19 December 1997

BUT THIS

IS ALTOGETHER MORE GENTEEL

306 estate is not the most inspired example of automotive styling, but its great to drive.

FASHIONS may come and go, but the popularity of estate cars seems set to endure for ever. How many people actually fill those yawning cubic feet with wardrobes, fishing gear and wetly aromatic dogs remains open to question, but that doesnt stop us buying them in droves.

We will also, no doubt, buy Peugeots new 306 estate in droves. For the medium-sized Pug, while not the most inspired example of automotive styling, is a package that youd not be ashamed to display to status-conscious neighbours.

Good points stack up nicely. The 1.8-litre petrol unit bounds away enthusiastically and revs in the rorty, Spitfire-like way beloved of 17-year-olds. Okay, so it runs out of puff a bit higher up the rev band, but youll have set a few speed cameras flashing before it does.

The nicest thing is the taut handling. Previous-generation Peugeots paid for their soft rides in squishy steering response and wallowy cornering. The 306, on the other hand, follows even minute steering corrections as doggedly as a paparazzi photographer trailing minor royalty. Not much upsets the suspension either, though overfilled potholes and other quirks of the roadmenders art are sometimes transmitted to the drivers ears a bit too faithfully.

&#42 Upper and lower

Though the cabin is smart and agreeably plush, Im not sure about the dashboard. The upper and lower glove compartments are great for storing bags of crisps, half-drunk Coke bottles, used nappies and spare dentures, but the look of it is all a bit too wackily angular for me.

Storage? Well, its a big boot (longer, in fact than the old 405s), but maybe at the price of a certain amount of rear passenger leg room. Peugeot has also eschewed the usual options of roller blind load cover (cant put anything on it) or sliding rigid two-piecer (cumbersome) in favour of a semi-rigid concertina affair that slots in at several points along its length. It works well.

Other good points include radio remote controls (brilliant – why doesnt everyone fit em?), automatic front wiper (it works, though I cant think how) and electric windows that go up as well as down with a single push of the button (warn your dog first).

Bad points? Rear speakers mounted beneath the load cover (handy for illegal immigrants), looks that are nowhere near as pretty as the 306 hatchs and unlit, grope-to-use switches for interior/map lights and sun roof. But dont let those put you off.

PEUGEOT FACTS

&#8226 Model: 306 GLX estate.

&#8226 Price: £15,295 on the road.

&#8226 Engine: 1.8 petrol (112hp).

&#8226 Top speed: 119mph.

&#8226 0-60mph: 12 secs.

&#8226 Insurance group: 6.

&#8226 Fuel consumption (manufacturers combined figure): 34mpg.