Thursday, 30 July 2009

Peugeot's 306 - the best banger for your bucks?

Between 1993 and 2002, Peugeot's 306 was one of the most popular small family cars available in the UK. A replacement for the Peugeot 309 (Does this make the 306 a Talbot Horizon MK3?), the car was styled by Pininfarina, based upon the Citroen ZX platform, and built at the former Rootes factory in Ryton. Engines spanned 1.4 to 2.0 4 cylinders, with a couple of popular XUD-based tractor powerplants thrown in for good measure. Two facelifts; one in 1997 and one in 1999, ensured that the car remained fresh until it's demise.

Yes, I admit it, the 306 is old news. The youngest of the cars is now seven years old, and its successor has also been replaced. But there is method in what seems like a mad choice of review. I've been running the family 306 now for a number of months, and as such I feel it's the perfect car upon which to cut my reviewers' teeth.

We've had the 306 in the family for about six years. It's a 1995 M plate 1.8 XT automatic, in Forest green with a beige velour interior. Due to a dealer error, we got it well below book - £1500, now worth between £500 and £700. And I genuinely think that at that money, it's a bargain worth investigating.

Let's start with the positives. The car is reasonably quick - although it's a little car with a 1.8 engine I'd expect the autobox to rob it of power. The car seems lethargic on paper, but unlike anyone else Peugeot measure these with fully laden cars. It handles well; the passive rear wheel steering conspiring with the excellent chassis to ensure that the car remains sure footed in any real world situation. The steering itself is well weighted, and spirited driving can put a smile on your face. The ride seems poor, but that can be attributed to the condition of Sheffield roads. If I'm honest, it's certainly no worse than, say, a Jaguar X Type. The car is comfortable, spacious (I'm 6'3", and have transported people of considerable girth in comfort - for people of a more orthodox size there is plenty of room for five), and with the beige interior, it's an airy and pleasant place to be. The radio in the car is a Blaupunkt unit, of a design exclusive to Peugeot, and whilst I've only ever used it to listen to Radio 2 I can confirm that it is a good unit; with superb sound quality. The boot is reasonable for the size of car, and on short local runs the car will return twenty miles per gallon. On a long run I am confident the car would return between 35 and 40mpg, which for a large engined automatic is by no means bad. And, purely from an aesthetic point of view, a day spent cleaning and polishing the car, and re-blacking the rubbing strips, can make it look almost new.

However, it's not all good. I have seen it said that French cars are essentially solid, but the 'tinsel' - unnecessary bits such as trim and toys - aren't of superb quality and will break. This is the case. The radio unit sometimes requires a restart before it will play anything, and even then on occasion it refuses to emit sound. The trim surrounding the sunroof switches is currently held in place by two blobs of Blu-Tack; the original clips having succumbed years ago. The trim piece on the rear ashtray is in the glovebox; several attempts to mend it having proved futile. And the steering wheel is made of a soft touch plastic which looks like elephant skin. It isn't, however, quite so resilient. Fourteen years of be-ringed hands upon it have left their mark - the top half feels as if it is made of sandpaper. And because ours has the rare beige trim, and a rare steering wheel design (In 1995 Peugeot must have used 7 different styles, one of which - ours - is like hen's teeth), we have been unable to source a replacement. I am, as such, actively seeking a set of driving gloves.

But these are but a few flies in what seems a very pleasant ointment. For £500, there are few cars that are so accomplished, and that I feel would offer the same amount of driver enjoyment and confidence. I am a Rover group fan, but I seriously doubt that either the R8 series 2/400, or the HHR series 400, is quite so accomplished for quite so little an amount of money. Buy a 306 if you're on a budget. You shan't regret it.

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