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The Peugeot 308CC is a product from the masters of the coupe cabriolet, but is it their best effort yet?

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Peugeot makes more coupé-cabriolets than anyone else, and is by far the most successful manufacturer of the breed with a quarter of the European market. It has a long history in making them. This certainly heritage bodes well for the 308 CC. There were coupé-cabriolet Peugeots before the second world war, even; the 401, 601 and 602 Eclipse models pioneered the format in the 1930s. Advanced as they were, the Eclipses were expensive, low-volume models, however: the company’s post-war coupé-cabriolets have been built in far larger numbers.

However, the original year 2000 206 CC nearly didn’t happen at all. The company was concerned that this complicated, relatively high-cost small car would not sell in enough volume to turn a profit. Spurred on by the success of the 1996 Mercedes SLK though, which proved the readiness of the European market to buy retractable hardtop convertibles again, Peugeot took the risk – and was duly rewarded with the generous spoils so often earned by those first to a new market niche.

Surprisingly, there are no cupholders, even in the door bins

Not that the original 206 and 307 CC were flawless; patchy roof reliability, floppy bodies and compromised packaging undermined their functionality, but not enough to prevent them from gathering a following strong enough, even, to translate into particularly laudable secondhand values. 

Peugeot has since worked hard to purge the 207 CC of its predecessor’s shortcomings, and with some success. The question here is whether it has repeated the feat with the 308 CC, the larger C-segment convertible offered up against Renault’s Megane CC and VW’s Eos.

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The 308 CC engine range kicks off with a normally aspirated 1.6-litre VTi petrol with 118bhp and a five-speed manual gearbox, and ranges upwards through 154- and 197bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol options, and includes a 110bhp 1.6-litre HDi diesel with automatic engine stop-start. The higher power 2.0-litre diesel produces 161bhp, and is available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

DESIGN & STYLING

Peugeot 308 CC 18in alloys

The 308 CC replaces the 307, one of the first cars fetauring a solid retractable roof to the Focus class. Unfortunately, Peugeot's convertible arrangements for the 307 did little for its styling. This, and significant extra weight that fell well short of freeing the car of tremors and shakes, resulted in a cabriolet that was better in theory than reality, rather like the 206 CC

But Peugeot has persevered with the concept – not least because it has sold an awful lot of these cars – and as with the 207 CC it has done much to overcome the shortcomings this time around. Not that the 308 CC is a lightweight, weighing 1480kg (at its lightest) to its predecessor’s 1528kg. But Peugeot claims the body is eight per cent more rigid.

Doors are heavy; if you’re parked on a slope they can be difficult to hold open while grabbing bags from inside

The 308 CC is 3mm shorter of wheelbase than the 308 hatchback, but they share front-end crash structures. There are major differences elsewhere; the windscreen pillars are substantially strengthened, along with sills said to be capable of resisting a 12-tonne force. The windscreen frame provides rollover protection while the doors can withstand a 6.5-tonne force. Pop-up rollover bars protect rear-seat occupants. The front seats provide integral side and head ’bags, the latter a world first. The result is five NCAP occupant protection stars and 36 out of 37 points.

Peugeot has stuck with a two-piece roof design instead of the three-section assemblies employed by the Volkswagen Eos, which allow for a longer roof panel and less need for front and rear screens that extend into the roof to make up the difference. The advantage of Peugeot’s approach is less weight, less complexity and a bigger boot, roof down – but the flipside is a windscreen that extends rearwards to almost cover your head. It can also lead to ungainly styling, although the 308 CC suffers less here than its predecessor did.

INTERIOR

Driving Peugeot 308 CC roof down

As with the hatch, the 308 CC is roomier and better finished than its predecessors, without being outstanding in either regard. A decent dashboard moulding, attractive instruments and splashes of chrome and aluminium make for an inviting cabin, especially if it’s leather trimmed. And the Integral leather option, which extends classy double-stitched hide to the fascia, lifts the Peugeot's cabin surprisingly close to premium grade.

The Peugeot’s lid lifts and folds in a claimed 20 seconds (we timed it at 22sec) and can be operated at speeds of up to 7.5mph. A pair of head ’bags incorporated into the front seats, along with the side ’bags, are an engineering first.

Headrest-mounted airbags help the 308 CC achieve a five-star Euro Ncap figure

Room up front is generous, but in the rear legroom for adults is tight, while most will find insufficient head room beneath a rear screen that exposes heads to the sun. Comfort is also compromised by the rear armrests, whose height forces your elbow upwards, causing your torso to twist slightly.

Space for the paraphernalia of travel is adequate up front, with decent door bins, a lidded cubby and a sizeable rubber-floored centre console shelf, but the glovebox is a lot smaller than its lid implies and there are no storage options for rear-seat occupants. The boot is one of the least small among the coupé-cabriolet class, although its roof-down capacity of 226 litres is hardly large. Roof up, there’s 403 litres of space – enough for a holiday if you pack light.

As ever in a four-seat cabrio, the back seats become draughty with speed, though the 308 is better than some in this respect. Up front it’s impressively breeze-free, especially if the boot-stored wind stop is installed. And the Airwave vents in the front seats provide an effective jet of warm or cool air to the neck; annoyingly, it can only be had with Peugeot’s expensive leather option, although that does include the wind stop. 

The Peugeot can also be driven with all the side windows down for a semi-alfresco, pillarless coupé ride that’s an appealing compromise during middling weather or days too hot for the full roof-down experience.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Peugeot 308 CC rear quarter

The 2.0-litre HDi turbodiesel in the Peugeot 308 CC produces a peak 161bhp at 3750rpm, and 251lb ft of torque: a decent amount of thrust to pull along a car weighing 1736kg. On the open road, progress is stout without being outstanding; momentum takes a little effort to gain, but is more easy to maintain. 

The HDi’s torque peak arrives slightly late by modern diesel standards, at 2000rpm, resulting in a slight pause in power delivery if the engine is revving below that point. You can partially mask this by selecting Sport, but the resultant low groan from a reluctant engine held in too low a gear soon gets wearing; while not outright noisy, this turbodiesel doesn’t make especially appealing sounds. Still, once past 2000rpm its pull is pleasingly consistent and relatively freely delivered to the 4500rpm limiter.

The steering wheel has a fashionable flat bottom but looks oddly dated

The six-speed torque converter auto ‘box teamed with Peugeot’s diesel engine performs tremor-free changes and is easily overridden with the manual mode, which, despite being designed for left-hand drive, is fairly convenient to use. The result is a civilised powertrain, if hardly a sporting one, but one that complements the CC’s cruising refinement well. Wind noise is contained to the point that, roof up, it’s easy to forget that this is a convertible at all, which is of course the point of coupé-cabriolets.

Peugeot’s 1.6 THP petrol engine makes for a distinctly more dynamic drive. Neither the 154- or the 197bhp tune is enough to make this substantial convertible feel like a sports car, but in petrol guise at least, the 308 CC’s engine is more flexible and smooth than the diesel, and seems reasonably pleasing on the ear. Economy is the obvious compromise; in the real world, while you could expect 40mpg from the 2.0-litre HDi, neither THP engine is likely to deliver an everyday return much beyond 32 to the gallon.

Although the economy claims may seem more appealing for the 1.6-litre VTi and HDi engines, both are best avoided. Although torquey enough in isolation, the 1.6 HDi makes for a driving experience too workmanlike to really suit the 308 drop-top, and the VTi simply struggles to motivate the car with any authority.

RIDE & HANDLING

Peugeot 308 CC roof down

Peugeot makes bold claims about the dynamics of this 308 CC; the suspension is set up with the aim of providing a more sporting drive as well as a measure of comfort for four. A usefully stiffer body is a good start and its lower ride height compared with the mainstream 308 hatch goes some way to compensating for the high-mounted additional mass of its roof.

Initial impressions are not great. The car’s primary ride feels restless (on optional 18in wheels) and its damping unsophisticated around town, where the steering doesn’t feel especially incisive or well weighted, either.

The ride and steering are only so-so in town, but improve with speed

But there’s a surprising transformation with speed. The ride smooths out to the point where it’s rarely noticed and, roof up, the 308 CC feels pretty taut. Although sharp bumps can provoke rattles from its roof structure (and sometimes the dashboard), the overall impression is of a fairly robust and refined car.

The steering also improves with speed; there’s more weight and a greater feeling of accuracy, although there’s never a great deal of feel.

Camber changes produce a little tramlining, but the 308 CC is pretty deft on B-roads, doesn’t roll much and musters decent body control; you find yourself impressed with its agility and enjoying its ability to flow through a series of bends. Roof down, it feels a little more supple, rounding off bumps more effectively and benefiting from a lower centre of roll with the roof folded away. Potholes do produce the odd quiver through the structure, and the adjustable steering column clatters, especially if it’s fully extended, but this coupé-cabriolet offers more integrity than many. 

The result is pleasingly fluent handling, aided by excellent brakes that deliver real stopping power and excellent progression. It’s not a sports car, either with a diesel automatic drivetrain or a turbocharged petrol manual, but it’s more dynamic and entertaining than you’d expect.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Peugeot 308 CC

The 308 CC is closely priced against its main rivals, and similarly equipped. It’s worth noting that at the highest levels of the model range, the Peugeot strays well into Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series cabriolet price territory, where it is a little out of its depth. But the mid-range petrol and diesel models offer an attractive blend of equipment and value.

The depreciation curves of coupé-cabriolets have normalised somewhat over the last decade, to the point where they now tend to be slightly steeper than for their hatchback equivalents. With a higher initial price than a regular 308 hatchback, there’s further for the CC to fall too. But the 308 CC, being one of the class’ better offerings, suffers less in this regard than some. Sold with a five-year/50,000-mile service package for £199, some of the earliest used examples will receive a boost to their residual values derived from a boost in buyer confidence, too.

Competitive list prices gets pushed into premium territory easily with options

The 2.0-litre HDi has competitive fuel economy: it record 35.7mpg over the entirety of our test, and could be expected to better 40mpg in typical everyday use, provided a decent proportion of motorway cruising is included.

Shorter gearing and harder use would probably mean that Peugeot 1.6-litre e-HDi would fail to better that return by very much on a long journey. Its advantage is with its automatic engine start-stop system, which can be expected to make a telling difference during predominately urban use.

Insurance ratings for the 308 CC are competitive in the main, unless you opt for the 197bhp GT model, which is classified in group 30 of 50 – five groups higher than a Renault Megane CC 180 TCE.

VERDICT

3.5 star Peugeot 308 CC

No question, the Peugeot 308 CC is a major improvement on its predecessor, just as the 207 CC was over the 206. The improvements begin with a useful increase in body strength, benefiting its handling, ride and the impression of robustness, and continue with an interior of higher material quality and greater convenience than that of the last car.

It’s disappointing that, once again with a middle-sized Peugeot drop-top, there isn’t really enough rear cabin room for larger adults – particularly when smaller convertibles like the Golf package more occupant space into a smaller car. Passengers taller than 5’ 8” will either have to travel in the front, or not at all. Those small enough to fit in the back also have to put up with limited protection from the wind with the roof down, and seriously restricted headroom with the top in place.

Front occupants in the 308 CC are well protected from wind buffeting, even at motorway speeds

The 308 CC’s choppy town ride is also a bit of a let down, even if, in outright terms, the Peugeot’s more settled medium- and high-speed ride entirely suit its ‘summer day cruiser’ character. Versions on smaller wheels suffer a less unsettled primary ride than those on larger rims, but even they can’t match the low speed refinement of a VW Eos, which remains our class-leading pick.

The 308 CC’s roof is effortlessly convenient, however, the seat-mounted curtain airbags boost its safety credentials and, in leather trim, the interior really lends class to this car. The Airwave neck heating system is effective too, allowing top down motoring even on more wintery occasions.

Peugeot 308CC 2009-2014 First drives