Car reviews - Peugeot - 308 - CC S HDi coupe-convertible
Diesel performance and economy, cabin presentation and comfort, equipment levels, dynamic capabilities, Airwave neck heater, design improvement over dumpy 307 CC
Room for improvement
Firm ride, LHD wiper set-up, restricted rear vision, thick A-pillars, small glovebox, frustrating speedometer markings, weak cruise control, boot space reduction with roof inside
21 Apr 2010
FASHION is a funny thing.
We no longer have the Toyota Celica, Nissan Gazelle or Subaru Vortex to liven up the new-car scene, but you could argue that the coupe lives on in the CC ‘coupe convertible’ – a visual Vista-Vision of oddball proportions as epitomised by the Peugeot 206 CC of a decade ago.
That tiny 2+2 started something big, pushing out the once dominant Japanese and ushering in an exclusively all-Euro club of copycat CCs, from forgettables like the Holden Tigra, Holden Astra TwinTop, Ford Focus CC, Renault Megane CC and even Peugeot’s own 207 CC, to the segment leading Volkswagen Eos.
Isn’t it strange that Asian brands such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai all seem content to let the Europeans dominate the affordable sporty coupe class they once ruled.
Common to all these coupes and convertibles is that all are based on mainstream small-car platforms, so they fall in the ‘sporty’ rather than ‘sports car’ category.
But even that is being generous since all CCs are heavy (often adding more than 150kg over their hatchback sibling), wobble prone (no roof means less structural support), and too often soft or numb in the steering department. They’re as sporty as Tony Abbot.
Plus they usually inflict a small boot, torturously tight rear seat, restrictive entry and high prices on to their recipients.
At least some of the old Asian coupes handled with alacrity and performed with verve (Nissan 200SX or Hyundai Tiburon anyone?) while having some semblance of practicality thanks to a big hatch or boot cavity that never had to house a roof.
But, traditionally, the CC’s most heinous crime is bad design. The massive rear overhang required to accommodate the said turret too often results in awkward proportions and some ugly detailing. Only the Eos, Astra and Tigra manage to escape the dumpy disease.
Isn’t good looks the key to any ‘coupe’, be it closed or convertible? Now, main offender and class pioneer Peugeot has tried again with the 308 CC, successor the bug-like 307 CC. That one was OK up front, but War Of The Worlds weird from behind with its insect-esque tail-light detailing. Mercifully the newbie is altogether more resolved (if a tad too fussy head on). Some may even think it pretty.
Stepping inside (but watch your head – that windscreen is raked steeply) it is clear Peugeot has tried very hard to give its small car range a bit of quality pizzazz, showing in the CC’s classy ambience. We’d describe it as classically contemporary.
Soft rubberised plastics swathe the upper part of the dash in the flagship ‘S’ model tested, with leather upholstery on the seats and doors, as well as soft fabric material on the ceiling, adding a real closed coupe feel to the luxury look of the 308 CC cabin. The fact that there is no indication that the roof actually lifts and falls away highlights how cocooning and secure the Peugeot seems.
If you decide to drive alfresco you will need a seemingly eternal 20 seconds for the top to drop, but at least it doesn’t clunk and bang like some others’. At speeds under 110km/h there isn’t much in the way of noise or turbulence, yet Peugeot provides a clip-on rear-seat-nullifying deflector to help keep the peace even more, anyhow.
A strong heater, seat warmers and an effective fan-based neck warmer help create a toasty atmospheric cone for the front occupants. The back seat riders, in contrast, are left to fend for themselves – as in virtually all convertibles.
There is a strange dichotomy to the instrumentation though: all four analogue dials (small water and temp gauges flanked by large speedo and tacho) look splendid with their very-Deco black-on-white faces, elegant fonts and sporty red arrow-like needles.
But the speedo’s markings are too hard to decipher at a glance, and the crucial 40km/h, 60km/h, 80km/h and 100km/h numbers aren’t even included! We consequently found ourselves exceeding the limit by a 10km/h or even cop-baiting 20km/h. Function follows form as surely as a fine follows a speeding crime.
Yet the opposite is true with the digital elements, with the ugly, busy and dated orange pixilations ending up being actually informative of all trip computer, audio, climate control and vehicular functions. We dig the big gauges but this car is crying out for an auxiliary digital speedo.
So it’s a good thing the cruise control (with an excellent speed limiter device but dire ability to maintain the set speed on even a gentle incline) is stupendously simple to fathom, as are the smartly designed temperature settings and the easy-to-reach radio and CD/MP3 buttons.
Furthermore, the steering wheel is handsome and sized just right, and there is a reassuring solidity to the way this car is built. That flaky old French build quality thing has been exorcised out of this Peugeot.
Finding the right driving position is no problem at all, but the quintet of circular dash vents are too far away to be felt. Rear vision is never great with a rump the size of a Texas ranch, and the ultra thick front pillars create a sizeable blind spot, so beware. Storage spaces are limited to a large pair of door pockets, deep but narrow centre bin, smattering of shallow dash slots, and next-to-useless glovebox.
However, we absolutely love the front seats, particularly that effective though noisily blowy Airwave neck-warmer. The chairs themselves are among the most comfortable and supportive we have sampled in recent memory, holding you put while soft enough to let you sink into them. Lovely.
Their quite narrow ‘tombstone’ design brings an unexpected benefit for the pair of packed sardines out back, since it allows knees to splay on either side of them, marginally improving comfort and helping take the back passengers’ minds off the too-upright backrest. Sitting with your head up against the glass rear window is no fun either, so wear a hat. And don’t rely on finding any receptacles for your coffee, mobile phone, maps or keys.
It isn’t too bad if you’re smaller than an average-sized adult, because getting to the rear is enhanced by zoomy electric seats that require only a quick tug of a lever once sat in the back the person there can easily adjust how far back the front seat intrudes the cushion is surprisingly adequate all side windows retract at a push of a button to alleviate claustrophobia middle console vents help maintain a civilised atmosphere and there are elbow rests, grab handles and a rear reading light.
Peugeot has obviously put in a lot of thought into this part of the interior. It feels like a luxury sedan that’s been shrink-wrapped around you.
The boot does an astounding shrinking act too, amazing onlookers with its ability to become disproportionally small to the generous exterior dimensions allocated to it. Still, it better than a 307 CCs but the lack of cabin access is disappointing.
And speaking of booting the Peugeot, whoever decided to fit in the fine 100kW/320Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel has done it a huge favour, because while the obvious packaging limitations remain, the sizeable dose of torque helps overcome the lardy feel of the 308 CC’s predecessor.
Plus, there is no way this engine sounds like a diesel when you’re packed inside, except immediately after a cold start. Some passengers spent hours in our car without ever realising what sort of fuel this convertible consumes – even when topless.
Driving the front wheels via a smooth shifting six-speed automatic gearbox, progress in the 308 CC is painless enough, because there is always a ready amount of pull available from parking speeds right up to way past the speed limit.
All this available power means if you are so inclined, you can screech the Frenchy’s front wheels and blast forward effortlessly to win quite a few traffic light grand prix. There is also a satisfying whoosh when overtaking at highway speeds.
Our economy average was a reasonable 8.6L/100km in urban/city driving, with the potential to fall away further in a rural setting. In fact, the performance/economy combo is perhaps the only real ‘best of both worlds’ promise to truly be realised in this particular CC.
As with all 308s, the open-air version is dynamically defined by safe, secure and flat handling, with high limits of road holding but a ride quality that airs slightly on the firm side of comfortable.
In normal driving scenarios, the Peugeot will slice cleanly through a corner or curvy road with no drama at all, but introduce an uneven surface and the bumps are likely to have the car hop out of line for a moment and send vibrations up through the steering column. There is little of the tactile finesse or absorption suppleness found in the Eos – let alone old-school Frenchies like a 504 or Renault 12.
There isn’t too much road noise though, and scuttle shake is barely noticeable. Considering that this car wears 225/40 R18 tyres, this refinement is quite an impressive result. There can be no doubt that the 308 CC is miles better than the car it replaces.
The Eos – a slightly larger and therefore better-resolved vehicle in terms of space, practicality and styling – is still the better choice, however, especially at the $60K plus price point that the top-line 308 CC S HDi occupies. Only in cabin design and comparative rarity does the Peugeot pip the VW.
Having said that though, if the 308 CC takes your fancy (after all the Eos is getting unfashionably old) we would happily recommend it in a way we never would the 307 version.
But we are yet to be sold on the CC experience generally anyway because fundamentally these vehicles are too flawed by the need to move and stow a great big chunk of heavy bodywork into the boot.
It’s a huge compromise in order to look fashionable!
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