Peugeot 306 GTi6
Report by Graham Whyte (01-02-1999)
"Oh my giddy aunt, look wot the cat's brung in" said Daisy, the itinerant pie lady, pointing out the car to the customers huddled within range of the chained cutlery, Ignoring the aesthetic critique that followed, I went round to the front of the van and slipped her horse a sugar lump by way of compensation for the fright it got when it clapped eyes on the bright gold Peugeot 306. Blaze Yellow the company call it but judging from the horse's reaction Rhubarb Ochre might be more apposite.
And its not only the colour that is novel - jump inside and you are confronted with a gear lever that offers no less than seven possible options; six if you ignore reverse. The first mass-produced car of recent times equipped with a six speed 'box the Peugeot 306 GTi6 is the best of the best - a flagship scorcher from the house of hot hatches. Bostik-like roadholding, a snappily responsive 167 bhp and close-ratio gears add up to a performance package that echoes the first excitement of driving the old 205 in its heyday.
Except that the 306, or as it's badged, 'The New 306', is much more grown up than the old 205 ever was. Faster, safer, better equipped, and altogether the class leader, the GTi6 fully justifies its £18,315 price tag (plus a bit extra for the gold paint job). Now in its second or third generation the 306 range has benefited from a spring clean and makeover which has been largely achieved without hiking the prices, at least of the entry-level models. In the process the car has gained a few centimetres top to toe, taken on a family resemblance to the 106 and 406 and benefited from a few tweaks in the cabin. Add the sports seating and touch of leather of the '6' and the effect is one of a neat synergy of design and purpose, inside and out. Simple and effective and not overcrowded with unnecessary detail. Three-eye Gary won't be impressed but I believe stripes and woven mirror-artefacts can be purchased separately.
Some 200,000 UK sales on from the launch of the 306, the Coventry built car is a regular top ten performer and Peugeot have done well to breath on it without changing things for the sake of it.
It takes around 8.8 seconds to hit 60 mph in the GTi which is quite respectable in itself but the really useful bit of the performance envelope is in the mid ranges where the combination of a torquey engine and an extra gear add up to something really useful. The gearbox appears to have 'long' first and second gears with the next three being close and top acting as an overdrive. If you don't like chopping around to stay on the cam you can miss out some of the intermediates and let the engine's flatish torque curve do the work.
On the downside, the lever could do with being shorter, as could the throw and the bias on the centre 3rd/4th gate is too pronounced which, in a momentary lapse of concentration, could lead to a change directly from sixth to third - deeply embarrassing, at the very least, if you just want to drop a cog to overtake. I found sixth gear quite often lay at the top of the 'box unused - but maybe that's because I am not the sort of driver who reaches for top at the first opportunity and I don't regard intermediate gears simply as a passing phase. At the other end I found 2nd a little too 'long' so the downward chain for roundabouts, for example, stopped at third gear. The mid-range close ratios also negated much of the engine braking and in the absence of a low-enough second ratio I found myself relying too much on brakes for personal comfort. So two cheers for the gearbox, three would be overdoing it.
Also on the slightly negative side of the equation was the steering. Much heavier and with more feedback than the variable-rate steering of the big 406, the 306 suffered from having a turning circle that would embarrass a 4x4. Peugeot don't quote a figure but I estimate it to be in excess of 11 metres and it's worse to the right than the left.
Top speed of the Gti6 with its 16-valve 2.0-litre engine is quoted by the company as being 135 mph which makes it almost as fast as the V6 coupe but what really impresses is the sense of total control at any speed. Passive rear wheel steering modified suspension and outstanding chassis dynamics add up to a handling package that sets definitive standards for the genre. And the roadholding is matched by handling characteristics that inform and reassure in a synergy of responses that invite you to crank up the engine and enjoy the drive - a sensation that's amplified if you use the mid-range gears to keep the roarty engine up on the cam. Discs all round (ventilated at the front) put a rapid stop to all the hanky panky and thankfully the go-slower bits work just as well as the go-faster - unlike on the new high-performance Corsa
Air conditioning, passenger airbag, side-impact protection and so on are pretty much standard nowadays but feature that seems to me to be totally pointless are the rain-sensitive windscreen wipers. Apart from the fact that it's a good idea to let it rain a bit before you put the wipers on who can't be bothered to flick a switch when the occasion demands? Save the money mes amis and spend it on fitting mirrors more in keeping with the car's performance.
At a combined EU figure of about 30 mpg the 16-valve engine is a little less thirsty than the hot Bravo but the extra gear should help turn theory into practice as long as you don't go rushing for the top slot as soon as you turn out of the driveway. A hefty Group 15 insurance premium awaits all you speed merchants but the popularity of the marque should reinforce 3-year residuals so there is some chance of clawing a bit back.
Later on in the test week I stopped for a breather in the New Forest. No sooner had I unscrewed the flask than a member of the local constabulary pulled in beside me and struck up a conversation. He pointed out that when not engaged in his employment the felon has a capacity for innocent enjoyment and that even when the coster's done with matricide he goes in for a bit of sun bathing. We chatted amiably in this vein for some time, often repeating phrases as country folk are apt to do then suddenly he sprang up, saluted and said that what with one consideration and another there was constabulary duty to be done, to be done, and that I should drive with care "... especially in a motor that colour squire wot is liable to hupset the 'orses." His rhubarb was obviously OK.