It’s hard to relate 1990s Peugeot with the company that used to turn out angular creations in the 204/304 mould.
The 205 marked the dawning of a new era of drawing board elegance. Hard to believe that the latter has been around for 11 years, virtually unchanged. And it still looks fresher than many designs which have been sprung upon us within the last year or two.
That same aesthetic panache has now spread throughout the range. Is there a prettier tiddler than the 106? What else has the style of the 306? Even the ageing 405 would be competitive in a fleet beauty contest.
Arguably most alluring of the lot is the new 306 cabriolet. It looks handsome enough with its hood raised, but its cabriolet proportions are immaculate. The combined efforts of Peugeot’s design studios and Pininfarina has certainly produced a pedestrian stopper; the consistently appreciative reaction of passers-by was extraordinary, as was the number of fingers which could be seen wagging in the 306’s direction from within other cars. Its lines are as clean as they are well balanced. The hood tucks away with seamless simplicity, folding into a recess which reduces boot space by a substantial amount (though there is still room for a soft sports bag or three), but which still leaves a generous amount of rear cabin space. If you have an electrically operated top, the whole process, which involves unclipping a couple of catches and pushing one button, takes less than 20 seconds.
The cabriolet is available with either the 1761 cc/103 bhp engine or, as we tested, the 123 bhp two-litre. This is the same, eight-valve unit that powers the XSi (MOTOR SPORT, April 1994), and in this application it is adequately powerful. Peak torque is 130 lb ft at 2750 rpm, but it generates over 118 lb ft all the way from 2000-5000 rpm.
Sadly, that is not the only area in which the 306 might be deemed flexible. . .
As ever, hacking the roof off something that started its life as a hatchback reduces its torsional stiffness, despite the addition of stiffening materials weighing 73 kg, The 306 is neither better nor worse than its rivals in this respect. There’s a degree of scuttle shake, and the windows are prone to rattle a bit; they’re just typical of the compromises you have to put up with if you want an open four-seater.
Such inevitable imperfections become entirely acceptable with acclimatisation. The 306 handles well, rides comfortably, has nicely weighted, communicative steering and a light, easy gearchange. It’s user-friendly, pretty and tolerably practical with it. At £17,295, it needs to be: Renault (19 16v) and Ford (Escort 1.8i) both offer cheaper alfresco alternatives. S A