Peugeot has entered the sub-compact market with its newly launched 301, a handsome-looking little saloon, of that there’s no doubt.
In a segment traditionally dominated by Toyota and its Yaris and Nissan and its Tiida, the 301 turns up to the party far better dressed but, sadly, just as lousy with regards to performance. This will be music to mum’s and dad’s ears, mind. They’ll be delighted the little 1.6-litre, which is mated to a four-speed automatic (oh, how it could do with an extra gear…), produces just 115bhp because the 301 makes the ideal first car for new drivers.
It’s sensible, well-equipped and user-friendly — apart from the fact that the wing mirror switch has been hidden under the steering column and the cruise control lever is concealed behind the fat flat-bottomed wheel — and this makes it a pretty good deal at just Dh55,500 for the top-spec Allure trim.
Indeed, new drivers will enjoy many things about the 301, a car Peugeot says it designed for ‘emerging markets’, most notably the comfortable interior. The driver’s seat offers a good all-round view and there aren’t any worrying blind spots. What’s more, there’s ample headroom up front, while at the back Peugeot claims the 121mm of legroom is the best in class. It isn’t kidding; taller folk can stretch out and, somehow, it even has a 640-litre boot. The 301 certainly belies its size. It’s no surprise that this is its major selling point, along with the good-looking exterior — which borrows heavily from the SR1 Concept car. I like the chrome-outlined wide-mouth ‘floating grille’, the 15in aluminium alloys, attractive bonnet and beltline with more creases than one of my shirts and an overall elegance that the two Japanese rivals totally lack. It’s far more athletic looking, thoroughly modern and therefore commands your attention. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a Tiida bumbling past, unless it was on fire. But the 301 is positively chic. The French know a thing or two about style and from its looks alone, this car jumps straight to the front of the queue in its segment.
Though the materials in the cabin could have been better, it’s all put together well and there’s nothing in here that will really upset you. You get what you pay for and in this case, that includes a plush dashboard with lots of brushed-aluminium trim, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and some useful driver-assistance technology such as rear parking sensors.
With Peugeot pricing this car to sell, I’d imagine it will, and by the bucket. But I can’t for a second imagine the salesman making a case for the four-pot and slush ’box. My advice would be to skip the drivetrain completely and move on to something with more power, like um, the volume control on the stereo.
The engine and gearbox act like complete strangers — it’s as if they’ve never met. Constantly in the wrong gear, or holding on to one for too long and in desperate need of a fifth, the 301 leaves much to be desired on the performance front. It sounds raspy — but not in a good way; it’s screaming in pain. Keep the revs down to 2,000rpm and you’ll spare your eardrums from a pounding. It isn’t particularly quick, reaching 0-100kph eventually. OK, 10.8 seconds if you’re actually counting, but once it gets over the initial slumber, it is decent enough to drive. It feels light on its feet, which assists the handling, as does the responsive electric power steering and the same pseudo-MacPherson front and deformable cross-member at the rear as seen in the 208 and the RCZ. But beware; faster-moving highway traffic will blow you away like the big bad wolf.
Around town, it’s much happier and frugal too with a claimed combined figure of 7.1 litres-per-100km. I only managed numbers in the high eights; I didn’t help matters as I probably weigh as much as the car these days...
Peugeot hasn’t skimped on safety features; it packs an electronic stability program, ABS, four airbags, emergency brake assistance and Isofix child seat mountings.
Ignore the fact that the motor and transmission behave like a squabbling couple and the engine is underpowered and rather noisy, it’s a very decent addition in the cut-throat sub-compact segment. It’s my new favourite in a sector of cars that I care very little about.