Road test / PEUGEOT 806

Call it what you will - MPV, people carrier, monocab or glazed van - the new Peugeot 806 is a clever vehicle. It has sliding rear doors, bags of room, opulent furnishings and up to eight seats that can be twisted round, folded up, or simply removed. All this with car-like dynamics and a road "footprint" no bigger than an ordinary saloon's. Given such versatility, why is Peugeot forecasting modest first-year sales? Because the square- backed, bluff-fronted 806 has an image problem that only time and familiarity will overcome.

Peugeot hopes to lower the 806's handicap by capitalising on Ford's lavish promotion of the rival Galaxy, hyped as a new breed of mainstream saloon, not an MPV.

The 806 is the first of three new joint-venture MPVs to go on sale in Britain. Clones from Citroen and Fiat follow soon. The Peugeot comes with a choice of three equipment packages - even the cheapest SL gets two airbags, powered windows, eight-speaker stereo, deadlocks and an immobiliser - and two engines. The petrol 2.0 gives adequate pep and reasonable refinement but performance freaks will have to wait for the potent V6; Ford and VW offer one in the Galaxy/Sharan twins, as does Renault in the pioneering Espace, so Peugeot must follow suit. Alternatively, there's a frugal 1.9- litre diesel that pulls sluggishly until its turbo-charger is working effectively in the mid-speed ranges.

Like the Galaxy/Sharan, the 806 passes muster as a car. Despite the lofty stance which gives a commanding view out, there's no impression of top-heavy insecurity. Steering is easy and precise, cornering stable and free from lurching. The 806 will hustle through roundabouts just about as smartly as low-slung saloons, and I could name several estate cars - Ford's Mondeo, for a start - that ride less smoothly.

Roger Bell

Specifications

Peugeot 806 2.0SL, from pounds 16,500 Engine 1998cc, four cylinders, 123bhp at 5,750rpm. Five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 110mph. 0-60mph in 13 seconds, average fuel consumption 29.3mpg.

Rivals

Ford Galaxy 2.0i Aspen, pounds 16,495 Sleeker, more stylish than 806, not quite so versatile. Drives like a car, rides and handles well. The MPV benchmark.

Nissan Serena 2.0SLX, pounds 15,660 Keenly priced mid-engined seven-seater made in Spain. Looks and drives like a small minibus.

Renault Espace 2.0RN, pounds 16,490 Despite a makeover, this precursor of the MPV breed is beginning to look and feel its age. New model due next year.

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