Just to get the point out there – I’m having a challenging time placing the Peugeot 301.
The French automaker has always been about standing out, being unusual. But something tells me that the 301 won’t be following that tradition of being different.
First of all, it doesn’t look like something we would expect of Peugeot. We’ve become accustomed to Peugeots being ahead of their time in terms of design, and by their standards this 301 is styled very conservatively. The new Peugeot grille is proudly front and center, accentuated by details like the bulges on the hood that frame the lion emblem. The headlamps complement the Peugeot family fascia, the side profile follows the conventional three-box format, the rear is cleanly designed, while 16-inch rolling stock complete the look.
The new model actually measures in at 4,442 millimeters long, 1,715 millimeters wide and 1,466 millimeters tall. By today’s sizing standards, the 301 is in the middle of the subcompacts and compacts, so it’s somewhere between the dimensions of a Vios and a Corolla.
Pop open that driver door and you’ll see a different side of the 301. The dashboard is actually very nicely done, continuing the hexagonal motif (from the front grille) onto the vents, and the center console. The driver’s primary and secondary controls are all framed neatly around him or her on the dash. The plastics aren’t generally soft to the touch, but that’s all right given the concessions for mass production, and they’re of good quality.
Features-wise, it’s got all the necessities covered and then some. USB, Bluetooth, stability control, parking sensors, automatic climate control and cruise control are all standard for this EC5 variant of the 301. What I found odd was the placement of the window switches; they’re un-ergonomically forward of the gearstick and arrayed around the lone small cupholder. I would have opted to have the power window switches moved to the respective doors to also make room for two larger cupholders. Case in point: at a fastfood drive-thru, my large drink cup wouldn’t fit.
Par for the course
Twist the key and the 1.6-liter petrol engine under the hood gets going. The figures themselves aren’t class-leading, though 115 PS (113 horsepower) of power and 150 Newton-meters of torque are par for the course. The gearbox could use a two more gears, as a four-speed automatic tranny is something that can be acceptable in the B-car class, but it’s a bogey in the new C car category.
Spend an hour with the 301 in urban traffic and all the misgivings about the design and gearbox fade from memory. The 301, simply put, is a very comfortable car to tackle below-average pavement on city streets like ours, thanks to the combination of the suspension and the cushioning of the seats. Ambient noise suppression is also very good when compared to other cars of similar dimensions and price. Fuel economy is likewise very good, registering 9.5 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 18 kilometers per hour (highway economy: 14.1 kpl at 88 kph average). Overall, you get your money’s worth if you take the 301 from office to home on a daily basis, as the car delivers a very low degree of driver fatigue.
Take the 301 on a winding road, however, and you’ll want to head back into the city. Handling is decent, but it’s definitely not the 301’s strength. Acceleration from the 301 is likewise decent, but the engine whining at high engine speeds will make you want to back off a bit and cruise. The gear ratios, while good in the city, seem a bit tall for the engine if you want a bit of speed. And the programming doesn’t make for intuitive kick-downs if your right foot demands acceleration. The transmission also has a tendency to gear hunt (shifting between second, third and fourth, and vice-versa) if you’re going up or down a hill and holding your foot steady on the throttle.
There is plenty of charm with the 301, but you have to be in the right driving conditions to appreciate them. What is fortunate for Peugeot, however, is that those conditions -urban traffic, rutted concrete and potholes, among others – are where most prospective 301 owners would find themselves in on a daily basis. At P1.090 million for this 2015 Peugeot 301 EC5, the price tag is certainly more premium than larger cars such as the Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6G and the Honda Civic 1.8S, and there, however, lies the rub.
Without the outward flavor of the French design, the premium paid for the 301 could be a bit more challenging to justify.