’s funny how memory works. I thought my colleague’s car was blue, turns out to be black. Slapping my head in disbelieve.

      I also spotted a red one on my walks.

  2. I always thought there was something crude with this generation of Peugeots. It’s something about scale and scaling? Like when you scale something up without fixing the resolution and it all gets pixelated? An analogy is to the VW Golf Plus which was literally an inflated Golf, it looked like someone had taken a Golf and inflated it with a football pump. These cars look inflated, but without the details being fixed accordingly, all the detailing is also inflated and out of proportion, like the entire car was low-res.

  3. Good morning Richard and thanks for the reminder of a largely forgotten car.

    A friend of mine replaced his 306 with a 307 and ran the latter for a decade. The 307 initially felt like a bigger and more substantial car and, sitting in the front, it gave the impression of spaciousness, certainly compared with the 306. Unfortunately, the extra room was all in the wrong place: there was a lot of dead space between the front seats and windscreen, a common criticism of monobox-ish designs. Moreover, the forward position of the A-pillars obstructed front three-quarter visibility.

    A look at your side profile photo above shows that the proportions are pretty conventional and not ‘cab-forward’ as might be expected, hence the lack of rear legroom.

    I quite liked the styling when I first saw the 307, but it was released in 2001 when the early to mid-1990s trend for rounded ‘organic’ styling was well over and it quickly looked dated. I remember some of reviewers at launch going on about the assumed space-efficiency of the design, probably before they ever actually sat in it.

    That junction at the base of the A-pillar with the bonnet and wing you highlight in a photo is fine in isolation and would (and does) work on a more angular designs. On the 307, it clashes with the curves around it, in particular the leading edge of the door, which cuts into the A-pillar. The junction, like the pointy inboard corners of the headlights you mention, catches your eye in the absence of anything else, and it’s not a feature that does the overall design any favours.

    The best thing one can say about the 307 is that it is nowhere near as bad as the first 308 that followed it. That really was a horror show, with its ‘big gob’ grille, weird angular creases around the wheel arches and atrocious A-pillar treatment:

    1. The worst detail here surely must be the stupid fake racer nose, some rubbish Mercedes also thought was a good idea.

    2. That picture has actually made me laugh. I know white is probably the worst colour for that design, but really, where to start? Did someone sit on the quarter scale model and forget to tell anyone?

      The detailing is exquisite – the square number plate mounting; the way the wheel arch broadens and then ā€˜kinksā€™ as it gets closer to the front of the car; the absolutely-not-integrated door mirrors; the F1 nose, as Dave mentioned; the sagging rear; the way the side window line plunges; the heavy, body colour rubbing strips which are out of alignment with the body colour feature at the front. A bonus for RHD markets was that the wipers were set up for LHD and didnā€™t clear a huge part of the screen.

      It sold half as many compared with the 307, but even so, thatā€™s still 200k sales per year. Amazing.

  4. Hi Richard, I only remember the 307 for two things: when it was new I occasionally saw one parked next to its predecessor and found the difference in size and design sensibility to be cartoonish. It can happen to me that when viewing a classic car next to a modern one, the invariably much more compact classic one evokes a thought along the lines of “did they fit a whole car in that? Why can’t they do that with a modern car?” After which I start thinking about all the new technologies in those modern cars that make them that much bigger, which makes some sense of the size difference. The 306-307 really highlighted that in one generation shift.

    It also marked the point at which Peugeot lost interest in making keen drivers’ cars, leading to things like this Top Gear segment:

    Top Gear isn’t particularly instructive, but in this instance they have a point: Peugeots of that generation seem geared toward people who really don’t care that much. Top Gear’s hamfistedness rather complements that in this instance, I think. Somehow the visual blandness of the design emphasizes that. As you point out, this blandness is so well thought out that it seems intentional.

    The overall dimensions strike me as a mix between the burgeoning MPV craze (all A, B and C segment cars shot up in height around that time, making the traditional and occasionally handsome sedan and coupĆ© derivatives of those cars a near impossibility) and a desire to have a more “substantial” machine, akin to the impression of substance a Golf gives. The first Fiat Tipo and the second CitroĆ«n C5 also tried to marry southern flair to Germanic substance. Neither is much remembered now, I think.

    Older Peugeots growing tatty very quickly – seemingly faster than other brands, something Peugeot themselves admitted at the introduction of the current 508 – doesn’t help either, of course.

    1. The tattiness factor was something they talked about in relation to the 407 which was supposed to endure longer than was supposed to be typical. The ironic thing is that 407s look much tattier than their 406 predecessor. The same applies to the 307 versus the 306. Generally, the surviving 306s look in good shape (and they are older) whilst 307s almost always have wobbly rubbers and dull paint.

    2. That’s a full two minutes more of Clarkson and co. than I could stomach.

    3. Tom V: Have you no thought for our delicate constitutions at this hour of the day? Actually, make that any hour of any day you care to mention. Please, I implore you. No more of this licence payer funded ‘hilarity’, or its Amazonian equivalent.

    4. My humble apologies. I shall refrain from inflicting such suffering in future…

      Frankly, I blame Daniel’s 308 picture, it threw me off balance. Not that I’m shifting blame or anything.


    5. “I blame Daniel…not that I’m shifting blame”

      Brilliant! A career in politics beckons for you, Tom. šŸ˜

    6. If I could resist the frequent urge to punch my colleague-politicians, that might actually work… No, not “punch them”: spanking would more apposite to the apparent mental age of most of them.

  5. With hindsight, I prefer the blandness of the 307 on launch compared to the facelifted model. Peugeot reckoned that everything would be solved by mounting the face of someone who can’t stop smiling after failed brain surgery.

    By the way, due to its radical approach to the motor vehicle concept, the 307 won the 2002 COTY.

    1. Hi JRE. Your image failed to display correctly, but I’ve fixed it. šŸ™‚

    2. Apart from being very ugly, the lack of a proper front bumper makes that the (rather flimsy) grille takes all the impacts. I donĀ“t know how the insurance companies accepted this.

    3. If nothing else (and I really mean nothing else) the catfish gob Peugeots looked fairly consistent across the range and warned road users of their presence. One might even say that the brightwork lent the cars a greater sense of richness, if that’s even possible on a shape that looks as such:

    4. The 407 is a car I think of an impostor. I canĀ“t get use to its appearance. I have no time for them at all. One thing that occurs to me is the role of colour in this. We think of colour as superficial and insubstantial in comparison to volume. Yet when I see the 307 in other colours I am inclined to dislike it a lot less. Colour is having an effect. I like the red wine colour and so I find the thing it is painted onto more appealing. The greys are colours for a disposable, donĀ“t-look-at-me object and those are virtually the only colours I see these cars in around here.
      The mirror position shows how the windscreen has moved forward while the driver is still where they always are. These cars have a lot more mass forward of the driver and correspondingly less behind them; the 407 is 2/3 the the front end of a car and 1/3 the back end of a car.

  6. It’s instructive to take another look at the 306, a car we probably all took for granted at the time, but now looks sublime compared to what followed:

    1. Not to be blowing my own trumpet, but I’ve always liked the 306, even though ubiquity, especially of the less appealing estate and saloon variants (though they were acceptable in their own right) wore away at that. The neat evolution of styling themes from the 205 and 405; the gentle widening of the bodywork at the wheels, replacing traditional wheel arch blisters and giving it an understated but athletic look; neat and well resolved detailing: very nice car.

      By the way, here’s an image (from Autocar) that illustrates the generation jump:

    2. That is an unusually nice car for the segment. Underrated too. There is one in my neighbourhood, but it’s in bad nick.

  7. One of the odd aspects of the 307 is that from the front three-quarters view, it looks as though the rear window area might be concave – the 308 also has this feature, to a worse extent. Itā€™s quite unsettling.

    There are several other aspects of the design that make me do a double take – it looks a bit like a 206, but not quite, which is also a bit disturbing. The 3-door isnā€™t much better, although if photographed from above, it looks okay as it minimises its apparent height.

    In addition, although I donā€™t like big wheels, the 307 isnā€™t helped by the fact that it looks over-bodied, thanks to its smaller wheels.

    Finally, I think the cabriolet is an incredibly clumsy design, especially from the rear.

    Re the issue of tattiness, I was trying to work out why the silver car in Richardā€™s article has mismatched front and rear wheels and I think it may be because it has winter tyres on the front wheels (?).

    1. Does my bum look big in this?

      Or this?

      Just hideous, both of them.

  8. Wasn’t the 307 part time of that first generation of Peugeot’s to be styled without any hand holding from Pininfarina? Cars like this make it hard to remember that a generation earlier Peugeot’s had been a bit of a classy proposition, the 307 is like a Saturday morning kids TV cartoon of a classic novel! Putting the pug into pug-ugly…

    1. Hi Richard, yes, you’re right. Going it alone without Pininfrina’s assistance turned this silk purse:

      Into this sow’s ear:

    1. The Ukranian people and their armed forces are truly extraordinary for their courage and resourcefulness.

      Slava Ukraini šŸ‡ŗšŸ‡¦

  9. Funnily enough, I immediately recognized the lead photo as a 307 because of that one most distinctive feature of the -07 series: the way the DLO ends within the rear door with a curved flourish.

    Not that it’s a nice feature in any way, it leads to a thick and featureless C-pillar (lacking the stylized angularity featured on the 306) and is odd in that the lower part of the DLO is further from the rear shutline than the top thus leading to an inevitable sense of misalignment since the cue is not echoed in any other form. If one were charitable it could be said that perhaps Peugeot wanted to imply solidity with such thick and clumsy window treatments, but it just comes off as lazy and, as you mention, vague. Worse yet is how it’s handled on the 407 and 207 where the rear door is nearly a facsimile of what appears here and it’s even more ill-fitting:

    It beggars belief as to why they would not have continued the DLO along the swage line and then finished it by running parallel to the shutline. The little curve at the bottom of the rear door window is just so incongruous with everything.

    1. Aargh! Those wheel arches on the 207. It looks like someone took a saw to the ends of the rear bumper moulding and rear quarter panel, leaving that weird flattened area surrounding the rear wheel.

    2. Those arches are appalling. “Geoff, the model is 15 mm too wide…. can we just run a blade vertically down and chop of the excess? WhatĀ“d that look like?” There is a tradition of gawkiness if French cars – the Ami and the Visa are examples. Peugeot didnĀ“t go for that except for the wierd 504 bootlid. With this generation of cars Peugeot went all in with gawkiness.
      And Alexander: yes, good obs. with the shutlines.

    3. For contemporary designers, shutlines are an inconvenience that is best ignored. And the best way to do that is just not to put them in on your concept sketches. Then, having sold the sketch, you find some pedantic engineer insisting that you have opening doors, so that the passengers can enter the vehicle. At that point, the designer grudgingly obliges and we end up with the sort of ghastly lash-up that was the C pillar on the first Nissan Juke. I’m guessing that the designers of these Peugeots wonder what our gripe is. They still just see the seamless piece of rolling sculpture that they originally envisaged.

  10. Design never happens in a vacuum, it comes about because a group of people, often with quite different sets of opinions coalesce around a single creative direction, following a period of evaluation and (in many cases) strong disagreement. The oversight function at PSA/Peugeot was clearly quite dysfunctional by the late ’90s. For me, these designs speak of a confused brief and design team who lacked conviction and effective leadership.

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