BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The Peugeot 306 was launched in 1993 and lasted until the 307 was introduced in 2001. Estate versions even ran on until Summer 2002. Until the Ford Focus arrived, it was the leading family hatchback for keen drivers and it remains satisfying for those who enjoy life at the steering wheel. Overall then, a fine used car - if you buy carefully.
Models Covered: 1993 to 1997: (3 & 5dr hatchback, 4dr saloon, 2dr cabriolet; 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 1.9 diesel, 1.9 turbo diesel [XN, XL, XR, XS, XSi, XT, S16, GTi-6, SL, SR, ST, XND, XLD, XLDT, XRD, XRDT, XTDT, D Turbo, SND, SLDT, SRDT, STDT] 1997-2002: (3 & 5dr hatchback, 5dr estate, 4dr saloon, 2dr cabriolet; 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 1.9 diesel, 1.9 turbo diesel, 2.0 HDi turbo diesel [L, LX, XS, XSi, GLX, GTi-6, Rallye, D Turbo, Roadster])
The 306 was launched in April 1993 to replace the ageing 309 and represent Peugeot in the important family hatchback sector. Under the skin, the new car shared many parts with its PSA stablemate, Citroen's ZX. No bad thing; the ZX was recognised as one of the best cars in its class. Few would dispute, however, that Peugeot's offering was the better looking of the two. The early engine choice of 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol units was quickly widened to include both normally aspirated and turbocharged 1.9-litre diesels. In January and February 1994, three-door versions and 2.0-litre petrol-engined XSi and S16 16v sporty hot hatches arrived, boasting 123 and 155bhp respectively. A pretty cabriolet arrived in May and a neat four-door saloon, the Sedan, followed in October 1994. Soon after, the S16 was replaced by the even faster GTi-6. In April 1997, the range was facelifted, with a smart new nose, mild alterations at the rear and extra equipment. Power steering was standard on all versions and a 112bhp 1.8-litre 16v engine added to the line-up, replacing the eight-valver in all but automatic versions (which subsequently gained a new 16v 1.6). An estate followed in the autumn of 1997, offering mostly the same engines and trim levels as its three, four and five-door counterparts. ABS became standard on all models in Autumn 1998 and the last round of revisions (body-coloured bumpers across the range along with twin front airbags and anti-lock brakes) was announced in June 1999, around the time the last saloons were sold. At this point, a 90bhp HDi engine replaced the 1.9-litre turbo diesel. In 2001 Peugeot pared the available selection down to estates and cabriolets, the estates consisting of a much reduced range. These continued until Summer 2002.
What You Get
A five-door family car, that's still amongst the medium range class leaders. It's better than nearly all the more recent designs to drive and build quality has improved a great deal in recent years. So has the quality of materials used. On all 306s, insurance costs tend to favour the customer more than you might expect; the cost of covering the car tends to be between 15 and 40% less than with any of its major rivals.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Go for the latest car you can afford as standard equipment increased noticeably in recent years to compete with newer rivals. A driver's airbag was added for 1994 (you'll identify these cars by the chrome surround around the front grille badge) and many post-1997 models have air conditioning which was a low-cost alternative to the standard sunroof. Avoid high mileage examples - repairs can be expensive. Pre-1994 models are prone to blowing out blue oil smoke; check carefully and avoid any such examples. Watch for electrical equipment failure, coolant leaks and uneven tyre wear. Check for heavy clutches and ensure early cars have power steering because the unassisted system will give your arm muscles quite a workout around town. Try for XT or GLX versions; at this level, deadlocks were fitted for extra security and there's loads of extra equipment such as rear electric windows.
(approx based on a 1994 306 XSi) Brake pads are around £62 a set, a full headlamp assembly is around £87. A clutch should cost you £225, an exhaust system (including catalyst) around £550 and a radiator up to £135. A starter motor will be about £185 and an alternator £200.
On the Road
Performance is rapid on all models. On the 1.6-litre petrol version, you can expect a top speed of 111mph and 0-60mph acceleration in 12.9 seconds. At the same time, fuel consumption is over 30mpg around town and over 50mpg at a steady 56mph. Those statistics, however, don't take any account of mid-range power - the area where it really counts. Put simply, these are amongst the most flexible small family cars you can buy, petrol or diesel, and even a short test drive reveals why. At the wheel, the driving position is close to perfection, the pedals and steering wheel just where you want them. The seats, too, are excellent, supportive on long runs and grippy through tight corners. There are some nice cabin touches too, like the facia-top locker which complements the glove box (though this is a passenger airbag on later cars). Gripes? Well, the gearbox isn't quite as sweet as you might hope and the paint quality isn't the best but apart from that, it's difficult to fault the 306.
All in all, Peugeot's 306 is a family hatch, saloon or estate you can't afford to leave off the family shopping list. Who says that you need to forget driving enjoyment just because you've got family responsibilities? It may be getting on a bit now, but for those who want the driver's choice, the 306 is a good place to start looking.