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New Car Test - Peugeot 307 HDi

Fantastic economy and ride.

by Julian Edgar

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One of the oddities of the Australian car market is the almost complete lack of acceptance of diesel-powered passenger cars. While in Europe diesels make up nearly half of all new cars sold, here in Australia the proportion is miniscule. In fact, when talk turns to stunning fuel economy and unconventional powerplants, many more people will think of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight than a diesel-powered Peugeot. But when about the worst fuel consumption you're likely to see out of a Peugeot 307 HDi is an incredible 6.2 litres/100 km, and economy as good as 4 litres/100 km is quite possible, the diesel Pug requires a long, hard look if you put lots of kays behind you... and you're interested in low running costs.

And it's not as if the trade-offs of diesel power are great. In fact, if you're not into traffic light grands prix, we struggle to find any downsides at all. The high pressure direct injection (that's what 'HDi' stands for) and intercooled turbo endows the diesel 307 (and 406, a car we've driven previously - "The Parsimonious Peugeot") with tractability and refinement. Inside the cabin you're pushing to even hear the characteristic diesel clatter - although mechanically-knowledgeable passers-by will certainly be able to notice what sort of engine is under the sloping bonnet. And tractability? Well, although the rev-range over which the engine works is much less than for an equivalent petrol engine, the power-band isn't limited to just a few thousand rpm. Instead, there's good torque available from 1000 - 4500 rpm. (That's better than we found in the 406 HDi - we assume that there have been some running changes to the engine design to give a wider torque band.)

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And talking of torque, that's the turbo diesel's grunt characteristics - lots of it. The 2-litre diesel pushes out 205Nm at just 1750 rpm, with peak power being 66kW at 4000 rpm. If you're not into the tech mumbo-jumbo, this high torque figure at low revs (the equivalent of a much bigger petrol engine) means that you don't need to spin the engine very hard to still accelerate adequately. In fact, short-changing is the rule rather than the exception - in normal use, the driver typically swaps cogs at about 1500 - 2000 rpm.

Just 66kW in a car weighing 1260kg doesn't sound like a recipe for fun - and the factory quoted 0-100 km/h time of 13.8 seconds seems to confirm that. But on the road, the car is almost never embarrassed for a lack of power. We spent a week in and around Sydney in the 307 HDi, and despite that city's driving traits of speeding away from every set of traffic lights, the Pug never got left behind. On the open road, passing requires a little planning, but again it's absolutely nothing that will faze a competent driver. High speed cruising has always been a Peugeot forte, and the 307 HDi is no different. If speed limits allow, the Pug will happily cruise at 140 -150 km/h or so.

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And the rest of the car? It's not as outstanding as the engine, but it's still pretty good. 'Car of the Year' in Europe in 2002, the 307 is one of the new 'tall body' cars entering the segment. This approach gives outstanding interior space because the designers can work upwards, as well as longways. Front and rear room are excellent, with rear passengers able to fit their feet under the front seats. The high-opening hatch also reveals plenty of space - 341 litres with the back seat up and a massive 1328 litres with it folded. In fact, with the exception of the glovebox - which incomprehensively is half-filled with a black box - the inside packaging is practical and effective.

The safety level is also high, with six airbags fitted. In addition, the 307 has active front head restraints (which move in the event of a rear-ender, better supporting occupants' heads), ABS, and brake assist (where a fast application of brakes automatically gives full braking effort unless the driver completely lifts off the brake pedal). When brake assist triggers, the hazard flashers are automatically activated.

Peugeot specify plenty of equipment - the 307 HDi receives electric windows, single CD/radio, climate control air (which also has a pollen filter), remote headlight height adjustment and cruise control.

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Ride and handling is Peugeot-comfortable and Peugeot-competent, respectively. The tyres are relatively small 195/65 SP Sport Dunlops worn on 15-inch steel rims. These are controlled by a McPherson-strut front-end and torsion-beam rear axle (although both ends have a little more sophistication than this brief description covers) but the magic is in the damping and spring rates. Simply put, the Peugeot has a superb ride, able to absorb even potholes with a distant thump. The ride never becomes undamped and nervous, and neither does it become harsh. The steering is linear and has a good feel. Handling is competent - the 307 HDi isn't set up for sports car cornering, but it's progressive and predictable.

So, hasn't the car got any negatives? Well yes, it does have some of those as well. The 307 doesn't have the same feeling of design and build quality that you'll find in (say) a Honda. The 307's front doors shut with a clang, the ashtray is fiddly and feels cheap, and the gearchange is notchy. There're also a few basic design glitches - the pedals are offset to one side and too close together (and those with large feet will catch their shoes on a piece of trim that's close to the clutch arc), the gauge markings are complicated and the steering column stalks (all four of them!) require familiarity before their diverse functions become clear. Oh, and the (very good) trip computer panel can't be read if the driver is wearing polarising sunglasses.

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But the killer punch in favour of the 307 HDi is its price - at $29,990 it's at least $5000 cheaper than we expected. In the past, specifying diesel power meant making some major trade-offs in noise and vibration - and usually spending a lot of dosh to start with. But that's no longer the case - the Peugeot 307 HDi is well-equipped, well priced, and fantastically economical.

More people should experience the benefits of diesels...

Why you would:

  • Fantastic economy
  • Very few downsides to diesel power
  • Practical and roomy
  • Excellent ride and competent handling
  • Well priced

Why you wouldn't:

  • Close, offset pedals
  • Controls require familiarity
  • Build quality question marks

This car was made available for this test by Peugeot Australia.

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