(Second of two parts)
Driving impressions with the 308 GT Line around the city show steering, brake and gas pedal reflexes up to the task of cut-and-thrust EDSA driving, which after all isn’t any different from dicing with the Algerians or Senegalese on the pheripherique in Paris. With more road to play on, the feel of the small steering wheel is consistently light and far more linear than many other all-electric power assistance systems. Engine power delivery has a nice surge of torque but this surge is likened by other road testers to that long forgotten cliché, “turbo-lag”.
I think diesel engine makers are of two schools. One prefers the traditional diesel surge of torque at narrow rpm bands and using lower gear ratios to harness the torque into pulling power. Anyone who has driven the 1.8 naturally aspirated diesel of a 504 (1968-1985), Enzo Ferrari’s daily drive, will be familiar with this 2,000-rpm surge. The other school evens out the power delivery, aping a naturally aspirated petrol engine. I suspect the latter school sacrifices power for smoothness by retarding the timing. The Peugeot’s gap in immediate reaction is mistaken to be turbo lag but is actually an atypical surge from a fat torque curve. Very very helpful in point, squirt and swerve driving between the slowpokes on the 3×3 sections of the NLEx that are not under the gaze of GATSO speed cameras. Peugeot after all is one of the oldest diesel engine makers in the world and it has achieved remarkable success in taming its CRDi’s crackling noise at idle, perhaps better than BMW. To think, MINI, BMW and Peugeot share an engine factory (petrol).
Now down to one of the the most valuable values of Peugeot and French voiture-dom: the eiderdown ride. All cars have their share of gas chamber dampers, nylon bushings, hydraulically filled mountings, Teflon-coated piston rods, torsion or variable rate coil springs but not all can achieve the supple absorbency on both bump-drop and check-rebound of a Peugeot. Rival car manufacturers whisper about giving a king’s ransom to pirate Peugeot’s test drivers as only their derrieres can get this feel right, which no computer program has yet duplicated (another urban legend). Yes, wafer-thin super wide tires like the 40 profile 18 rims of this GT Line couldn’t even adversely affect Peugeot’s cushioning ride.
Not noticed by many is the main reason why the 308 has above average NVH. Look at the floor and the doors. The last time I saw rocker panels, beams and gusseting this fat was when the previous generation Ford Focus was new. That terrifically stiff body-in-white resulted in stellar NACAP crash safety ratings and reductions in weight gaining sound insulation as the body-in-white resisted the “tuning fork” malady of thin sheet metal “cages”. A stiff body-in-white also assists in being the physical foundation of that Peugeot soft ride. But these big beams have a cost as it robs interior space. Also, fantastic side crash intrusion protection resulted in big doors. The 308’s door pocket could accommodate a deacon’s Jerusalem AND Douay-Rheims bibles side by side.
On top of the calmness NVH reduction promotes, Peugeot also has a knack for introducing symphonic acoustic warnings for key in hole, door ajar, seat belts unattached and the like. The tones chosen are quite calming rather than paranoia-inducing. The spec sheet is as generic as any FWD econo-hatch save for the rear torsion beam axle that uses thermo-elastics to soften the rear axle ride. Hit a pothole or bump in a Peugeot, or even a series of bumps/holes, and you will never see the front fender dive down or lurch skyward on the rebound, as if there is some mysterious being between the tire and the strut tower mounting that just dissipates all that road shock energy without displacing the car’s steady and level composure.
And the eiderdown seats? To be fair, we didn’t expect the eiderdown cushions that maybe standard in the Allure spec level. Being a GT, the seats were heavily bolstered in black leather, with red stitching and maybe as a concession to global tastes, built-in Thai massage. It would be tempting to call the seats ergonomic, which they undoubtedly are, but what a chiropractor does to your foot is another world from what a young Thai masseuse does. With different degrees of firm support in the right places, the seats will keep you alert and relaxed for hauling in those long Autoroute kilometers.
The ECO driving mode (for economy and ecology, I suppose) triggers the auto-engine stop to save fuel on idling and reduce emissions. I’ve been a skeptic of these systems ever since VW complied with some Swiss canton’s draconian fuel/ecology saving ordinances in the late ‘80s. Today’s auto-stop/start features are “smart” though. The transition from start to run is far smoother nowadays. I used to push the “defeat” switch of these systems just to keep the air-con running, arguing that our lives depended on it.
Peugeot keeps the engine running for so long as ambient temperatures stay above 35 degrees Celsius, which is 99.9% of all daytime driving times in our country. The system also shuts off when it detects that you are coasting to a traffic light stop but it doesn’t seem to adjust to the stop-go rhythm of EDSA-like traffic queues, confused as when to stop or to even stop at all. Curiously, some current model Peugeot owners blame this feature for premature battery expiry; Peugeot’s expensive gel-type batteries are supposed to last far longer than conventional lead-acid types. Peugeot says ECO mode shouldn’t penalize battery life. Still there is a justifiable pay-off; 12.8 kms/l of diesel consumption on the ex-urban circuit.
Other state-of-the-art features are the electronic parking brake with automatic release/engage, depending on if the engine is stopped or running. The Hill Assist feature of the AT also comes into play in such stop and go situations. Owners of older and bigger Peugeot models claim that the switch of this electronic parking brake is prone to premature wear. If it’s any consolation, many independent mechanics who have fixed Peugeots (my wife’s included) claim they are as easy to fix as a garden variety Toyota.
Overall, the latest 308 GT Line meets all the expectations of Peugeot loyalists while keeping up with the advances that are generic in rival volume car models. Compared to our 13-year-old 307, the older model has softer seats and it isn’t tight. Happily, its “French-ness”, high levels of NVH isolation, pleasing tactile surfaces (and acoustic warnings), thrift and surge-like power band, besides the traditional Peugeot values, are what keeps it an interesting drive, a pleasant departure from the “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” default syndrome of many of its class rivals, even if it is a bit more than Altis or Jetta prices. The GT Line’s 2017 price was 1.9M but it is out of stock as of this writing. The more sober “Allure” sells for 1.6M, 2017 price.
Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN
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