It might impress on first examination, but Richard Whitehead is not taken with the the convertible.
2010 Peugeot 308 CC
There are a number of things that have impressed me more than the Peugeot 308 CC, and many of these I hadn't expected. This year's Status Quo gig in Dubai was a case in point. Quite the opposite of the convertible Pug, which is chic and stylish where Quo are not, the ageing rockers showed some real substance and an ability to entertain. Likewise I was mightily taken by one of the region's budget airline operators when I last flew with them. The planes might not have the lines and the sports seats of the Peugeot, but there was plenty of unexpected room inside and the ride was more cushioned.
And, although I can hardly bring myself to say this, I have been enjoying the new service my telecom company has been providing of late, giving me greater flexibility and faster online speed. Unfortunately, performance and agility are not two USPs of this 308, which is a shame because they might be if it weren't for the extra weight of the hard-top convertible roof. I have to admit that I wasn't at all impressed by the 308, but I wasn't horrified either by a car that was released in Europe just over a year ago, and has been here for around six months. There are some very good aspects of this car that stand out in the most Gallic of ways. For instance, its design: it has personality, a growling look that is de rigeur with mass-production cars these days, as well as excellent finish and plenty of presence. The ebony paintwork contrasts nicely with the number of chrome features while the joins of the three-piece roof are reasonably incongruous.
What lets down the exterior, though, is the need for space to house the roof when it is stowed away. When viewed from behind, the boot becomes the booty and there's way too much weight on its rear to blend in with the sylphlike front and flanks. This is not a new trait of the 300 series of convertibles, but when you either love it or hate it, I'm with the latter. The inside is beautifully presented with excellent materials, plenty of Gallic style, a good level of luxury and barmy touches that would infuriate even the most patient folk. For instance, I didn't realise how much the world had been improved with the arrival of the adjustable steering wheel; without one, as in the 308, every position would feel like steering an old Alpha. Not only did I need short legs and long arms, gorilla-style, I needed X-ray vision to see through the steering wheel for the important business of checking the speedo.
Also old school is the lack of knobs and knockers on the virgin steering wheel - a long-forgotten throwback to the past. But this time the annoyance came from my inability to work out the buttons for the cruise control, buried away out of sight to the bottom left behind the wheel, and the stereo controls, to the right. Instead of the "convenience controls" I would resort to reaching for the radio dials - performing abdominal crunches in the process.
For whatever reason, the highly attractive black-on-white dials on the speedo did not register the even decimals while the odd ones were highly magnified. As a result, it is tricky to remain the right side of legal without focusing on the empty space between 110 and 130 instead of the road - made doubly hard by the restrictive wheel. The material sports seats really do look the part, with integrated headrests and side bolstering to add to the effect. Unfortunately, it was all effect, with the soft seats offering little lateral support in return for their side-hugging promise. And please don't talk to me about the wholly ineffective air conditioning. It would have been better to post a punkahwalla in the back, but he probably wouldn't have fitted, so lacking is the leg- and especially the headroom.
On the road, the zip one would feel in a standard 308 dissipates through a combination of the width and straightness of our roads and the weight added by the disposable roof. The 140hp engine puts in the effort but lacks the guts needed to give this car performance to match its coupe appearance; instead, it is a car that has been designed as a cruiser, particularly on the straight. The steering is light at low speeds and progresses to hairy at pace.
You can have a bit of fun with the chassis, especially when you get the rear end to pull out around sharp corners. The suspension is set firm - probably too firm for real cruising comfort - but when driving sensibly, there is nothing wrong with the 308's handling other than the soft steering. A solid set of brakes bring you to a stop in no time. Inside the very capacious boot is the 308 CC's real draw card: the stowaway roof. It only takes 20 seconds to unfurl it, and even when it's packed inside, there is still around 250 cubic litres of space in the back. It is hard to judge the whole wind-in-your-hair experience in this country at this time of year, but it does seem that the Pug can keep the wind from buffeting even at freeway speeds. When the roof is up, it keeps things quiet and there's very little wind noise from above.
Impressive the 308 might not be, but striking it is. And this is where it hits the mark because it appeals to a feminine, European market that has forever admired Peugeot convertible coupes on the roads. The trouble is, unlike Status Quo, it doesn't travel so well outside Europe.