During any international launch, a motoring journalist is likely to see some amazing scenery, stay at nice hotels and eat at gorgeous restaurants (read what CarAdvice founder Alborz Fallah has to say about the life of a motoring journalist here).
It’s an experience designed to showcase the car in the best possible light for the manufacturer, but it’s also an attempt to position the car to appeal to a specific demographic by creating an image that people might aspire to.
The Peugeot 308 and 508 were launched late last year and after recently going back through some of the photos, we realised they were too good not to share. So here’s the story of our 10-day trip that covered the 508 launch in Mallorca, Spain and the 308 road trip launch through France (and briefly into Switzerland) that ended with a couple of days at the Paris motor show.
Our group arrives in Paris after flying from Sydney via Dubai and it’s early afternoon. I’m running late to the transfer meeting point because I waited at the wrong carousel to collect my baggage. It’s not until there’s an announcement over the PA (in French of course, which is confusing) and I hear my name and something about a service desk, that I’m finally pointed in the right direction. Those in our group aren’t overtly upset that I’ve held them up, but I’ve no doubt that after around 30 hours in aeroplanes and airport lounges, they’re not impressed.
Finally we’re heading through the streets of Paris, bound for our accommodation for the night, the VIC Eiffel Hotel. It’s a quirky place, with the smallest elevator I’ve ever seen. There’s room for two people, or one with a suitcase. But it’s quaint and has a definite stylish French vibe that reminds me I’m about to spend the next nine days visiting three countries, driving two different Peugeot models and multiple variants, as well as producing as much written content as I can.
After a couple of hours settling in and freshening up, our group of around 12 motoring journalists and Peugeot representatives head off to dinner at La Maison Blanche. When we arrive the restaurant is empty — apparently everyone in Europe eats out late — so at 6.30pm there’s not a soul in sight.
But we have a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower through the window, the food is divine and as the sky darkens, the light show on the tower keeps our party captivated.
We’re up early and ready to head back to the airport. Not heading home yet though, a charter plane is waiting to take us to the Spanish island of Mallorca where a fleet of new 508s await.
There are some fabulous winding mountain roads, and we spend the afternoon learning about the 508 and the 508 Touring, swapping through the three trim levels — Active, Allure and GT.
For all the details you can read the launch review here.
Mallorca is magical. It has a bit of a Mexican feel about it with terracotta coloured homes and sprawling estates. There are also a lot of ramshackle homes though, and the socio-economic divide appears to be wide.
The scenery is stunning, with glimpses of water, towering mountains, cliffs and roads that offer hairpin turns with a view.
The press conference formally introducing the 508 is held during the evening and Mitchell Oke, CA’s cameraman extraordinaire, and I rush off after the press conference to film a quick walk-around video of the car. Filming even a short video can take hours though and unfortunately we miss dinner at the Hilton Sa Torre Hotel where we are staying.
It’s 11pm before we wrap up and head back to our rooms, just in time to order room service. Then it’s a long night, writing up a review of the car and falling into bed around 4am.
There’s an early start scheduled so that we can test out the new Puretech engines in the 308, including the fun little 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. We head out for a scenic drive, stopping at some sort of fort that proudly sits atop a cliff-face watching out over the ocean. I may be tired but I’m thoroughly enjoying the drive.
It’s been a short visit to Mallorca but it’s now on my list of places to return to for a holiday. Before we know it, we’re all trooping back onto a plane bound once again for Paris.
After disembarking and again navigating the crazy Paris airport — there are so many terminals and it takes a significant amount of time to move between them if you have a connecting flight — we lug our suitcases through crowds of people trying to find the train platform where we’ll catch our next mode of transport to Lyon. It’s confusing and I’m glad we have a guide — I would have no idea where to start.
Here’s a tip, if you’re travelling to Paris for the first time make sure you allow plenty of time to find your way around if you’re swapping between planes, trains and buses. It’s manic!
Our road trip through a few French provinces will begin in Lyon. After a whirlwind day with the 508, our attention and conversation now turns to the new 308 and the upcoming driving adventure. Mitch and I are planning to shoot a video over the next few days with the car, so we’re poring over maps and the tight schedule trying to find time to get some filming done. As with Mallorca, it’s looking like meal times are going to be our best bet.
The train doesn’t arrive at Lyon until almost 7pm, so it’s going to be a late dinner. After checking in at the bizarrely decorated Mama Shelter — there is a Daffy Duck mask hanging from a bedside lamp, and a Superman mask hanging from a coat-rack (and that’s just the beginning of the weird but cool vibe of this hotel) — the group heads out for a delicious dinner at La Cour des Loges.
Finally the official test drive of the 308 begins. I’m getting used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
I have to confess there have been a few moments of utter confusion. Particularly at roundabouts, the habitual tendency to look right is of course of no use when you need to give way to your left.
The first leg is a 300km run heading out of town, navigating busy highways and keeping an eye out for hidden speed cameras. We’re paired up and I’m travelling with a lovely lady called Sarah Jane, a lifestyle and fashion blogger. It’s her first car launch so we go over the spec sheet together and spend time early on getting to know the intricacies of the new 308. Mitch is also travelling with us.
We have a treat in store for us during the lunch stop at Chateau La Coste. It’s a winery and we are taken on a tour of the facility and are entertained with a lesson in guessing the notes in a variety of wines. It’s a lot harder than I thought and even the supposedly simple things like oak and berries leave me stumped.
The afternoon is getting away from us, so we hit the road again for a 140km drive to Saint-Tropez. The Peugeot 308 has so far been impressive. It’s available in five trim-levels in Australia — Access, Active, Allure, Allure Premium and GT.
The cars we’re driving are European specs so we’re aware the Aussie versions may differ slightly but the ride is comfortable, the steering is smooth and direct and the large touchscreen and infotainment system in our Feline (closest to the Aussie Allure Premium) variant is practical and easy to use — you can read the review here.
As the sun goes down in Saint-Tropez, we head to the Marina for a cocktail overlooking the boats and the water. This is what I imagined Saint-Tropez to be like. It’s ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ — we spot a McLaren, Ferraris, Porches and more, there are people lounging on multi-million dollar boats drinking champagne — and then there are plenty like us — strolling around and watching how the other half live.
The Kon Tiki Riviera Villages are our digs for the night. It’s a sprawling complex with cabins surrounded by sandy paths that all lead to the water. We have dinner accompanied by a chilly sea-breeze at Tiki Beach to round out an exhausting but exhilarating day.
Another day dawns and it begins with us loading our luggage into the support cars and jumping into our 308.
The first leg is 180km long through some beautiful little villages. There’s often a church up on a hill and narrow cobbled streets winding through a bustling township before the road opens up again to rolling hills and country roads.
The convoy stops for lunch at La Bonne etape, while we bypass lunch and continue tackling the further 280km in favour of arriving at Annecy early to do some filming. Our party of three has lunch at a highway service centre — this is more like a good old fashioned budget road trip! I’m sure our fare was nowhere near as good as the rest of the crew, but I’m not going to ask because I don’t want to know.
Annecy is breathtaking and our accommodation at the Le Palace Menthon looks like it’s out of a movie. It’s the perfect setting for our video review, and as the sun sets the little Pug lights up, bathed in the orange glow. We couldn’t have picked a better spot.
We even manage to wrap up just in time for a cocktail and dinner at the hotel restaurant. There was an indoor pool that I was dying to try, but sadly work got in the way of recreation.
Today is our last day on the road in the 308 before we get immersed in Peugeot history.
The 260km drive to Sochaux sees us cross the Swiss border briefly which is exciting. No passport stamp unfortunately but I can claim to have been to Switzerland — even if it was only for less than half an hour.
The road trip ends in the car park of Musee de L’Adventure Peugeot — the Peugeot Museum. The 308 has handled the 1200-odd km journey well. We spend most of the time in the Feline/Allure Premium and it has everything we’ve needed over the past few days, and it’s been roomy and comfortable for our third person riding in the back.
The Peugeot Museum is a must for any car enthusiast when in France. From coffee grinders, crinolines, salt and pepper shakers, guns, bicycles and kitchen appliances through to early automobiles, race cars and crazy concept cars, there is so much to take in and it’s impressive.
We even get to have lunch at the museum with a couple of French Peugeot executives and get to grill them about the brand (we’ve had executives join us for meals and drinks throughout the trip so the interviewing has been pretty much constant).
Dinner at La Pause Gourmande is a bit of a rushed affair, as we’re all keen to get back to Hotel La Balance to write our reviews. Cheers to another late night!
This trip really is Peugeot saturation, but it’s incredibly interesting to learn the history of the brand, what it has been through and what it stands for.
Sochaux is home for Peugeot and having explored the museum yesterday, today we’re off to the PSA Sochaux Plant for a tour. It’s the biggest car manufacturing site in France, covers hectares and employs thousands of locals.
PSA Sochaux Plant was founded in 1912, its 20-millionth car rolled off the production line in 2010.
I have to say the robot arms building a lot of the parts were a little frightening, but the way it all comes together is fascinating.
After a couple of hours in the factory, we headed to Lyon and caught the train back to Paris to check in to another wonderfully wacky Mama Shelter hotel.
The excitement was palpable on the journey there. It was the first time during the trip we’d be staying in the same hotel for more than one night. We had two nights booked, which meant an opportunity to wash some clothes and get a bit of a sleep instead of getting up to repack.
Dinner at Le Terroir Parisien was a lively affair and a chance to let our hair down a bit.
Gentlemen, start your engines! Peugeot Sport Velizv is today’s destination and we get to take a look behind the scenes and hopefully find out what’s on the horizon with regards to iconic cars like the 208 GTI and the potential 308 GTI, as well as try and catch a glimpse of the work going on ahead of the Dakkar Rally.
It didn’t disappoint, we weren’t allowed to take pictures and there was something hidden under a large sheet that we weren’t allowed to see. Imaginations were running wild.
After lunch at the venue we headed into the heart of Paris to the sparkling Citroen DS showroom. A stylish multi-story shop with an old DS and new DS5 on display.
There are finally a couple of hours to spare so we rush off to do some shopping. Unfortunately Paris Fashion Week is on too so it’s busy!
I could hear screaming so we followed the noise and found a horde of teenage girls gathered outside a hotel. I noticed an Audi R8 and a Rolls-Royce Phantom parked out the front and knew exactly who they were hoping to catch a glimpse of. Yes, Justin Beiber was in Paris.
After shopping up a storm we headed out for dinner at Restaurant Beaucoup and had a fabulous traditional stew.
This trip is not over yet! Though the 508 and 308 testing is done and our group have learned everything we possibly could about Peugeot’s past, present and future, there is still the Paris Mondial Auto to go.
After two days at the motor show, we will sadly fly back to Sydney via Dubai tomorrow. My holiday wish list has grown and while Annecy may be top of the list, I think any road trip around the French countryside would be spectacular.
Take my advice, spend a little time in Paris and lots of time exploring the rest of France.