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Peugeot 308 CC SE HDi 136 Roadtest

The pleasure of open-topped motoring is diminished by the 308's poor performance.

With the roof raised, the Pug looks ill-proportioned and ungainly

".....And the high tomorrow will be minus-two Celsius with a light north-easterly breeze." That'll do: no rain so another day's driving with the roof off. (I mean off, and not down; I drive a Lotus Elise.)

It will take more than Jack Frost to force me to put the roof on my Lotus: even rain and snow can be kept at bay if I drive fast enough. I see no point in buying a convertible then hiding under the roof if the temperature drops below ninety in the shade. Yet every day, I see rag-top and CC owners sitting in the gloom when Mother Nature beckons and an al fresco day at the wheel is no more than a flick or a whirr away.

Indeed, if I owned a Peugeot 308 CC, I wouldn't venture out unless the roof was tucked away in the boot. With the roof raised, the Pug looks ill-proportioned and ungainly, with too-much boot, and the appearance of forever travelling downhill.

With the roof stowed away, it looks a little better, but only a little. The 'roof' is in two sections, namely the roof itself, and the rear-window frame. For this to work, the actual roof section needs to be quite short, which means that the windscreen needs to be quite long, and in fact the join is more or less above the driver's head. Consequently, when the roof is retracted, the windscreen takes on the appearance of a bus shelter. And to make matters worse, the rake of the A-pillar is such that the top corner on the windscreen is just where most people's heads are located, as the cameraman and I found out, on several occasions.

If that's not bad enough, the sun visors brush your hair, and at junctions, the A-pillars are sufficiently obtrusive to obscure an approaching bus, let alone a bike.

All of this is a shame, as the Peugeot 308 is an otherwise commendable car, with much more character than the anodyne 307. It's too late now, but had Peugeot chosen to fit a traditional canvas hood instead of the folding hard top, the 308 'Cabriolet' would have become a car to rival the Audi A4 Cabriolet. My neighbour has an old rag-top 205, which works just as well as a CC. and was one of the most attractive cars ever to emerge from the Peugeot stable.

But CC, of course, means Coupe-Cabriolet, and with the roof locked in place, the 308 CC is meant to resemble a coupe, which it doesn't, as all the coupes I've ever seen are elegant and streamlined, neither of which words I would apply to the 308.

Nominally A Four-Seater

The Peugeot is nominally a four-seater. I say nominally, not because of an absence of legroom, but because when the roof is stowed in the boot, there is very little room for anything else, and the rear seats are the only place left for luggage. We had to carry all our camera bags and cases on the rear seats as they simply wouldn't fit in the boot. What space is left below the folded roof is shallow, to say the least, and any items that might have slid to the back of the boot are beyond reach.

Anyway, enough complaints: let's move onto the good points. But before we do that, let's consider the engine. The test car was powered by the 136 bhp HDi diesel engine, mated to a six-speed automatic 'box. Considering this is a two-litre engine, the performance was disappointing.

A modest peak torque of 240 Nm results in a 0-62 time of 12.3 seconds, although the tardiness can in part be blamed on the auto' transmission, which adds more than a second to the acceleration time. Having said that, the 2.0 TDI Volkswagen EOS automatic sprints to 62 in just 10.3 seconds and returns more than 50 mpg on the combined cycle. The Pug struggles to reach 40 mpg. The same sorry tale applies to the CO2 ratings: the VeeDub is rated at 159 g/km, the Peugeot at 185 g/km. And at one time, Peugeot led the world in compression-ignition engines.

The Volkswagen's superior performance is not a matter of horsepower - the outputs are very similar - but, as you might have guessed, torque. The 308's 240 Nm is no match for the Volkswagen's 320 Nm, which means greater flexibility, therefore longer gears and reduced fuel consumption. And in case you wondered, the Eos is heavier than the 308 CC.

Anyway, enough complaints: let's move onto the good points. But before we do that, let's consider the price. If you ordered all the extras fitted to our 2.0-litre SE auto' test car, the drive-away price would be £26,395 - or about £6,000 more than you might think it was worth. But to be fair, the list price of the standard SE HDi 136 is £23,095. Unfortunately, the list price of the 2.0-litre SE auto' Volkswagen Eos is £22,175, which means a grand in your pocket and substantially better road and environmental performance.

The extras on the test car included red leather upholstery, a wind deflector, and the so-called Airwave scarf, which pumps a jet of warm air onto your neck; or where your neck would be if you were five foot tall. By the way, the 'red' leather is actually the colour of dried blood, and looked rather infra dig against the black paint job, like wearing brown shoes at a funeral. You can't order the Airwave scarf without the leather and wind deflector, so the blast of warm air in your nether regions will set you back a non-optional £1500, although the combination is standard on the £25,795 GT model.

The other options included £400 for metallic paint (although why black is considered 'metallic' I have no idea); Peugeot Connect navigation at a modest £750; electric seats at £350; and 18-inch alloys at £300. If you want 308 CC motoring at its most basic, there is a 1.6 petrol model at £19,995.

In Coupe Guise, The 308 Cc's Boot Is Quite Useable

With the roof erected - a 20-second, push-button job - rear headroom suddenly becomes an issue. Even in the front, the roof seems very close, and the wide-open spaces of the open-topped car suddenly close in, and the 308 immediately seems more like a 208. This is an illusion that gradually wears off, and eventually the front half of the cabin reverts to being a regular 308. That means high levels of comfort, good ergonomics, and easy driveability, made all-the-more effortless by the smooth, six-speed transmission.

With the roof in place, the CC assumes all the characteristics of a permanently closed car. Noise levels are quite low, and apart from the steeply raked A-pillars, there is little to distinguish the driving position or sensations from those of the 308 hatch or SW. Clearly the two-door configuration is not as convenient as a four-door, and even allowing for the powered, slide-and-tilt seats, access to the rear seats still calls for a certain athleticism, a comment that clearly doesn't apply when the roof is stowed.

In coupe guise, the 308 CC's boot is quite useable. There is an extra mezzanine boot space, that is meant to accommodate the optional wind deflector, but if you borrow that space, the maximum roof-up boot volume is 465 litres, or 16 cubic feet. Worst-case scenario is roof down and wind-deflector in its cubby hole. In that configuration, the boot volume reduces to 226 litres, or less than eight cubic feet, and most of that is extremely shallow. With four occupants and the roof down, you need to stick to day trips. A week's holiday, or even a weekend break, is out of the question unless you are content with little more than a change of underwear.

Driving with the roof tucked away is a curious sensation. Because the windscreen projects so far over the front seats, you seldom experience sun on your face, and the great outdoors is something that passes by on either side. A short driver would feel even more enveloped in glass and metal. Like an old-fashioned landaulet, it is the rear-seat occupants that enjoy all the benefits of al-fresco motoring.

But the intrusive A-pillars and windscreen frame do serve a vital purpose. In event of a rollover, the strengthened pillars and frame offer sturdy protection in conjunction with rollover protection bars that in milliseconds pop up from behind the rear headrests.

Despite the company's best efforts at adding torsional stiffness, with the roof down there is still the occasional hint of scuttle shake, as the topless body struggles to cope with bumps and ripples in the road surface. It is never violent, but occasionally enough to vibrate the rear-view mirror.

Standard features on the SE model include a rear-parking aid (very useful as the boot is quite high), air-conditioning, and ESP. And all models have achieved a 5-star adult occupants rating in the EuroNCAP crash-test programme, with a 3-star rating for child occupants. In a world first, front-seat occupants are protected by head airbags, which deploy from the integral headrests.

So what with rollover protection and these novel airbags you are unlikely to lose your head. But could you lose your heart to a 308 CC? I doubt it.

Posted on 22.07.2009 by Graham Whyte
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