BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Peugeot's 309 will never be the kind of car you aspire to own but if you're a family buyer on a tight budget, it could very well be the one you need. The car was long ago replaced by the 306 range and, like that car, it was built at Ryton near Coventry as well as in France. Most examples are now pretty tatty but, if you can find a good one, this fine handling family hatch is still worth a look.
Models Covered: 3 & 5dr hatchback (1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.9, 1.9 diesel [XE, Style, GE, XL, GL, GR, GLX, SR, SRi, GRi, GTi])
The 309 was Peugeot's first modern-era family hatchback, developed with mechanicals mostly borrowed from its smaller stablemate, the ultra-successful 205. At launch in 1986, there were 1.3 and 1.6-litre petrol models and a 1.9-litre normally aspirated diesel option. Trim levels ranged from XE and GE upwards. The single five-door hatchback body style was joined by a three-door option in 1987 when the pokey 1.9-litre petrol GTi hot hatch model was offered; this also came in five-door form from 1988 onwards. In October 1989, a revised range of models was launched. These featured a new grille, a larger tailgate opening to bumper level, new tail lights and a restyled interior. The 1.6-litre GL and GR auto models had an uprated 92bhp engine and Style was now the entry-level trim. In February 1990, a turbo diesel GRDT model was launched. In June 1991, the 1.1-litre models received a new 1124cc engine and the 1.3-litre motor was replaced by a 1.4. All petrol engines featured fuel injection and exhaust catalysts from October 1992. The 309 was replaced by the 306 in April 1993.
What You Get
A bread and butter family hatchback and, often, not a particularly well-built one. The saving grace, however, was the 205-derived chassis, superb for the enthusiast without being unbearable for the family driver. The GTi in particular was arguably the finest-handling hot hatch of its generation. Less obviously, the turbo diesel was equally good to drive and probably the best all-round 309 you can buy. It was introduced in the restyled late 1989 line-up so build quality was much better and equipment levels on this model were high, too. If the budget is tight, the earlier normally aspirated diesel variants are worth a look even though they still command relatively strong values. Don't pay extra for any of the many tacky special editions.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Watch for spongy, sagging suspension (suggesting worn shock absorbers). There are also reports of worn brake discs, oil and coolant leaks and split gaiters on constant velocity joints. Look out for smoky diesels and expect nearly all GTi models to have been thrashed.
(approx excl Vat, based on a 1992 309 1.6GR) A full clutch assembly should be around £125, a full exhaust system around £150 and front and rear brake pads £27 and £45 respectively. A radiator, alternator or starter motor should each cost you around £120 (exchange).
On the Road
As previously mentioned, handling is a 309 strongpoint. The steering is well-weighted (if a little heavy) and the engines are willing and responsive. The chassis works with you in the tightest of corners; you always know exactly what the car is doing and how far you can push it. The turbo diesel shows a remarkably rapid turn of speed, but the entry-level 1.1 and 1.3-litre cars are slothful. Try for one of the fuel injected models from the early Nineties if you want a petrol version. Try also for one of the post-October 1989 facelift cars with restyled rear and more practical tailgate.
There's no image value in owning a Peugeot 309 - quite the reverse in fact. If you don't care about that and just want a bread and butter family hatch with a bit of handling sparkle, then this car might just suit. Assuming, of course, that you can find a good one. If cost restricts you to an early model, that might not be easy...