Licenced to cruise topless whenever

DRIVING a convertible with the roof down in winter is a bit like ordering ice in your drink at a bar in Siberia ... pointless. But now, thanks to the new Peugeot 308CC, it's a match made in heaven.

DRIVING a convertible with the roof down in winter is a bit like ordering ice in your drink at a bar in Siberia ... pointless. But now, thanks to the new Peugeot 308CC, it's a match made in heaven.

Adjust the little knob on the side of the seat and instantly you have hot air shooting into your bum and back to ward off those winter chills.

Still feeling cold? Adjust the heater to a summer-like 28 degrees Celsius and in no time at all you will feel like you are cruising through the lush vegetation of the Caribbean rather than Tzaneen, which is where I found myself for the launch of this hot-looking sports car last week.

Tzaneen at this time of the year is idyllic. The mornings not too cool, the afternoons not too hot, the scenery spectacular.

Avocado orchards, their trees heavy with ripe fruit; banana plantations as far as the eye can see; macadamia nuts scattered about like empty snail shells.

Enough of the sightseeing and back to the car!

The 308CC follows earlier cabriolets' from the Peugeot stable - the 206 CC and 307 CC. (The double Cs stand for Cabriolet Coupé).

While the 206 is a touch small, the larger 307 appears slightly ungainly in the world of open-top motoring.

Enter the new 308, which manages to combine the best of the two in spectacular fashion ... a coupé with distinctive sports car features that look equally good with the roof up or down.

Lower by 14mm compared to its predecessor, the 308CC's wider chassis gives it an aggressive appearance and one that signals its arrival as a car to be taken seriously.

It comes "only" with a 1,6-litre petrol engine. But, boy, what an engine!

Producing a maximum output of 110kW might not sound jaw-dropping, but throw in 240Nm and you definitely have enough oomph to make you smile.

Above all, though, the 308 is a cruiser. It's not about how quick it takes to do 0-100km/h. It's about dropping the top at every available opportunity and cruising in style!

The interior lives up to its sports-style exterior, with high-backed bucket seats in a practical leather texture.

A complaint often associated with cabriolets is that when the roof is down it gobbles up most of the boot space, leaving you with enough room for nothing more than a small toilet bag.

The 308 has that problem solved as even with the hard-top neatly stored away (in 20 seconds) you are left with a reasonable 266 litres - which in practical terms means it is suitable for a couple of mid-sized suitcases.

Being a coupé, space in the rear is pretty restricted but then again those buying the 308 are unlikely be lugging around a couple of strapping teenagers in the back.

The one thing I've learnt about driving in the Tzaneen region from previous experiences is to expect the unexpected.

Normally it's heavy logging trucks or slow tractors lurking around tight corners.

This time it was something completely different ... an adult baboon the size of Tarzan's.

Rounding a hairpin bend there he sat, in the middle of the road, eating some fruit. I don't know who got more of a fright, me or him.

ABS brakes brought the car to a quick stop while the primate scurried off, leaving behind an unfinished meal.

But the 308 is not all about open-top motoring. With the roof firmly in place the car maintains its unique style and looks which are sure to draw more than a cursory glance.

Roof up or down? Nice choice to have!

l For the moment the 308 comes only in manual gearbox, the automatic will. however, be available in six months' time.

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