Motoring / Road Test: Opening up a small package: Phil Llewellin enjoys the down-to-earth pleasures of the swift new Peugeot 106 Rallye, a delightful car that doesn't deserve its stripes

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Four words - fewer frills, more thrills - encapsulate the Peugeot 106 Rallye's character. Enthusiasts who take the view that driving is to be enjoyed rather than endured will appreciate this agile hatchback's ability to generate more than its fair share of smiles per mile. It evokes the spirit that made the Mini Cooper 1275S such a favourite in the Sixties.

'Thoughtfully equipped' is Peugeot's cryptic way of saying that you need not expect such refinements as alloy wheels, central locking or electrically-operated windows. What you get for your pounds 8,995 is a lot of high-revving entertainment. The typical 1.3-litre petrol engine develops about 60bhp at 5,500rpm. The 106 Rallye hoists that to 100bhp at 7,200rpm.

The result is a practical hatchback, suitable for school and supermarket trips, which can also form the basis of a cost-effective race or rally contender in classes for almost-standard cars. Peugeot mentions how easily the sound-deadening material can be removed in preparation for competitive motoring. The eager will wonder why it was put there in the first place. Engines that develop a lot of power in relation to size have to be revved hard to deliver, and Peugeot's is no exception. Ears become accustomed to the noise after a few miles; you just realise, at the end of a long journey, how far the radio's volume has been turned up.

This engine is complemented by an equally good five-speed gearbox. The shift's lightness and precision can be demonstrated by using just the tip of one finger to glide from gear to gear.

Shorter and narrower than a Ford Fiesta, Peugeot's smallest model demonstrates the truth of the old maxim that less car equals more road - just as less weight equals more power. The compact body combines with firm suspension and Goodyear Eagle tyres to create the impression of a rocket-powered rollerskate. It responds to the admirably informative steering with razor-sharp precision.

Dimensions that help to make the Rallye so good to drive on nip- and-tuck roads also contribute to its suitability for urban motoring; for those times when you want nothing more than to be able to wriggle into a minimal parking slot, or to take advantage of a gap that would be closed to the drivers of bigger cars.

The Rallye justifies Peugeot's reputation for excellent chassis design. This is a sporting car, but the suspension strikes an acceptable balance between taut and hard. Only a really poor road surface reduces the 106 to a mobile vibro-massage machine.

Aesthetics are always a matter of opinion. The basic 106 shape is neat enough, but the multi-coloured Peugeot Talbot Sport stripes and flashes will strike at least a few potential customers - this one included - as a serious error of judgement.

But inside there is not much to complain about. The front seats provide plenty of support when cornering, in keeping with the Rallye's character, and proved very comfortable during a 450-mile day. There is a hint of Dr Who's Tardis about the 106 - contrary to appearances, there is room for three children in the back seat, with a reasonable amount of luggage space. This little car also confounded expectations by providing lots of headroom for a 6ft driver with an exceptionally long body.

These down-to-earth assets can be counted as bonus points; driving is what the Peugeot 106 Rallye is all about. If you are not turned off by the noise, or the rather garish cosmetics, this is a sparkling, value-for- money car which is hard to resist.

SPECIFICATIONS

Peugeot 106 Rallye, pounds 8,995

Four-cylinder engine, 1,294cc, 100bhp at 7,200rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive; 0-60mph 9.4 seconds, top speed 116mph. Average fuel consumption, 35.2mpg.

COMPARISONS

Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, pounds 7,195

The basic Mini design dates from 1959, and the engine's origins are even older. Cannot match the Peugeot's performance, space or convenience, but this is a fun car at a tempting price.

Citroen AX 1.4 Forte, pounds 8,860

Has quite a lot in common with the 106 (Citroen and Peugeot have the same owner). Not as sporting as the Rallye, but better equipped.

Suzuki Swift 1.3 GTi, pounds 9,750

Novelty value and a sizzling engine offset by a harsh ride and the shortage of dealers in Britain.

Vauxha1l Corsa 1.4 SRi, pounds 9,130

Beats the 106 for cute, characterful styling, and also provides more equipment, but is not in the Peugeot's class for straight-line performance or overall competence.

(Photograph omitted)

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