When the Peugeot 3-Series arrived here in the form of the 306 back in 1994, contemporary reviews poured universal praise upon the small family car for bringing with it a level of refinement and practicality that the small car market had been missing up until that point. Reviews also praised the sleek, cute styling that made a refreshing change from the relatively conservative-looking Japanese family cars that had been dominating the market.
Initially available as either a three- or five-door hatchback or as a two-door convertible, a sedan model was released a year after its introduction in 1995. After a 1999 facelift, which involved the inclusion of smooth glass double-parabola main headlights, complete with halogen globes, the 306 was succeeded by the 307 in 2001.
The 307 utilised a reworked version of the platform used by the 306, but was noticeably larger than its predecessor in every respect. The styling of the new 3-Series model was also a departure in that it has more in common with the 206 and 607 models. Indeed, the 307 had a steeper bonnet and higher sloped windscreen than its immediate predecessor.
The 308 model was released in 2008 and maintained a similar appearance to the 307. Indeed, it shares a chassis with the older model, yet the body of the 308 is slightly wider and longer, making it more aerodynamic in the process.
Although the 307 and 308 models did not meet the level of acclaim that had befallen the 306, all models in the 3-Series range are notable for the high level of comfort and interior room they provide, as well as for their attractive styling.
The XR and XT variants in the 306 range were identical under the bonnet. These models used the same 1.8L SOHC 4-cylinder fuel-injection engine, with front-wheel drive and the choice of a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic gearbox. Power output for these models was pretty modest, with a rating of 77kW at 3000rpm. In addition, these cars weighed 1100kg and, as such, were not built for performance, with the ability to reach 0-100km/h in a sluggish 12 seconds when equipped with a manual gearbox and just under 14 seconds when equipped with an automatic gearbox.
The S16 model was a three-door hatchback powered by a twin camshaft 2.0L 4-valve engine that produced a more potent 115kW at 6500rpm and 193Nm at 350rpm, giving this sportier model more punch and allowing it to reach 0-100km/h in a respectable 9.2 seconds.
The 306 won many plaudits for its supple ride and its sharp and precise handling which came courtesy of the classic MacPherson Strut front suspension and the torsion bar independent rear suspension. In combination, they encouraged the car to soak up bumps in the road, as opposed to bouncing over them.
Two petrol engines and a single diesel engine were offered in the 307. The 1.6L petrol engine produced 80kW and 147Nm, whereas the 2.0L DOHC 4-valve engine was more powerful, producing 100kW and 190Nm. The diesel engine had a capacity of 2.0L and used a single overhead camshaft to produce an output of 66kW and a torque of 206Nm.
Although the 1.6L petrol engine of the 307 was smaller than the 1.8L engine found in the base 306 models, it was noticeably quicker despite contemporary reviews referring to the automatic-equipped base 307 as ‘lethargic.’ Indeed, this model could reach 0-100km/h in 11.7 seconds, which was over 2 seconds faster than its aforementioned predecessor.
In terms of handling, the 307 lacks the smoothness of ride that made the 306 so noteworthy, with a noticeable lack of absorbency on rougher roads. Despite this, the 307 provides a comfortable ride in most situations.
The 308, the latest in the line of 3-Series models, has a wider track which improves on-road stability, yet it is heavier and does not perform as well as either of its predecessors. With a 1.6L engine providing 88kW of power and 160Nm of torque, acceleration from the wagon variant of the 308 is very sluggish, reaching 0-100km/h in 16.1 seconds.
The 3-Series has always had pretty impressive standard kit. When released in 1994, the 306 had ABS, climate control, power door mirrors, central-locking, a driver’s airbag, power windows, and remote keyless locking as standard.
The 307 added 16-inch alloy wheels, EBD, dual driver and passenger airbag and speed-sensitive power steering.
Finally, the 308 added airbags to the second-row seats, a cooled glovebox, as well as an auxiliary input for mp3 players and an mp3 decoder.
This comes mainly from the VW Golf, to which each successive Series-3 model has been a contemporary rival and which is seen by many as the benchmark by which all small cars should be judged in terms of fuel economy and quality. In addition, German-made cars such as the Golf will always hold their value better than those of other manufacturers.
However, the Peugeot 3-Series cars provide attractive styling and an impressively large standard kit. Also, the relative lack of resale value means that these cars can be found on the used market for bargain prices.