|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
This is the mission the Peugeot 301 finds itself in and it’s a tough one really considering the sub-compact genre is a cut-throat, no-holds barred business. Still, what does Peugeot do? Offer something, well, uniquely French.
Admittedly, it’s hard to get smitten with the 301 overnight. Sure, it has all the pre-requisite family cues like the lion crest on the hood, the floating front grille, and even the feline-inspired light clusters, but the overall shape has friends commenting more than once that it looks like a “Peugeot Vios”. And you can’t blame them. It does have the same general proportions and rotund styling complete with some edgy undertones. Dig deeper though and you begin to appreciate that it’s first and foremost, a European car. The paint has a deeper luster than your typical Japanese sub-compact and the doors do sound with an authoritative thunk.
Oddly enough, step inside and the whole experience reverses. Looking at photos alone, the 301 does have a nice, comfy cabin styled and executed in a very Peugeot way; it’s something that won’t look out of place in a 2008 or 3008 for that matter. But start touching everything and it’ll make you realize: boy, they worked on a tight budget to get that style. Everything is well screwed together and consistently finished throughout, but the choice of materials is very plebian. Knock on the door, the dashboard, the center console—they all reverberate with the same plastic found on your DVD player. And it extends to every part of the cockpit including the driving controls—the steering wheel, shifter, the buttons—they’re all hard to the touch, lessening the premium feel.
Getting over the initial shock though, it’s easy to get comfy with the 301’s driving position. The steering wheel adjusts only for height, but the large three-spoke tiller is good to use (hallelujah for the thumb rests) while the shifter does fall into your right arm’s natural position. The seats offer good support, but don’t expect it to hug you when executing high lateral-g movements. The simplistic gauges also offer a straight-forward experience with good legibility while the expansive greenhouse ensures visibility all around. Space is alright for four adults (five in a squeeze).
However, with the French just being French, they just had to insert several design oddities into the 301, most of which are just hard to fathom. The biggest culprit is the location of the power windows switches. Located just in front of the shifter, the position is counter-intuitive. If the objective is to free up more space by the door, that would have been alright; but it doesn’t. The lack of storage in the center means having to put larger door pockets which eats up into a bit of foot well space. Plus, the windows don’t even offer one-touch operation up or down. Another ergonomic miss is the location of the multi-function trip computer. A mainstay normally in the instrument cluster, you find it sharing display retail space with the audio system. And if that’s confusing enough, to operate it, you use a button at the tip of the wiper stalk. And there are problems with the layout of the stereo itself. See that large central knob? That doesn’t control the volume; that’s to change station. The volume control is located next to other audio functions. Seriously, even after a week of driving the 301, you won’t get accustomed to the ergonomics.
While the ergonomics remains a flaw for the 301, at least it’s well-mannered on the road. It’s not exactly the sportiest one out there, but it’s solid. It’s one of those cars that fall under the “get in, drive, and forget” mold. The clutch pedal (the diesel version is available purely with a stick shift) is easy to modulate and light enough to use even when stuck for hours on EDSA. The clutch’s engagement is a tad on the high side, but if you’re used to the operation of any other sub-compact diesel, the feel is the same. The five-speed gearbox is largely painless to use with ratios clearly biased more for the urban setting, but the feel is vague and rubbery. That said, as long as you’re committed to your shifts, you don’t crunch gears.
Powered by a 1.6-liter turbo diesel engine, the 301 1.6 HDi, as this model’s officially called, generates a rather modest 92 horsepower. Though the peak power is similar to what a late 90’s compact car would generate, the generous torque of 230 Nm more than makes up for it. This means the 301 can scoot quickly from a standstill and in-between traffic lights, but runs out of breath as the needle climbs up. The engine is largely unobtrusive and is actually quite refined for everyday motoring. Sticking to a purely urban setting, it squeezes out 12.34 kilometers per liter of diesel.
While the drivetrain combination works alright, the 301’s weak point is surprise, surprise: the dynamics. Built as a global car, particularly for developing markets such as the Philippines, the 301 has to take into consideration badly paved roads. The result is a car that’s comfy with just a hint of firmness. It manages to absorb the worse that Metro Manila throw at it without feeling like a tin can with wheels. Of course, the largest of ruts do make it into the cabin, but at least most of it is filtered through the softly sprung suspension. This is excellent if you find yourself being a passenger. However, on the flipside, as a driver, it’s largely lifeless and wallowy. It goes through corners with the same feel as an arcade game with a steering that’s cold and uncommunicative. It’s safe and stable (the standard stability control helps), but it won’t set your loins on fire.
Priced at P 990,000, the Peugeot 301 1.6 HDi veers pretty close to compact car prices plus it’s a tad more expensive than its most direct competitor: the Volkswagen Polo TDI. But go beyond the price tag, the French number does come with a more convincing list of equipment. Aside from all power amenities, it also has a built-in speed limiter, cruise control, and even a full-featured entertainment system with Bluetooth hands-free. The 301 isn’t the car that’ll threaten other sub-compact offerings out there, but at least it does manage to keep the French character along with a bit of that quirkiness. For those who get what Peugeots are about, it’s a solid entry-level model.
2015 Peugeot 301 HDi
|Ownership||2015 Peugeot 301 HDi|
|Vehicle Classification||Sub-Compact Sedan|
|Body Type||4-door sedan|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Aspiration||Common Rail, Turbo|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||92 @ 4,000|
|Nm @ rpm||230 @ 1,750|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Diesel|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,090|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Trailing Arm|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Tires||Goodyear GT3 185/65R15 T (f & r)|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front and Rear|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt|
|Steering Wheel Material||Urethane|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, 60/40|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|No. of Speakers||6|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|