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New Car Test - Peugeot 306 Style

A versatile 5-door hatch with character, enjoyable handling, and a capable amount of go.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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The Peugeot 306 has been sold in Australia for over five years, and continues to be available as the middle ground between the current 206 and 406 models. For 2000, the updated 306 receives a front spoiler, fog lights, rear sports bumper, side fairings and colour-coded trims. Add to this its new clear lens headlights, rear Peugeot badge, some interior changes and remote central locking and you've got yourself an effective facelift.

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The 306 line-up begins with the basic Style (as tested), followed by the XT, XTTD, XSi, GTi 6 and cabriolet models. Available only as a 5-door hatch, the 1.8 litre Style starts at a reasonable A$26,400 (RRP) and comes complete with a 2 year/unlimited kilometre warranty, Peugeot Assistance - and there's also the Peugeot Extended Warranty option available at an extra cost.

The next level up XT (with its 2.0 engine, dual airbags and alloy wheels) costs A$29,900, or A$32,100 with a 4 speed automatic trans. And if you're after real performance, check out the 124kW GTi 6, which retails for A$43,900. Market place competition for the 306 Style comes in the form of the Citroen Xsara, Ford Laser, Holden Astra, Honda Civic, Mazda 323, Nissan Pulsar, Suzuki Baleno, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Golf.

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The 306's newly updated standard equipment list includes semi-climate control air, driver's side airbag, electric front windows, remote central locking, height adjustable pyrotechnic front seatbelts, and a passive engine immobiliser. Plus there's power steering, a height adjustable steering wheel and driver's seat, heated rear view mirrors, rear fog light and a security coded four-speaker radio/cassette. Buyers' options are metallic paint (A$650), a passenger airbag (A$840), 14 inch alloy wheels (A$1300), ABS (A$1590) and an electric sunroof (A$1560).

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Inside, the 306's packaging is superb - like all Peugeots, it seems. There is plenty of room for four adults and the rear luggage area can easily accommodate a weekly shopping load. And because of the car's low waistline, the cabin always feels spacious and airy. The Style models come with a blue fabric interior, which adds an aura of "flower power" and certainly catches the eye. The dash layout is simple, effective and rattle-free, but its angular styling is now dated - when compared to the new 206, for example. The 306's standard interior package includes a trick sports gear knob - I was a little surprised when a small but very sharp piece of the metallic covering flaked off it and sliced into my middle finger! Overall, the interior is very comfortable and all of its controls operate with a very positive action. For example, the indicator lever clicks on and off with 100% certainty.

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Designed in the early 90s, it's obvious the 306 isn't as "fresh" as the 206, but it still looks distinctively Euro and spunky. Side skirts, sports bumpers, fog lights, clear lens headlights, bee sting aerial and the optional 14 inch alloys team up give the car attractive hot-hatch looks. Immediately apparent when you drive the car is its excellent visibility, which comes from that low waistline and the large glass areas. However, the high-drag hatchback shape gives the 306 an aerodynamic Cd measuring a relatively poor 0.36. Like the larger 406 model Peugeot, the 306 is put together with 75% of its sheet metal protected by zinc electroplating or galvanizing. The underside, wheel arches and sills are also protected by a special anti-chipping compound.

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Under the bonnet lives the same 1.8-litre, DOHC, 16 valve four cylinder engine used in the first model 306s. This XU7JP4 engine runs with a compression ratio of 10.4:1 and develops 84kW at 5500 rpm and 158Nm of torque at 4250 rpm. Fuel and ignition management is delivered by Sagem's latest SL96 system and it imposes a soft rev limit at 6250 revs. The relatively lightweight 306 accelerates along briskly with the engine offering very good flexibility. The Style comes equipped only with a 5 speed BE3.5 'box, which has a slightly lower top gear ratio and higher final drive ratio than those used in the higher level 2.0 litre models. It's a gearbox that's easy to work; its light and precise operation well matched to the feel of the steering.

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Performance-wise the 1115kg 306 5-speed feels quicker than it's quoted as being - Peugeot suggest it covers the quarter mile in 18.0 seconds and accelerates from 0 to 100 in 11.6 seconds (although we timed it in the mid 10s). Certainly, any car that does the quarter mile in 18 seconds is quite slow, but in everyday driving, the 306 is not under par. Its flexibility and response help it to shuffle along eagerly and even ease away from normal traffic flow. Then, when it's time to fill 'er up, the 1.8 litre 306 comes back with a consumption figure of around 10 litres per 100 kilometres under city driving conditions, or a claimed 5.7 litres per 100 on the highway. Normal unleaded fuel will suffice.

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The 306 is a wonderful little handler that turns-in as a sharp as a tack and can be throttle danced around a corner with terrific accuracy. And this experience is even more rewarding when combined with its wonderfully precise power steering that gives excellent driver feedback. With varying driving techniques, the 306 can be put into either under- or over-steer and it's delightfully progressive in either direction. Though being the non-sporty model, there is some body roll when you push it hard, and those 185/65 Michelin Energy tyres aren't as grippy as the Pirellis on some of the higher spec 306s. A relatively soft ride is delivered in the entry-level Style, with large bumps being soaked up with Peugeot's usual finesse.

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Belying this high level of handling performance is the common MacPherson strut set up at the front, teamed with trailing arm/torsion bar rear suspension. Also at the blunt end is a passive rear-wheel steer system, which works on the principle of bush deflection under cornering loads. This gives improved turn-in and stability without the weight of a fully controlled electro-mechanical system. Anti-roll bars are fitted under the front and back.

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The optional anti-lock brakes weren't fitted to our test 306, so it performed emergency braking manoeuvres with initially locked tyres and a bit of slip-slidey action. But despite the lack of steering control when the wheels are locked, the four wheel discs do pull the car up very rapidly and with good brake pedal feel. For the extra A$1590, the ABS option gives you the very latest in Bosch 4 sensor brake technology. In terms of passive safety, the 306's toughened steel cage is designed to protect its occupants from front and rear impacts via progressive crumple zones. Also standard is a 45 litre driver's airbag working in unison with pyrotechnic seatbelt pre-tensioners that, in the event of an accident, tighten the front lap and chest straps well before the occupants move.

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The Peugeot 306 Style is much more than just a well-packaged hatch with reasonable performance and economy. Its excellent ride and handling - and brilliant steering - make even the dull routine of commuting an enjoyable and involving task.

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