Peugeot 309 GR

Introduced earlier this year, Peugeot's 309 series has already proved a successful British car. It's strange to refer to a Peugeot as 'British' but since the 309 is assembled at Ryton and has 65% local content it qualifies as 'British' in much the same way that multi-national products from Ford and Vauxhall qualify as British. The difference is that this 'French' car is more 'British' in terms of local imput than many Fords and Vauxhalls.

It all goes back to a series of take-overs, amalgamations and name changes which have seen the disappearance of the names of Hillman, Sunbeam, Chrysler, Sirnca and Talbot and the emergence of Peugeot as the name to represent this particular multi-national. The name 'Talbot' still forms part of the parent company's title but do not expect to see a car again marketed under the Talbot banner for some time to come, if ever.

Fleet operators, which have traditionally bought the home product, have come to regard the 309 as 'British' and so Peugeot has overcome a major hurdle. The company is producing 1.250 cars a week at Ryton, which is its maximum single-shift capacity and is looking forward to double-shift working. From September it will be exporting 350 Ihd 309s a week to Belgium, Holland and West Germany.

Austin-Rover's recovery from poor build quality and disastrous industrial relations has been frequently documented but, in parallel, the British arm of Peugeot-Talbot has been going through the same painful process and has emerged honourably. When West Germany specifies Ryton-built Peugeots in preference to those built in France, then it's time to pat a few backs.

The GR is not quite the top of the range 309 but the extras on the test car (metallic paint, electric front windows and central locking on all four doors and the tailgate) brought it close to top spec. As tested, the car cost £7,663 but the base price of £7,155 sets it firmly against the five door Ford Escort 1.6 GL (£7,112) the Austin Maestro 1.6 HL (£7,031) and the five door Vauxhall Astra 1.6 GL (£7.162). In the current climate, these list prices are for amusement only, your local dealers should slice a lot off.

At present 80 bhp from the sohc alloy-block 1580cc (83 73) engine represents as much power as the model range has to offer A three door version is on its way and so is a diesel-powerer variant, but no decision has apparently been taken about fitting the 115 bhp GTi engine, though the chassis could easily accommodate the extra grunt.

That 80 bhp comes in at 5,60Orpm but the more interesting figure is 97.7 It lb torque at 2,800 rpm. This transversely-mounted engine sounds coarse allow revs but is flexible in operation and its torque across a wide range gives the car a lot more useable performance than the relatively modest horse power figure would suggest Peugeot claims a 0-62 mph time of 12.5 seconds and a top speed of 107 mph. which puts 309 on a par with Escort and Maestro but a little slower than Astra.

Suspension is independent all round with McPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar at the front and coil springs, transverse torsion bars and an anti-roll bar at the rear. Servo-assisted 91/2in disc brakes are fitted at the front and 71/Sin drums are fitted at the rear, these brakes have exemplary feel and are very effective.

The rack and pinion steering feels heavy at first with a fairly strong castor action but is very responsive in action you can tell that 309 is 205's big brother. Overall the car's road manners are extremely good, there's no torque steer, the ride is comfortable, there's little roll and the level of road holding is high. Without modification the chassis would accommodate more power.

While Peugeot has the overall concept right, It still has some way to go in detail work. The cloth upholstery and trim looks a little cheap. The heater/ventilator system is very good indeed but the layout of switches is awkward. The radio is a poor installation, being constantly affected by interference and it is located so low down in the centre console that operating it (i.e constantly re-tuning it) requires the driver to take his eyes off the road for too long at a time. The door mirrors which are adjustable from inside do not spring back if knocked so invariably need readjustment after the car has been left in a crowded car park. The tailgate wiper does not clear a very large area of glass and will not operate without the washer though. driving exclusively in dry weather. I did not have an opportunity to see how well the tailgate copes with rain.

Apart from a degree 0110w-range coarseness from the engine, particularly when cold (there is a manual choke), noise levels are good.

All in all, it's a competent, if not particularly exciting car, which is well-made and finished if a little lacking in some detail areas. It has already made a strong impression on the market and should help Peugeot-Talbot towards Its aim of securing 5% of UK car sales. — M.L.