peugeot

Farewell Peugeot 306 – you will be missed!

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WITH THE rain beating down on a 65mph motorway cruise the Peugeot chooses a prime moment for packing up its windscreen wipers. With only a few miles to go on my last journey with it, it decides to throw one final spanner in the works.

I limp the 306 through to the finishing post – the garage where I’m trading up for a bigger, more refined car. Clearly the Peugeot is peeved it’s being given up, but while it’s a firm goodbye it’s hardly good riddance.

Two years ago I picked it up for one of the in-laws as a prime piece of stopgap motoring until their much newer car arrived, and liked it so much I took on the reins myself a couple of months afterwards. My bargain basement 306 was rubbish in so many ways, but as an overall package it was absolutely brilliant.

As the months went on the rather agricultural clatter from the non-turbocharged 1.9 XUD diesel engine was joined by a persistent high-pitched whistle. The clutch was heavier than a night out with Lindsay Lohan, the central locking had a mind of its own, and towards the end of my ownership the offside rear window developed a nasty habit of opening of its own accord. It was also noisy, not especially quick and had no street cred whatsoever.

But it was still a Peugeot 306 – which meant it handled brilliantly. The bottom-of-the-range diesel might have been a long way off a Rallye or a GTI-6, but pit it against a country road and there were definite whiffs of hot hatch from the steering and suspension.

I loved its diesel-ness too. It never failed to deliver anything south of 50mpg, which meant after a few months the savings at the pumps effectively paid the car off. It even made up for its many failings by being a workhorse I could rely on, with a single breakdown over two years of motoring. Not bad for less than the price of a return train ticket to London.

But after 18 years and 175,000 miles of plodding on it was – and only just, I might add – starting to show signs of whatever motoring’s equivalent of senile dementia is. So rather than putting it through even more runs up and down the nation’s motorway network, I’ve allowed to take automotive retirement and let something more suited to motorway life take the strain.

It’s bigger, smoother but still a fine example of bangernomics at work. It’s also Japanese and a bit boring. Stay tuned to find out what I’ve bought…

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Oooh la la! Big French cars just got interesting again

The current Renault Espace is far more exciting than its MPV rivals on sale here in the UK

IF SOUTHPORT really is the Paris of The North then I’d like to nominate it for an ambitious new automotive project. We should use the resort as a pilot scheme for reintroducing the Big French Car to Britain’s roads.

The Big French Car is a species not so much on life support in this country as completely dead and buried, consigned to a much earlier grave than the rest of Europe because we’re far more interested in what BMW, Audi and Mercedes have to offer. Citroen’s decision to can the C5 a few months ago is a case in point. It’s alive and well on the continent, but last year we Brits bought just 237 of them. Not a lot for what’s meant to be the Gallic answer to Ford’s Mondeo.

Yet if a business trip I’ve just taken to Normandy is anything to go by then we really ought to be slowly but surely reintroducing the endangered breed that is the Big French Car back to Britain. If the new Renault Espace is anything to go by, big wafty motors from the other side of the Channel started getting interesting the moment we bid them adieu.

In the course of a weekend I saw plenty of French families happily tootling around in something that no longer looks like a van with windows and suddenly has a rather rakish quality. Convert the French price into English and you’re looking at a £29k car – yes, that’s three grand more than Volkswagen’s Sharan but worth it something that looks like TGV high speed train rather than a minibus.

It’s the same story elsewhere in Renault’s range; the big new Talisman saloon looks fantastic and our French friends can have a neat estate version of the current Clio, but neither of these are available in the UK. Citroen, meanwhile, has announced a follow-up to its fabulous C6 luxury saloon, which is as likely to see a UK showroom as Boris Johnson is to see a friendly face in Brussels. Peugeot’s a little better, with a French range that roughly mirrors ours, but it’s clear there are plenty of wonderfully endearing cars we Brits should be getting but aren’t.

Which is why I think Southport, with its vaguely Parisian boulevard running right through its centre and al fresco dining areas alongside it, is somewhere vaguely French enough to support the reintroduction of big French cars. We should all be given new Renault Espaces and Citroen C6s so we can show the rest of Britain that cars other than bland crossovers and poverty-spec German saloons are available. The Big French Car deserves a reintroduction here, and with our historical connections to Paris we’re the ideal place to do it.

Just don’t mention depreciation or the whole idea’s ruined…