It’s often reported that here in Britain, we buy more convertible cars than our friends on the continent. Despite having what can best be described as a changeable climate, we like nothing more than the thought of ‘wind-in-the-hair’, topless motoring. Indeed, research earlier in the year by LV= suggested that the number of convertibles on the road has risen by 599% since 1993, making them the fast growing car type in Britain. The total figure is just under one million, which must be music to the ears of hairdressers up and down the country who are tasked with fixing bad cases of ‘convertible hair’.
Why we’re so in love with topless motoring is anyone’s guess. It certainly isn’t the weather, so I’m guessing it’s a status thing. The LV= research actually suggested that one in ten people bought a convertible to impress their friends and family. I’d suggest that a further eight or nine out of ten just aren’t admitting it. Nearly a third of those of interviewed actually said they bought their convertible because it was their dream car. They obviously failed to find any soft top Talbot Samba or Vauxhall Cavalier owners when they were conducting the survey.
I’ve owned two soft tops in my time. The first one was a Vauxhall VX220 and the second one was a…er…Vauxhall VX220. On both occasions, not only would I do anything within my power to ensure I would drive them whatever the weather, but I’d also get the top off at every available opportunity. Whipping the VX220’s top off transformed the little sports car from a delightful B-road toy to a delightful B-road toy without a roof. It just seemed to be a more complete drive without the roof. The sports exhaust popped and rasped just that little bit louder. The additional breeze helped me to feel more in-tune with the surroundings. Even the smells from the countryside helped to make every drive feel special. Topless driving is heaven.
Which is why it surprises me to see so many convertibles with their roof up. Surely if you’re going to buy a soft top, you’re going to want to whip the top off at some point? In my book, if you’ve got a soft top, the roof should be off unless you’re a) driving through a meteor shower, b) it’s literally raining cats and dogs, (that’s a genuine use of a word literally and not a Jamie Redknapp version by the way), c) there’s a real chance you might get spat on by angry mobsters or d) your face is more orange than David Dickinson’s.
Face it, convertible owners have never had it so good. Topless motoring is no longer the preserve of the hardy or the insane. Bobble hats, hot water bottles and thermal gloves are no longer required. Today’s convertibles feature heated seats, highly efficient climate control units and neck warmers. There’s really no excuse. LV=’s research suggests that the typical convertible owner has the roof down on average ten days in every month, falling to three days in the winter. Well, with the greatest respect to the good people of LV=, that’s bunk. It’s just people responding to a survey and desperately trying to justify their expensive purchase. I once worked with an owner of a rather expensive convertible who point blank refused to have the roof down as it would mess up her hair. It’s either too windy, too cold or too hot for many people. Do yourself a favour, buy a coupé next time.
Or better still, why not buy a coupé-convertible, or CC as they’re better known? A CC is one segment that I’ve never had any interest in. Whenever I see a Ford Focus or Peugeot 206 CC my blood seems to run a little bit cold. But rather than live with this irrational disliking for the segment, I thought I should try one out. What’s more, I’d do it in the winter – a chance for me to put my money where my mouth is.
Having been impressed with the RCZ and 508, I was inevitably drawn to the Peugeot 308 CC. I may not be the middle aged woman that the 308 CC is probably aimed at, but the 206, 207 and 308 CCs are popular cars – time to see what the fuss is all about.
Besides, it’s worth remembering that Peugeot pioneered the CC back in 1934 when it launched the 601 Eclipse.
So the 308 CC is 78 years in the making. How have they got on?
Looks are everything in this sector. Despite only one in ten owners admitting it, we all know that a CC has to dress to impress. Get the styling wrong and a CC will win about as much favour as a rendition of Blue Moon at a Manchester United supporters club dinner dance.
The front of the 308 CC is dominated by a gaping grille which gives it a face that wouldn’t look out of place on one of the Octonauts Gups. But the headlights and boomerang-shaped LEDs help to give the 308 CC a more aggressive look than other Peugeot CCs of recent years. Around the back, the biggest challenge for the designers is housing the retracted roof, which often leads to a large posterior and an ungainly side profile. Well, it’s true that the 308 CC looks better with the roof down, but I think the rear end works rather well. It’s dominated by the rear LED lights, but the rear seems in keeping with the front. The overall look could never be described as pretty, but it has presence and is quite unlike anything else on the road.
The interior of the 308 CC will be instantly familiar to anyone who has come into contact with the 308 hatchback or RCZ. And that’s a good thing. I’ve been very impressed with the interior quality of all the Peugeots I’ve driven this year. The black lacquer centre console is a definite highlight, as is the way Peugeot seem to have mastered the art of clear and uncluttered instrument panels. Good work Peugeot.
My favourite toy just has to be the Airwave ‘scarf’. Put simply, the Airwave sits in the headrest of the front seats and blows hot air into the back of your neck. The heat is controlled by a control on the centre console. It’s simple, but highly effective. When launched in 2009, the 308 CC was the only 4-seater CC in the world to have the system and it’s so wonderful you wonder why the technology can’t be transferred into other parts of our daily lives.
I’m thinking Airwaves inserted into the hoods of winter jackets. Or Airwaves at bus stops? Or how about the seats at football matches. It’s an idea that’s full of win.
It isn’t all good news on the interior front though. There are some ill-fitting and cheap-feeling plastics, such as the glovebox lid and door handle trim, but as the 308 CC is unlikely to see much in the way of hard use, it probably won’t be a problem for most buyers. There are also no cupholders in the 308 CC, which despite sounding like a trivial problem, does become an issue if you’re fond of coffees on the go!
Visibility is also an issue in the 308 CC. Forward vision is hampered by the huge A-pillars that actually make pulling away from junctions a risky business. Also, on my local narrow country lanes, I managed to lose entire cars from my field of vision when entering tight corners. It’s like a game of hide and seek and you just have to hope that the oncoming driver isn’t behind the wheel of a 308 CC too. Rear vision is also a problem, making the rear parking aid, standard on all but the Access trim level, an absolute necessity.
Other gripes on the inside include the lack of space for rear seat passengers. Peugeot claims that the 308 CC is a genuine 4-seater, but in my book this is simply not the case. Even my two small children complained about the lack of rear legroom. For me, the 308 CC is a 2+2, plain and simple.
That said, the button that electrically moves the front seats forward to allow for rear access is rather special. Press it again and the seat returns to its former position. It’s a neat touch that received unanimous praise from everyone that came into contact with it. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that deliver the most pleasure. But, moving on…
I’d hazard a guess that for the majority of buyers, on-road dynamics won’t be high up on the list of priorities when it comes to the 308 CC. This is a shame, because the 308 CC is actually quite fun to drive – perhaps surprisingly so? It helps that my test car came with the superb 200bhp 1.6 litre THP engine which as I’ve already discovered in the RCZ is a remarkably good engine. It’ll accelerate to 62mph in just 8.8 seconds and go on to a maximum speed of 147mph. What’s more, it comes with a throaty, if artificial exhaust note. It all feels rather refined and very rapid and yet can still deliver 40.3mpg on a combined cycle. If the 1.4 TSI VAG engine was my favourite engine of 2010, then the 1.6 THP 200 is right up there with my favourites of 2011.
In general terms, the driving characteristics of the 308 CC remind me very much of the RCZ. I think this says more about the RCZ’s lack of genuine sporting prowess than it does the 308 CC’s capabilities, but there’s very little to choose between the two of them. That means a compliant ride, a lack of body roll and steering that’s direct if completely lacking in feel. As I say, most 308 CC owners won’t be waking up early on a Sunday morning for a dawn raid and are therefore unlikely to be concerned with how it feels on a B-road, but it’s good to know that it’s possible to have fun in the car, with or without the top off.
In fact, the 308 CC does its coupé duties very well. With the roof up, the car feels every bit the tin tip, with little in the way of squeaks, rattles or unwanted noise. You could probably convince your passenger that they were being transported around in a coupé, were it not for the ‘roof up/roof down’ button on the centre console.
But if you’re going to drive around with the roof up all of the time, you may as well get yourself a 308 hatchback or the RCZ. What really matters is how the 308 CC performs with the roof down.
Press the button on the centre console and the roof folding manoeuvre kicks in. I say manoeuvre, but in reality it’s more like a bit of theatre. I’ll never forget the look on the faces of my two children as they witnessed the roof action for the first time. One just stood there with a look of delight and the other just watched with an open mouth and what I sensed was a genuine sense of confusion. The whole procedure takes less than 20 seconds and can be performed at speeds of up to 7.5mph. Shrinking violets may wish to carry out the process away from prying eyes, as it does attract a huge amount of attention. You may also want to ensure you have the headroom to do it safely. You don’t want to be raising the roof in your garage or within a multi-storey car park.
But it’s an impressive procedure that, other than the simple act of holding down a button, needs no human interaction at all. It’s a far cry from my VX220 which needed military-style discipline if you wanted to cover up quickly. The roof itself was relatively easy to put on. The effort was in prising yourself out of the car, locating and unpacking the roof stowage bag, inserting the bars, pulling the roof across the car and clipping it into place. The best time I ever achieved was just under ten seconds. A sudden downpour of biblical proportions on the outskirts of Cortina was the reason for the burst of pace. Six years later and the 308 CC only manages it in 20 seconds. Come on Peugeot, keep up!
Of course, the 308 CC does have more storage space than the VX220. In coupé form, there’s an impressive 465 litres of boot space to play with, (more than the hatchback!), but this is reduced to 260 litres with the roof down. It’s also tricky to get to the load area when the roof is down. Still, as most of the 308 CCs buyers will be empty nesters, they’ll have the option of moving some of the luggage in the boot onto the back seats. At least they have their uses!
With the roof down, I found the 308 CC to be genuinely comfortable, even with temperatures as low as single figures. With the Airwave and heated seats set to the max, the side windows up and the climate control set to 28ºC, there’s very little in the way of buffeting. Without the aid of gloves or hat, the 308 CC’s cabin remained warm and rather cosy. Put the side windows down and it becomes less comfortable, but I honestly see no reason why the 308 CC can’t be used all year round.
Sadly the same can’t be said for rear seat passengers. I ‘treated’ my children to a trip to Cornwall and as no rain was falling, the roof was down. For the first five minutes, the novelty factor masked any concerns over the temperature or wind noise. But after the thrill of open air motoring had worn off, the shrieks of delight were replaced with howls of discontent. “It’s too noisy, Daddy”. “It’s too windy, Daddy”. “I don’t like it, Daddy”. Enough was enough – the roof went up. If you own a CC, please spare a thought for your rear seat passengers. Without the benefit of Airwaves, heated seats and a cocooning windscreen, they may not be having quite the same experience as you.
But at least you’ll be safe. The Peugeot 308 CC has the maximum 5 star Euro NCAP rating and was also the first CC to feature built-in front seat airbags. Even with the roof down, you never feel vulnerable at risk in the 308 CC. It does a very good job of making you feel secure and there’s a lot to be said for this when you’re driving topless.
As much as it pains me to say it, I actually like the 308 CC. It’s certainly not a car I spend my own money on, but for anyone in the market for such a car, it comes highly recommended.
It’s difficult not to be stereotypical about this car, but the fact is, the Peugeot 308 CC is a distinctly feminine car. Without exception, every woman who came into contact with the car had a strong affection for it. From ages 18 to 80, the laydeez love the 308 CC. But the important distinction to make is that the laydeez want to own the the 308 CC, not be driven around in it. Which is just as well, as I can’t see any men buying it. If 100% of the women I spoke to expressed a preference for the 308 CC, the absolute reverse is true of men.
With the rather special red integral leather (£840), excellent Connect multimedia system (£1,575), pearlescent paint (£65) and electric front seats (£370), the GT THP 200 I tested comes in just under the PetrolBlog ceiling price of £30k. It’s a fair amount of money to ask for a Peugeot and puts it in direct competition with the Audi A5 cabriolet. For sure, you’ll have to pay more to get the equivalent spec on the Audi, but in this market, badge kudos is quite a selling point. But the 308 CC makes a very good case for itself and I actually enjoyed my week with it.
It has whetted my appetite for open top motoring again and I can quite easily see myself buying another convertible in 2012. It won’t be a 308 CC, but it has changed my opinion of cars in its sector. I may never buy one, but I’d find it easier to recommend one now.
Nice one Peugeot.