Much more than boulevard chic
I have colleagues who are convinced Peugeot’s 307cc is superfluous, a pointlessly quirky exercise in car-building. One even suggests Peugeot has taken a perfectly good car, the 307 hatchback, and developed a convertible version that turns the five-door’s merits on their heads. He says the convertible is too heavy, which takes the sparkle off its performance; its cockpit is too cramped and its luggage capacity too compromised. And he says the droptop’s suspension is too harsh and uncompromising, ruining the typically French car suppleness that characterises the hatchback 307’s ride. I value my colleague’s opinion, and armed with his pre-warning, I approached the test 307cc automatic with some scepticism.
The 307cc is in its second iteration, having picked up the styling changes Peugeot wrought for the 307 facelift. Chief among them is the larger, Ferrari-esque grille and wide-mouthed air intake. It’s a little over the top, but when you see older model 307s alongside the restyled car, they look rather plain and bland. So, a tick on one front.
The cc in the 307 convertible’s name refers to coupe/convertible, Peugeot’s description of the droptop’s retractable hardtop layout. The droptop roof is steel and folds at the touch-and-hold of a switch, stowing itself in the boot.
It’s a mechanism Peugeot used in the 1930s, then revived for the convertible version of the 206. The format makes for a somewhat odd-looking car – especially when viewed from the rear – when the hood is raised.
The 307 accentuates that oddness with its steeply-raked nose and windscreen and cab-forward layout. It’s much happier-looking with the hood lowered.
How does the Peugeot stack up on the road? Was my colleague on the button? Well, I was pleasantly surprised, and though I agree with him on some aspects, overall I think the 307cc succeeds at what it sets out to do. The seats are comfortable and offer good lateral support during the high-g cornering the car is capable of. Performance feels brisk enough, though my colleague was right about the heavier body style blunting acceleration. The 2.0-litre cc takes a leisurely 12 seconds plus to hit 100km/h compared with the equivalent hatchback’s 11.1. The droptop’s maximum speed, however, is better – 206km/h compared to 200. The weight of the roof-folding mechanism and the strengthening to compensate for the lower rigidity inherent in a convertible give the cc a weight disadvantage. It weighs 1573kg, compared to the automatic five-door’s 1368kg. So the 103kW/200Nm four is working significantly harder, though Peugeot suggests there’s no major impact on fuel use. It quotes city cycle figures of 12.2 litres/100km for the cc and 11.8 for the five-door auto. Highway cycle figures are much closer at 6.3 (the cc) and 6.2, thanks probably to the droptop’s lower frontal area – its height, for instance, is 90mm lower than the five-door’s though the stopwatch shows the cc is only a moderate performer, real world experience doesn’t show it as being significantly disadvantaged. The car feels brisk, especially with the roof lowered, and we have no complaints about the way it goes, aside from a touch of breathlessness on steeper hills.
The four-speed automatic gearbox is one of those French units which occasionally can be extremely irritating. The shifts are usually smooth, though occasionally as you brake to a halt, the shifts down the box are noticeable and first gear is finally selected with a noisy jolt. There’s also some hunting around when you’re pushing hard on a winding road, where it’s better to use the gearbox as a manual. Pushing on in a car that seems so obviously a boulevard cruiser? Yes, pushing on. For put to the test, the 307cc sprung some surprises.
The power steering is quickish at 2.9 turns lock-to-lock; it’s also accurate and provides good feedback. The 205/55 R16 tyres (fitted on 16-inch alloy wheels) offer good bite on turn-into corners. There’s noticeable understeer on tight corners taken fast, but generally it’s well masked. You’re never in doubt, though, about which wheels are being driven. We ran the car hard over favoured sections of road on our 170km test loop and came back impressed.
The 307cc corners flatly and accurately, and grip levels are excellent. It changes direction precisely and with great verve and generates g-forces that make you grateful for the supportive seats. There is some chassis flex and mild scuttle shake: the former contributed to one of those characterful quirks you tend to find only in French cars.
When we were pushing the car hard into left-hand corners, the clap-hands windscreen wipers would suddenly make an involuntary sweep of the screen as the car transferred its weight. The 307cc generates high cornering speeds, and provided an entertaining afternoon’s driving. The only quibble was a slight drop-off in braking performance after some very hard applications. The pedal got longer and softer, and stopping took a greater distance. The cc’s additional weight seems the factor here, and we’d prefer beefier brakes.
Ride quality? Yes, it is firm, but not uncomfortably so, and we’d be happy to accept the trade-off to get the generally sharp handling. Accommodation in the front cabin is good, though legroom is a little tight for rear-seat passengers. With the roof raised there’s substantial luggage space. The roof folding works well, and lowers or raises quickly and smoothly. Safety kit includes dual front and side airbags, and creature comforts include a good Compact Disc sound system and effective air-conditioning. There are the usual French car touches like headlights that switch on and off automatically depending on daylight levels. Noise levels are low, and tyre roar on chip surfaced roads is pleasantly muted. In fact, even with the roof down, you can listen to classical music without having to crank the stereo up to Led Zeppelin volume levels. So, it’s a rather refined car.
Our overall impression was favourable. The looks will always be a matter of debate, but generally we enjoyed the 307cc. It has a blend of boulevard chic and entertaining road manners, its cockpit is comfortable and well-appointed and the test car was well-built and devoid of the rattles that are frequently part of convertible motoring. Yes, we liked it. Our colleague’s points are valid, but the car was by no means the pointless exercise that it was painted as: it’s a welcome departure from the norm and very much a valid part of the 307 range.