Motoring: Peugeot hits the spot with its new supermini

The new British-built Peugeot 206 is a car whose time has come.

Here is a new British supermini, to join the Ford Fiesta, the Rover 200 and the Nissan Micra. Well, British-built anyway, which is as good as we can do as our design and manufacturing momentum dissolves into the global melting-pot. Just three days ago, as I write this, the first UK-made Peugeot 206 rolled off the production line at the one-time Rootes Group factory at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Coventry, a three-door version resplendent in metallic blue.

But never mind where it comes from. What matters is whether the Peugeot 206 is a good car. It's a late car, no doubt about that. Something like it should probably have been launched five years ago, as the Peugeot 205 started its sales and desirability decline. Of course, it's easy to harp on about the 205, the car that gave Peugeot a new direction, the crisply- styled supermini that was such a success that Peugeot didn't know how to replace it so elected not to do so. I should know, because I have one myself.

Anyway, back to the 206. It is Renault Clio-sized, which makes it usefully larger than the Peugeot 106. It goes on sale on 5 November, and it will cost as little as pounds 8,495 or as much as pounds 11,295, depending on the variant. And the styling is a whole new departure for Peugeot.

The new look is the work of Murat Gunak, who came from Mercedes (the four round headlamps of the E-class and the CLK are his mark) and who now, having overseen the 206 and upcoming 606, has returned there. Most previous Peugeots have had a hint of Pininfarina in their body design, clean and crisp and cleverly elegant, but this one is chunky and cuddly and a little contrived. There's a cartoon version of the Peugeot "face" - it's supposed to have a feline look, to go with the lion motif - and a curious bulge flows from the front wing into the door mirror.

As with the 205 (still made for the French home market, incidentally), there's a choice of three or five doors. There will also be a GTI version early next year, with a 2.0-litre, 138bhp engine, but compared to its hot-hatch-defining predecessor it will be more the refined grand tourer and less the hard-edged road rocket. The 106 GTI does the latter job, and it, too, continues in production. For now, the 206 comes as a 1.1, a 1.4 or a 1.6, or alternatively a 1.9-litre diesel. A 2.0-litre, direct- injection, "common-rail" turbodiesel, with 90bhp and a hefty 155lb ft of torque, comes at the same time as the GTI.

Inside, the 206 is rather good. It is roomier than its rivals, and the facia is especially neat. The optional (and switchable-off) passenger airbag is undetectably integrated into the facia's padded roll, with a storage recess behind it, and the glovebox is trimmed in seat fabric. Another clever piece of design concerns the front passenger seat, whose backrest folds forward and flat to make room for long loads, and whose cushion flips up to reveal a storage tray beneath.

LX models and above can have either an electric sunroof or air-conditioning for the same price, while the top GLX version (less cheesily, it is called XT in France) has the option of a satellite-navigation system built into the top of the dashboard, a first in this size of car and relatively cheap, too, at pounds 800. You can't, however, do anything about the coarse leather- grain look that's embossed on the acreage of interior plastics.

And to drive? I drove the 1.6 and the diesel: both are smooth and quiet enough, but lack ultimate zeal owing to the 206's surprising corpulence (it weighs over a ton). It's in the bends and over the bumps that Peugeots tend to delight more than their rivals, though, thanks to a magical combination of a fluid, roll-along ride and taut, helpful handling.

These traits are intact in the 206, particularly the comfort factor, but some of the feeling of communication with the road that gave the 205 its flingalong spirit has been smothered. This has happened because buyers demand power steering - they get it in every 206, however humble - and because Peugeot has made the 206 easier for an inexperienced driver to handle.

Nevertheless it's a solid, refined, well-built little car, a product of its time with all the constraints that imposes, but better able than its rivals to rise above those constraints and deliver a good time. The 206 is the most complete supermini you can currently buy, and in my view it's the best. But is it as significant now as the 205 was 15 years ago? Ask me again in 2013.

SPECIFICATIONS

PEUGEOT 206 1.6 GLX

Price: pounds 11,295.

Engine: 1,587cc, four cylinders, eight valves, 90bhp at 5,600rpm.

Transmission:

five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Performance:

115mph, 0-60 in 11.4sec, 36-41mpg

RIVALS (all 5-door)

Ford Fiesta 1.4 Ghia: pounds 12,315. Fiesta's re-make made one of the dullest superminis into one of the very best. Sweet, punchy 16V engine, fun to drive, but rather cramped and expensive.

Renault Clio 1.6 RXE: pounds 11,250. The all-new Clio is smoother, quieter but less agile than the old version, and has bash-proof plastic front wings. Like the 206, safety equipment is one of its strong points.

Rover 214i 16V: pounds 12,025. Perceived as a larger car, but actually 206- sized. Lively engine.

Volkswagen Polo 1.6 GL: pounds 11,940. Lacks both pace and suspension decorum, but comes across as a quality job.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing