First of two parts
Disclosure: I – or my wife to be precise – am a happy owner of a 2004 Peugeot 307 hatchback and by inference familiar and heavily influenced by Peugeot values. Our well-maintained 308 GT Line 1.6 HDi hatchback press demo unit was supplied by Eurobrands-Peugeot, C-5, Pasig City.
So the bourgeoisie at large would like to know Peugeot values? Being a French car, it cannot escape the philosophy and beliefs of the French Republic. In this epoch of globalization, most mass market cars, particularly the universally popular B and C segment (to which the 307 & 308 belong) tend to exhibit the same qualities, characteristics and even the same foibles as they compete to appeal to a wider church. Pick a Toyota Auris, Ford Focus, Renault Megane or a VW Golf and what one likes in a Golf one will most likely find in an Auris. In resisting homogenisation, however, the French will harrumph and make sure their products are unique and special, even just for the sake of being different.
To explain, the French believe in an ordered secular world entirely of their own making. If Napoleon, hand over heart, didn’t blunder into Waterloo, we may all have ended up living in a motoring world with only four mainstream car brands (Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Simca-Talbot) and two major truck brands (Saviem, Berleit) to choose from. In keeping with the French social order, you are allowed freedom of choice by the almighty state, which says that if you want mad-scientist-futuristic-avant garde go for Citroen, Renault for flamboyant, idiosyncratic and intellectual and Peugeot for practical and utterly rational. Simca-Talbot is for those who can’t make up their mind.
All French cars regardless of brand must have long travel suspension, supple spring/damper tuning and seats that make feel you are sitting on a cloud of cotton. Synthetics and plastics are welcome, the more creative the application the better. The headlights must illuminate all corners of the countryside ahead and be amber in color, the way it used to be before EU homologation. A pre-EU uniquely French lighting requirement – the low speed city light mode, an illumination step between park light and low beam – can easily be conformed to as today’s DRL or daytime running light.
At this point, I can confirm that all the French cars I have experienced through the years exhibited the avowed traits. Renaults from the R4, R5 Supercinq, R16TS, R20, R14, R21 Manager and Nevada, R25 and the Clio are as advertised. The same for the Citroen Visa, 2CV, Dyane, Bx, Gs, Cx and Xm. Ditto for Peugeot’s 404, 504, 505, 604, 205Gti, 405-16V, 106-16V, 206, 306, 307, 309, 407, 607 and now the 308 hatchback.
Eurobrands, the Peugeot importer that stepped into the shoes vacated by AutoFrance almost a decade ago, classifies this 308 as a “GT Line”, the next spec-up grade from “Allure” and just below the GTI. It is fitted with a 1.6 120PS HDi turbodiesel Euro 6-compliant engine mated to an “efficiency” type six-speed auto transmission. The GT Line wears 225/40 profiles on rim 18 Michelin Sport Pilot 3s as wide as the GTI’s. The sporty alloy wheels have the au courant black inset with exposed spokes in aluminum that conceal brake dust from heavy braking. The 308’s LED lighting follows the current Peugeot style of mimicking the eyes of a lion (Peugeot’s grille mascot/insignia) at the front and its claws unto the rear corners. The spacious but boxy outline, door and glass apertures resemble the 307 but with the edges sanded down to round off the corners.
Peugeot hypes its “i-cockpit” concept; essentially it is a redistribution rather than a reduction of buttons/levers/toggles of control along with any shape or form that would distract the field of vision. Historically, Peugeot interiors have always been the more austere among the French brands but in this case Peugeot’s mission was to tidy up the dash instead of peppering it, along with the door cards, ceiling and steering wheel stalks, with so many confusing controls to memorize. As always, the button switches have their digital avatars on the large video screen while some functions — ECO on/off, traction control, radio volume, rear window defroster — are exclusive to manual switches, tucked under subtle anti-glare hoods. Those who have difficulty with swiping smartphone touchscreen glass can easily aim a digit as the icons are thumb size. Its protocol mirrors smart phones with layers of consecutive menus. A major upgrade in the interior is in the quality of the surfaces: plastics, leather and satin chrome ooze quality to a level that was only to be expected in upper class Peugeots like the 604 and 607.
To ensure the best view of the front windshield, Peugeot, against tradition, reduced the steering wheel to the smallest possible MINI-esque size while the instrument binnacle is as low as it could be. Before the age of affordable power steering, French cars had big diameter steering wheels placed at almost a bus-like rake. The big diameter ensures turning leverage when parking and a clear view of the instruments. The lower rake angle allows one to rest and read the Le Monde or Le Figaro while stuck in interminable traffic on the pheripherique (urban legend, this).
As I am not tall at all, low-slung instrument clusters are not a visibility issue. The nappa leather lined till reminds one of the flat bottomed steering wheels that are trending nowadays, surely inspired by F1 racing. EuropCar Rental veterans will also recall the similar “quartic” (four corners of a square bent to small curves) steering wheel of the 1980s Austin Allegro. Believe it or not, the Allegro was British Leyland’s riposte to the high-tech Renault R16 and Citroen GS of the ‘70s/’80s. The overall upgrade in interior quality material and NVH reduction reminds one of what Dr. Piech first did when he took over the helm of VW AG in the 80s. He pushed VW to raise the quality of the interior of all Volkswagens to be at par with Mercedes.
To be continued
Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN
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