It might not seem like it, but Peugeot's big-selling 307 hasn't had it all its own way of late. Although acclaimed by Auto Express, and crowned European Car of the Year in 2002, the family favourite has been left out in the cold by fast-changing tastes and rapidly improving competition.
There's more trouble ahead. With models such as the new VW Golf and revised Vauxhall Astra on the horizon, things are likely to get even tougher.
It certainly hasn't helped that there's been no performance diesel version, either, particularly when you consider that nearly half of 307s on Britain's roads drink from the black pump. Peugeot, a company that has built a reputation on diesel, seems to be losing its edge. Enter the car that's charged with changing all that, and also putting the 307 back at the top of the class.
Fitted with a powerful, yet economical, 136bhp 16-valve 2.0-litre turbodiesel produced in the firm's joint venture with Ford, the model aims to breathe new energy into the 307 line-up. We've already seen a version of this unit in Ford's Focus C-MAX but, according to engineers, installing it in the 307 was easy as it's much the same size as the firm's existing 110bhp eight-valve HDi.
It's good news all-round, because the extra power over the 110bhp unit comes with a combined fuel consumption penalty of only 2mpg. And unlike the previous engine, this unit also complies with Euro IV emissions regulations. That means lower taxes because you won't be paying the diesel surcharge.
However, the most obvious benefit is in the way this 307 goes on the open road. A variable geometry turbo, and overboost function - which forces the turbo into 'overdrive' and pushes maximum torque up from a handy 320Nm to a potent 340Nm - helps make this one of the most versatile diesel powerplants we've ever tried. As an added bonus, the exhaust note has a crisp aural edge that almost sounds sporting.
However, the HDi 136 doesn't feel quite as lively as these figures and des- criptions suggest, partly because it has such long-legged gearing - even in the lower ratios - despite the fact it boasts a new, slick-shifting six-speed transmission. The similarly engined C-Max is more muscular, but Peugeot still claims a 125mph top speed and 9.8-second 0-62mph sprint time for the 307. It's clear that the newcomer is no slouch.
Firmer front suspension compensates for the extra weight of the larger diesel engine. And happily, the revised set-up offers a sharper drive to go with the extra pace, and doesn't spoil the ride. The most noticeable improvement is the steering, which was accurate before, but now feels better than ever.
It's fair to say that this is one of the more driver-oriented 307s we've tried, so perhaps a little bit of that old Peugeot GTi magic is starting to seep to the surface again. There seems to be plenty of life left in the Lion yet.