Motoring: A Pug's life

The verdict; Would our readers spend extra for a limited-edition Peugeot 206 with a profile like a dung beetle? B

While driving in the country the other day I stumbled upon one of the more sorry sights of the British highway. It wasn't a leper with a sponge, nor was I overtaken by a Ford Cougar; the vision that so filled me with pity and shame was a limited-edition Austin Metro "Principles", a pretentious troll of a car, which, like a sick animal, deserved only a merciful end.

You'll be familiar with the idea of limited or special editions. They reveal the motor industry in its most grasping and cynical light (how on earth did they come up with "Principles"? Do their owners have more integrity than other Metro drivers?), when trying to eke out a few more sales by convincing buyers that adding a couple of decals, a hollow name and some gaudy trim constitutes a significant upgrade of the existing product. Sometimes, these cars can actually be worth less second-hand than the standard model.

But the Peugeot 206 "Roland Garros" (the name is that of a pioneering French aviator) comes from a slightly nobler tradition. There have been four such Peugeots so far, the line beginning with the 205. As well as having superior equipment levels and, for a special edition, unusually tasteful trim, they also tend to be worth more than the standard car on the second-hand market and are snapped up smartly by fans.

The 1.4-litre 206 Roland Garros certainly smells better than your common or garden limited edition, thanks to green and beige leather seats and very swish Alcntara-suede panel trim. Other extras include metallic paint, air conditioning, a CD player, remote alarm, power steering and electric windows. But what really sets this pounds 12,745 (pounds 13,645 for the automatic) special apart from the standard 206 (the closest equivalent, the GLX 1.6, is pounds 11,295), is a full-length glass roof with electric blind. All it needs is a bougainvillia and some iced tea and you have your own portable conservatory. A very pleasant place to be.

Outside, things don't look quite so rosy. The first Peugeot for a long time not to be designed by Pininfarina, is built in Coventry. It is an ungainly, messy design with ridiculously small wheels and fussy air vents. From the front it looks like a piece of hairdressing equipment; in profile it's a dung beetle.

It is certainly no replacement for the 205 in terms of tyre-squealing, lift-off-in-mid-corner, go-karty fun. But then the 205 set new standards for hot hatches. The 206 does nothing of the sort. Its engine is as modern and sporty as Ann Widdicombe and about as pleasant to listen to at full blast. Peugeot's engineers have sacrificed handling thrills for a bump-soaking, floaty ride at low speeds and a nervous, slightly sweaty-palmed (in the worst sense) ride on the twisty bits, all designed to minimise the impact of the road on your bottom.

It is frugal (returning 43mpg) and good on space - a market leader in fact with especially good rear leg-and head-room. If you value pocket- sized luxury over fun, and "exclusive Roland Garros badging" over value for money, this 206 may well lure you away from top-of-the-range Ford Fiestas or Renault Clios. Perhaps then, the Roland Garros is one limited edition that deserves a longer run

Julian Wilson, 28, head chef at Glyndbourne Opera House, from Lewes, Sussex. Currently drives a VW Golf and rides a Suzuki Bandit 600

"My girlfriend calls this the evil cat because it looks so aggressive from the front, but I like it to look at. It's well finished inside, I like the dials, and with four doors it would be practical for me - the boot is a nice size too. I like the idea of the window in the roof. The ride smooths out the bumps - it's a lot quieter than a 106, the brakes are very good and so is the visibility and, for a car this size, the performance is OK. I don't need all these gadgets, but this would be ideal for a retired couple."

Angela O'Finn, age undisclosed, housewife, and her son Christopher, 12, from Rottingdean, Sussex. Currently drives a Toyota Starlet

"I like the leather upholstery but I actually prefer not to have electric windows - I worry about the safety of them with children. Still, power steering, air conditioning and central locking are essential, so this scores well on those. The brakes are really sharp but the handbrake is out of the way a bit. It's easy to manoeuvre: the gears are easy and the clutch is light. I like the dash-mounted clock and it's nice to have an outside temperature gauge. It's not terribly quiet but the seats are very comfortable."

Christopher: "It's not too bad, but I prefer BMWs."

Hugh Russell, 43, casino receptionist, from Brighton, Sussex. Currently car-less

"It feels a bit sluggish - I'd expected it to have more poke because the 205 was legendary. The steering is light but responsive enough though. The dash and the size of the windscreen give the impression that you're driving a much bigger car. The noise is a bit loud on the motorway and it rolls round corners - but that's the trade-off between comfort and GTI performance I suppose. It's pretty well styled, definitely Gallic- looking as opposed to Japanese, and the trim's good, quite luxurious and there's a retro feel about the dials. I definitely approve of the suede inside. This would suit a career girl though it wouldn't be out of place as a town car for a family."

Nick Excell, 44, project manager at Lloyds TSB, Jenny Excell, 40, part-time adult-education lecturer, and their sons Ben, 9, and Matthew, 5, from Seaford in Sussex. Currently drive an Audi A4

Nick: "The styling is chunky and aggressive and the colouring inside tones in nicely but I don't think I'd pay extra for a limited edition. It feels well made but not as good as my Audi. I see it as a younger person's car - definitely female."

Jenny: "The display is nice and clear and it makes a big difference having a glass roof in a small car. It's much better equipped than a Nissan we once had. It feels nippy for a 1.4."

Ben: "I'd like one because I like the glass roof and it looks like a saloon car. It feels expensive with the leather upholstery."

Matthew: "I want one, but bigger and blue."

Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

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