There was this one particular day when I was about 16. I found myself in a branch of Marks and Spencer. At that age in a young man’s life, being in the aforementioned High Street retailer’s store was uncomfortable enough but further embarrassment was about to befall me.
I was going through a phase of thinking I looked especially cool wearing a long, navy blue mac and said coat was being sported on this day in history. Realising my mistake of being in M&S (if not the mac), I hastily retreated to the doors. Unbeknown to me, I’d somehow entangled the hem of my coat with a garment on a hanger, getting all the way over to the main doors before the security guard stopped me and asked me to hand over the item my coat had tried to steal. To say I wanted the ground to swallow me up as I handed over a fuchsia pink, lacy thong was an understatement. The small but nevertheless present crowd that gathered, showed their sympathy by laughing.
It’s one of those events that I’m able to forget until I feel like my embarrassment bubble has been pricked. In an instant the sensation returns; face tingles, cheeks glow red and an overriding desire to hide takes hold. Slotting into the driver’s seat of an unfamiliar convertible and lowering the roof with electrical assistance has proved to be such a trigger.
Not that there’s anything to be particularly embarrassed about piloting Peugeot’s 308 CC – in GT THP 200 guise, the latest incarnation of the French firm’s mid-sized convertible line, has proved to be a desirable proposition.
Surely it’s just a 308 with folding hardtop fitted. Is it such a big deal?
Peugeot’s credited with launching the first production coupé-cabriolet back in 1934 with the 601 Eclipse and quickly followed Mercedes’ lead re-launching the body style over a decade ago with the popular but flawed 206 CC hot on the heels of the three-pointed star’s SLK.
This latest 308, now with a tweaked nose to keep it in line with its hatchback and estate siblings, is a much more resolved design that 307 CC it replaced. The 307 CC somehow managed to look like a porpoise rising up from the asphalt, whereas the replacement is bestowed with sculpted panels, interesting detailing and lithe athleticism.
Looks are always subjective and the 308 CC’s no different in terms of it being a bit of an opinion splitter. I’m more enamoured with the profile with the roof hidden away; the rear deck looks uncluttered and well-proportioned while lidless. When the top’s erected, the length of the boot lid seems exaggerated, a consequence of the roof being a bulkier two-piece unit. A triple section roof, as employed by BMW on the 3 Series, looks more conventionally shaped with the roof up but closer examination reveals additional, ugly shut lines. Both solutions are something of a compromise and for many the elegance in this sector remains firmly in the territory of those with fabric roofs.
What Peugeot has accomplished is to successfully bestow the 308 CC with interesting detailing without making it look fussy or especially blingtastic. The right-angled LED day running lights give a crisp and instantly recognisable signature to the nose that’s extended at the rear with huge lozenges of brightly glowing red, bisected by the amber strip of the indicators. Low-set in the rear bumper is a diffuser-style rear valance, discretely harbouring the reflectors and ancillary tail lamps, a styling feature that’s especially noticeable on this pearlescent white example. Where the folding hardtop meets the leading edge of the boot lid, a chromed strip is installed as a finisher, neatly following the contours of the window line. The 308 is a convertible you’d enjoy getting to know more intimately every time you wash it, exploring every styling nuance with your chamois.
Let’s be honest, a significantly part of the allure of these coupé-cabriolets is the sheer street theatre of the roof mechanism, a feature that literally does stop traffic as people watch the mechanical origami show. That first time you’re convinced the world’s watching you pull up the centre console button that commands the whole performance – as the roof slipped out of sight, so did I, sliding further down the driver’s seat and so far out of view that my shins were getting intimate with the pedals. But the sensation is thankfully short-lived and within a short space of time you begin to forget the closest thing to your head are the clouds in the sky.
The 308 CC is a convincing enough coupé from the inside with the top up, but the slinkier RCZ offers a far more satisfying visual treat from the outside. Roof down, as much as possible, is the way to go or you’ve simply bought the wrong type of car. The whole raison d’être of a convertible surely is to have the roof down?
Figures indicate that British sales of convertibles have gone through the roof (I know, terrible pun – there’ll be no more) over the past decade but a wholly unscientific survey I conducted on a return journey from Lincoln to Colchester at the weekend reached a startling conclusion: having counted at least 100 other convertibles on the road that day, only one had its roof down. And that was the one I was piloting. Maybe the fact it was 1°C when I set off had something to do with it but remember in almost every case the buyer would have paid a premium to have a roof that lowered. Only for it to remain resolutely locked to the header rail.
In the 308 CC’s case, the reality is that roof down this Peugeot remained a remarkably civilised place in which to travel. Folding hardtop stowed, side windows up and heaters on full power would normally be suffice but the enveloping front chairs also feature the Airwave Scarf function – an additional warm air vent high up in the seat back behind your neck. It worked brilliantly in topless mode but it was easy to forget it was switched on with the roof back up, making the closed cabin as hot as grandma’s lounge with the fire on gas mark 10. On an already stifling July day.
Okay, so it looks fine on the outside but the interior will let it down, right?
As with the other more recently launched cars from the Peugeot stable, interior quality is light years ahead of where the French manufacturer was just a model life cycle ago. Typical of most cars in this sector, the lower extremities of the interior fittings, where fingers rarely venture, are graced with hard grade, resilient plastics. Those areas which require more regular visual and tactile inspection are delightfully squidgy and satisfyingly constructed. It’s regular, high specification 308 fare though, eschewing the leather-wrapped luxury and oversized central analogue clock of its RCZ cousin.
This particular model was fitted with the colour satnav (not the most reliable I’ve encountered by quite a margin) infotainment centre, with integrated Bluetooth (£1575 option) and a striking Vintage Red integral leather upholstery pack (an extra £840) in addition to its already generous standard equipment list which included dual zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, powered and folding mirrors with integrated puddle lights and electric windows that could all be dropped with a single button.
Four trim levels comprise the 308 CC line up starting with the Access, rising through Active and Allure before reaching the flagship GT line. 1.6 and 2.0-litre HDi diesels compliment the 1.6-litre petrol engine range, which is offered in naturally aspirated and, as tested here, turbocharged formats. Depending upon the model mix, 5- and 6-speed manuals are available, together with a 6-speed automatic.
Passenger space in the front is superb and enhanced visually by the MPV feel to the dash which stretches far into the distance to meet the windscreen base. You feel totally protected, sat deeply ensconced within the 5-star Euro NCAP rated shell, even with the roof down, with a multitude of airbags and rear rollover protection at your disposal. It’s so well insulated from the elements at a telephone call at motorway speeds was perfectly audible with the roof hidden away in the boot.
Those venturing into the rear may find the 308 CC’s star has lost a little of its lustre. Getting in is straightforward enough with front seats that tip forward and then slide forward electrically, returning to their starting position at the touch of a button. Once in, space is a bit tight for legs, hips and heads but the quality of the fit and finish remains. Those more delicately constructed than me may be more charitable and refer to the rear quarters as cosy. Until you get going, when all the turbulent air that’s been channelled over the heads of the front seat occupants swirls tornado-like in the faces of those in the back. And unfortunately those things that look like Airwave Scarf vents in the back seats are merely dummy units to mimic the seating style.
Open that long and heavy boot lid and you’re greeted with a surprisingly large amount of space, a virtue of the 308 CC’s family car underpinnings. If you know you’ve no intention of lowering the roof, the roller cover retracts to offer 465l of carrying capacity, perfect for a week’s worth of luggage. It’s when you want the roof down that the cargo hold becomes limited. The roller cover works as a height restrictor for boot detritus ensuring that you don’t put anything in there that encroaches into the space the roof takes when it’s stowed away. When it is stowed away, the volume’s slashed in half and to access those 266l involves posting items through a letterbox-like aperture.
Okay, I’m warming to it – what’s it like on the road?
Do not be fooled for a moment into thinking that either the coupé or cabriolet parts of the 308’s name have transformed the pleasant but unexciting hatchback into a giant-killer to take on the sportscar elite, because they haven’t.
The 308 CC is a comfortable, refined and, in the GT’s case fitted with the THP 200 engine, a fairly rapid cruiser. Despite all the extra weight in the chassis and with the roof mechanism, the CC remains a neutral handler, with well-weighted, if not wholly communicative steering, that rides in an accomplished manner. Whether at urban or motorway speeds, the Peugeot offers a refined ride quality that neither jars nor floats.
That THP 200 engine is an aural delight, delivering a wave of useable torque right across the rev range, ensuring progress is made briskly through the gears, emitting a sporty, rorty exhaust note as it does so. The gearbox itself has six well chosen ratios but felt ever so slightly cumbersome in its action – changes could be smooth or quick but they seemed mutually exclusive in this instance.
The claimed 147mph top speed seems a tad lofty for a relatively heavy car propelled by a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, even with 200bhp on tap but conversely the suggested 8.8 second time to reach 60mph seems conservative.
Driving a car with the roof down, your senses being stimulated by smells, additional noises, a gentle breeze and, when the weather’s playing ball, the sun beating down on you, is an exciting experience. It dilutes the mundane nature of the commute to work and makes you feel like you’re driving something special.
Whilst Peugeot hasn’t turned the car into a B-road sports champion in the transition from regular 308 to CC, it has increased the model’s desirability factor severalfold. It’s become a car that garners admiring glances, that people covet, yet which is attainable.
There’s a colourful spectrum of competition in this class, featuring roofs of both metal and cloth and it’s this glut of rivals that are the Peugeot’s biggest problem, particularly the ones from German marques which have a higher level of perceived prestige.
Appeal and desirability are highly subjective but in isolation the 308 CC is an attractive proposition and a convertible that can be recommended with little hesitation to anyone who’s in the market for such a car.
Driving with the roof down on a near freezing cold night with the sky twinkling with glistening stars is a sensation I’ll remember fondly. Don’t waste the opportunity when it arises. And airing that mac/thong situation’s proved rather soul soothing too…
Thumbs Up: Well appointed, strongly built, lots of interesting details, snug cabin roof up or down, strong pull of the THP engine.
Thumbs Down: Rear space not great, boot restricted with roof down, not really an alternative to a dedicated sports car.
Model Tested: Peugeot 308 CC GT THP 200
Top Speed: 147mph
Average fuel consumption: 40.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 162g/km
Engine size: 4/1598cc fuel injection, turbocharged petrol
Boot space: 266-465l
Kerb weight: 1655kg
Price: £25,995 (November 2011)
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012