Some years ago I remember a fantastic holiday in Provence, where the combination of sunny skies, scenery and cuisine was further improved by the rental car, a Peugeot 306 Cabriolet. This was one of those cars which was really hard to return at the end of the week, as it seemingly had everything: achingly pretty to look at, excellent to drive in every respect even if ultimately it was not that fast, plenty of space in it, and of course the ability to lower the roof and enjoy motoring al fresco. I never managed to sample any other version of the 306, but by all accounts, the hatch, saloon and estate models were also really rather good to drive, regardless of which engine was under the bonnet, and they certainly had good looks on their side. In 2001 Peugeot announced a replacement, which logically enough was called the 307. Out went the Pininfarina styling, and in its place an in-house effort which was never going to win many prizes for beauty, though to the surprise of many the car did win a prize, picking up the Car of the Year award, beating plenty of potentially more worthy winners. The initially limited range of 5 door hatchback models was expanded when Peugeot added more engine choices, 5 and 7 seater estate models and in 2003, a cabriolet. The French, of course, lapped it all up, but the less xenophobic British press were rather less convinced. And when my turn came to get behind the wheel of both estate and hatch models, so was I. Here was a car which defined “average” in the Noughties in much the way that the 1990 Ford Escort had done ten years earlier and after a couple of years on sale, the 307 had also established a reputation for unreliability, with the electrical systems being the biggest problem area. And so, when selecting the latest Swiss rental car, and feeling that high summer was the time for a convertible, it was with rather mixed feelings that I realised that this was going to mean a Peugeot 307CC. The desire for some top-down motoring won over my apprehensions about the Peugeot though and a bright red example of the model was mine for a day to see whether in cabriolet guise it could impress me more than the other models had done.
Unlike that lovely 306 Cabriolet, the 307CC does not have a cloth roof, but a metal one, following the current trend for complex folding roof mechanisms which promise to give a more refined experience when the roof is in place. Few convertible models look that good with the roof up, and the 307CC certainly is not one of them. Whilst beauty is always in the eye of the proverbial beholder, I would say that the 307CC is not going to win many prizes for elegance with the roof down, either, but it is visually better in this mode. Lowering the roof is simple, provided you have the divider in place in the boot. If it is not, then the process simply won’t work. Press the switch. and electric motors will do all the hard work, dropping the side windows, then releasing the roof from the windscreen rail, and lifting the boot lid, pivoted from the back of the car at bumper level, and then powering the roof back, tucking the rear window section under the roof and dropping it all into the upper part of the boot area before closing the lid, all in the space of around 25 seconds. I drove around all day with the roof down, only putting it back up again for photographic purposes, and with the side windows up, there is little buffeting though you probably won’t be able hear much from the radio unless you have it distortingly loud. I chose not to bother.
There is a penalty to having the roof lowered and that is that boot space reduces to negligible and almost inaccessible. That divider sits quite low in what otherwise is a relatively tall boot and as it covers the entire width and length, there is only a very narrow slot to poke things under if you do want to put anything in the boot. And if you do, you probably won’t be able to get them out very easily, either With the roof up, there is more in the way of space, but it is nothing like as commodious as you might expect from the size of the rear of the car. A lot of width is lost on either side as this is used for some of the rams that move the roof up and down, and there is also quite a lot of space lost at the rear bulkhead, too. What remains is a neat rectangular shape, but it is just not very big. There are penalties inside the cabin, too. Leg room in the rear seats is somewhat limited unless the front seats are set well forward, which of course they were for my driving position, so whilst children will easily fit, adults may be more challenged. There are very clearly only two places here, with somewhat bucket like seats on either side of a raised central area. Somewhat unusually, the seat belts are mounted with the belt in the middle of the car and the buckle on the outer side. Oddments space inside the cabin comes from a modest glovebox, bins on the doors and a small recess in front of the gearlever.
One consequence of the very steeply sloped windscreen is that the header rail goes a long way back, and you may find you need to take extra care when getting in and out of the car, especially if, as I needed to do thanks to my short legs, you have the front seats sell forward. I did manage to jab myself more than once on the top of the screen area when getting in and out. Once installed, there are leather seats to sit on, with manual adjustment in all directions including a height adjuster and the steering wheel telescopes in/out as well as up/down. The seating position is lower than in the 307 hatch but the overall feeling is less of a a true sports car in its driving position and more one that target buyers will want to be seen in.
With the roof duly lowered, it was time to set off for a day in the Alps. Peugeot sell the 307CC with a choice of two 2 litre engines, offering 138 and 180 bhp, both familiar from their use in other models in the range including the two 206 GTi versions. There is no external badging to tell you what powers your car, but Hertz’ paperwork suggested that I had got the less powerful of the two. 138 bhp sounds like a decent amount for what is still not that large a car, but you to have to remember that the 307CC is heavy: that powered roof and the extra bracing that gives the car reasonable rigidity all mean that there is quite a weight penalty over the hatch models, of some 210 kg. A four speed automatic is an option on the less potent of the two cars, but the test car had Peugeot’s five speed manual transmission. Let’s start with that, as it exemplifies the car. Movements between the gears are small, but also vague. There is none of the precision that you used to get with a Peugeot. Whilst heading south in the autobahn, the car was put in fifth and stayed there for 100km or so. Once I was up in the mountains, of course, there was a lot of gear-changing involved, with the change up from 2nd to 3rd and down again being called for most often on the Passes. You’re going to be doing this in almost any car on these roads, and the 307CC was no exception. The engine won’t win many prizes, either. It is smooth enough, but there’s no sparkle to it, and it was not always obvious that there were as many as 138 horses under the bonnet, largely a consequence of the weight of the car. Rev it hard, which you will find yourself doing, and it becomes quite thrashy and noisy, but keep the revs down and it will seem perfectly acceptable. Gearing is such, at around 22.5 mph per 1000 rpm, that on the motorway, cruising, it is refined enough, though, and with the roof down, you are going to hear more wind than engine noise. Noise levels are generally low with the roof up, though you will hear the engine and the wind in equal measure The other driving dynamics did little to convince me that this is a fun Peugeot like that 306 Cabriolet and other models of the last 20 or so years. The steering is dull, with not much feel and the handling is nothing special, either. At least the car rides quite nicely on its standard 16″ alloys and the brakes felt well up to par, The whole car did feel rigid, with none of the scuttle shake that can afflict open=topped machines. I had the distinct feeling that the 307 CC is aimed more at boulevard cruising than any roads where other cars could provide you with some level of fun and reward. Roof down, visibility is good, of course, for manoeuvering, though the rear end does slope away so it is still quite hard to judge exactly where it ends. Thanks to relatively slim pillars on the roof construction, even with the roof erect, visibility remains decent, which is something you can rarely say about convertibles with a cloth roof.
The interior design of the 307CC is neat enough and easy to use, but never going to wow anyone, either. Large swathes of black plastic mouldings are lightened by the use of silver inlays on the centre of the dash and highlights around the air vents and door handles as well as the edge of the steering wheel spokes. Drilled aluminium pedals suggest a level of sportiness that the 307 cannot hope to deliver. The wheel is leather wrapped, but elsewhere the plastics are of decidedly average quality, suggesting that Peugeot is still some way off the standards set by many of its rivals. The instruments are white-backed with two smaller gauges in between the larger speedometer and rev counter all in a single cluster. They proved easy to read. Chunky column stalks on either side of the wheel operate the lights as well as indicators and wipers. The steering wheel boss itself is like a large slab looking slightly over-stuffed to accommodate the air-bag. There are no controls or buttons here. The centre of the dash has a raised area at the top for a digital display including the clock then below this and the air vents is the Blaupunkt radio which features a lot of relatively small and slightly fiddly buttons. Beneath this are another set of small buttons for the climate control system.
With the mid-cycle facelift of 2005 Peugeot added a 136 bhp diesel version to the range and there were some visual and trim changes to the car, although the differences are relatively subtle. Standard equipment on all cars includes alloy wheels, front fog lights, front and rear electric windows, cruise control, digital air conditioning, aluminium interior detailing and a full body coloured exterior. The 180bhp version features a comprehensive equipment list that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, half- leather trim sports seats, rear parking sensors, electrically folding door mirrors and a five-disc CD autochanger integrated into the fascia to prevent theft. The multiplex wiring system means that optional extras such as satellite navigation and the hands-free phone system can be integrated easily and cost effectively when specifying the car. Other commonly specified optional features include pearlescent paint and a full leather interior trim.
Whilst I did enjoy fresh air motoring for the day, I have to say that I did not particularly enjoy this Peugeot. None of the magic of the 306 Cabriolet was here: it does not look anything like as good and whilst the metal roof might be good for security and those closed-roof days, it adds weight and deprives you of a lot of boot space. Crucially, the 307CC is not that much fun to drive, and I can’t imagine that the more potent model would do little to alter that. Considered as a cruiser rather than a car with any sporting pretension, the 307 is perfectly acceptable, but in 2007 you can do a lot better than that. Whilst there are fewer open-topped cars of this size and price than there were a few years ago, there are alternatives, any one of which would probably be a better bet than this one. Perversely, sales of the 307 are up on those of the 306. Given a market stuffed with choice and plenty of excellent alternatives, it is hard to understand why.