With an ailing European automotive industry that set negative record sales in the past few years and a growing necessity for the local automakers to conquer new markets we can see no surprise in PSA – Peugeot Citroen, building a model that kind of has the DNA of what VW achieved with Skoda.
Europe’s second largest manufacturer is striving to forgo its dependency on the classical European market – we shouldn’t talk here about its problems – but the Peugeot 301/ Citroen C-Elysee couple is one of the necessary solutions.
Essentially, the Peugeot 301 (note the unusual name) is a compact class sedan aimed especially at emerging and developing markets – China included. As such, it is only available on some of the traditional European markets, since it addresses the need of the automaker to offer the vehicle at a lower price point than usual.
Corner cutting aside (we’ll get back on that later), the 301 is really a compelling package – no wonder though, since it needs to cater for a wide range of tastes and also incarnate what is usually the only car in the family.
As we are talking about an affordable model for emerging markets, the 301 is a sedan (a true one, don’t think about the 1930s 301 model at all) that actually takes (and quite convincingly) a lot of its design cues from the bigger 508.
Peugeot offers this resemblance as it doesn’t need to fear internal competition – on the markets where both are offered very few clients would opt anyways for the larger model. The styling is quite successful, with design elements that join the Peugeot usual motifs but also with new ones, that render personality to the model. I won’t go as far as saying that 301 is a beautiful car, but it certainly isn’t dull at all.
This is achieved by not expanding the model from an earlier body version – which also says a lot about the commitment the French took in building these models. Just have an online search about the 206 sedan model and you’ll know what I mean.
Interiors and gadgets
As I mentioned, 301 is an affordable entry – a model that tries to emulate the success brands like Dacia, Skoda or Hyundai had on the European market and especially on emerging markets.
So, if when seeing the car from outside you really can’t tell any corners were cut, all that comes into motion once you’re inside. And there are big hints and little hints – fortunately overall none of them is game changing – Peugeot took its time and learned from the early mistakes those brands I mentioned earlier made.
The first and biggest giveaway is the choice of materials; black and hard plastic is everywhere – from door panels to the entire center console. It’s not really bad looking but the texture is not worth mentioning.
Then, the audio and climate controls are unlike any other modern Peugeot – although the design of the instrumentation and controls is really comfortable – no experiments but also no problems here. The ergonomics suffer from the corner cutting as well, with a small instrument display in the dashboard and the bulk of information located dead center along with the audio and climate controls. Also, the electric windows are operated form the central tunnel, in front of the gear level.
Still, even with the steering wheel that has only unidirectional adjustment, and all the little bits above, the 301 still feels like a Peugeot and doesn’t render the impression of an utterly cheap car. I really think that the French could also tap with the model into the lucrative business of corporate cars, as it offers a good level of comfort.
So, this is how we get to one of the best parts of this car – the level of space. Although it only has 4,44 meters, the 301 offers outstanding leg room, especially for the back seat residents. The front seats are also very comfortable and there is no problem if you take three passengers in the back even for long trips.
Engine, transmission, fuel consumption
The tested model came equipped with one of the most renowned diesel engines in Europe – the now classic 1.6 HDi churning out 92 HP. It’s one of those engines that will go down in history, just like the old 1.9 TDI’s from the VW group did back in the days.
All things considered, it’s one of the greatest options on this car: low fuel consumption and good overall performance – with the only topic that needs further enhancements being the noise. The engine has its years and although is relatively free of vibrations, the noise it produces is not one you would call symphonic. On the other cars it equips it was kept in check by good insulation, but here we come across another corner cut.
Other than that, 301 is definitely a diesel fan – the not so heavy car (1090 kg, dry weight) jumps seamlessly to 100 km/h in 11,2 seconds, reaching a top speed of 180 km/h and an average fuel consumption of 4,3 liters/ 100 km. With 4,9 liters in urban areas and 3,9 liters outside the city, these figures could seem bloated, but this time around the carmaker is quite close to the truth. On a 600 km long trip which included city, some mountain climbing and even some highway driving, the on board computer decided on a 4,4 L/100 km average, which is very good.
And this comes as a very nice surprise, as the engine is only mated to a five speed manual transmission, which, just like in the 2008 test, doesn’t have a spectacular gearing – with very long, not really precise gear lever changes.
Although 301 is designed as an affordable car, regarding the chassis and setup I have this time not detected any problems – the French did a very good job with the handling and also with the suspension setup. It would have been obvious that after seeing the engine not to damped to encounter the same setting in regards to the rest of the powertrain, especially the suspension system. But, even with bigger potholes, the 301 remained very stiff and no revealing sounds came inside the cabin. This is really a big plus, as one can grow accustomed to the engine sound (or keep it in lower revs), but I always found that odd sounds from the suspension system tipped away a company that tried to cheat away a customer.
The handling setup for the model is – as anyone could expect it – oriented towards comfort – this is backed by the very good suspension, overall it endures quite a beating on bad asphalt without complaints and without any hindrance to the passengers. The steering is also very well adjusted, easy to use during daily city routine and precise enough for the occasional longer trips that might include windy roads.
Overall, the handling is not what you would call superb, but it does a very fine job – comfortable but also springy enough to keep you entertained if needed.
On the safety side, the 301 in the Allure trim came standard equipped with ESP and four Airbags, but also with ISOFIX system for child seats – another hint that it intends to satisfy all the family needs.
On the plus side we have the interior space, the handling and the very good and noiseless suspension.
On the down side we have some corner cutting to make it more affordable: lower ergonomics and a tendency to allow the engine to show its voice inside the cabin.