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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

In response to yet another Top Gear controversy...


ALL anyone wants to know at the moment is what I think about Top Gear.

It’s been brought up by people tapping my shoulder at the bar and my mobile’s been beeping away incessantly with Facebook and Twitter chatter on the matter. Rightly so, people want to know what The Champion’s motoring correspondent makes of one of the most controversial moments of the biggest motoring show the world has ever seen.

Yep, you’ve sussed it. Why does Mr Simister drive a Peugeot?

You might have seen the clip in question. A couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Clarkson and James May took a sideswipe at the Peugeot-driving masses, and – via several crashes in a garden centre car park – insisted they should be given a wide berth on Britain’s roads. As a result, quite a few of my fellow petrolheads have poked merciless fun at me because I’ve got one.

Regular readers will probably know the Pug in question – it’s a bottom-of-the-range diesel 306, which I picked up back in November as a workhorse to entrust all the mucky motorway jobs with. I bought it primarily because it cost less than what some of my mates spend on shirts, but there’s another thing I’ve come to really love about it. It’s something applicable to all old Peugeots, and you have to go somewhere really remote to appreciate it.

Aberdeen, for instance. I was up there the other day in a borrowed Astra, and connecting the airport and the final destination of a business trip were some utterly astonishing roads. Quiet, twisty roads that threaded their way for mile after beautiful mile over the desolate Scottish moors, and yet the brand new Vauxhall felt a bit underwhelming tackling them. It was safe, comfortable and thoroughly competent, but the hint of dynamic sparkle I crave on all the cars I love was nowhere to be seen. It was the sort of disappointment that’d make some people want to punch a colleague in the face out of sheer frustration.

Yet my 15-year-old Peugeot, I discovered on not entirely dissimilar roads in Yorkshire the following day, has that sparkle in spades. Look back at motoring mags from its day and you’ll see road testers raving about the 306 GTi-6, but peel away the hot hatch garnishings and you’ll find all 306s, even bottom-of-the-range diesel ones, ride and handle beautifully. The steering talks to you. You get the sort of mid-corner updates most modern day hatchbacks would you rather you didn’t have. It’s something all old Peugeots, from the 205 GTi to the 406 estate, revel in.

Jeremy and James made that exact point eloquently before moving on to the comedy car crashes, but the message which seems to have been picked up by the wider populace is that all Peugeots are terrible to drive and commandeered by people who have a predilection for light crashes.

Old Peugeots can still deliver a real punch. Which, for reasons I’m still not sure of, seems weirdly topical.

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