Motoring: Rorty but nice

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The Independent Online
A car you can chuck around corners is not the marketing slogan most manufacturers would claim for their product. But, writes John Simister, in the case of the Peugeot 106 Rallye this is most definitely an asset.

A car like this almost certainly shouldn't be allowed. However, in the giant net of moral propriety, political correctness and other, less closely-defined tendencies towards killjoy behaviour, there is a hole. Through it has just dropped the Peugeot 106 Rallye.

This car is what the Mini Cooper was first time around, before it got reinvented as a full-size alternative to one of those Franklin Mint replicas. The Rallye is small, simple, fast, rorty, agile and endlessly entertaining.

The Rallye, costing just pounds 9,895, makes a virtue of its trim's basic nature. Electric windows, central locking, power steering, a sunroof, anti-lock brakes? Certainly not. But not having them is strangely exhilarating.

It brings you closer to the action, too. There isn't even an airbag; steer round the obstruction is the message. You do get a radio, though, and a bright blue carpet to set off the body-hugging seats.

The Rallye isn't the most potent 106, for that honour goes to the 120bhp, 16-valve, pounds 12,935 GTI. But with 103bhp on offer from its eight-valve, 1.6-litre engine, and considerably less weight to pull along, the Rallye still moves pretty smartly. Its engine revs like a catherine wheel, the gearing is low, so you'll still get a push in the back when you accelerate on the motorway in fifth gear, and you can throttle-blip between gears just like a rally driver. Which, of course, is the point.

You can blaze into bends like a rally driver, too, but please try not to get too addicted. The secret of the 106's agility is its smallness, its fat, grippy little wheels and stiff suspension to sharpen up the steering.

It can be made to turn more tightly by releasing the accelerator in the middle of a corner - as in many cars, but not with the immediacy and controllability, and to the extent, that you can in the 106 Rallye.

Does that sound irresponsible? No, just interactive. And there is another reason for the 106 Rallye's existence: rallying.

In France, people run them in Group N2, a particular rally class that guarantees thrills without breaking the Credit Agricole. There was another 106 Rallye before this one, a 1.3-litre car based on the old-shape, pre- 1996 106, which took even more delight in flinging its tail out in a tight corner, and before that a 205 Rallye.

I thought we'd never see the like of the 205 again, but it seems I'm wrong. You can have the Rallye in bright white or brilliant blue. I'll have mine in blue, please, because it's more French. And the Peugeot 106 Rallye is very French.

No one else makes a car quite like this.Why, I do not know. But what I do know is this. You won't get more fun for less money anywhere else. Peugeot 106 Rallye Price: pounds 9,895. Engine: 1,587cc, four cylinders, eight valves, 103bhp at 6,200rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 121mph, 0-60 in 9.4secs, 29-34mpg

Rivals Citroen Saxo VTR: pounds 10,865. The Saxo and 106 are sisters under the skin, and this VTR is the Saxo VTS (106 GTI equivalent) but with a 90bhp engine. Fiat Cinquecento Sporting: pounds 7,450. Looks cute'n'chunky; cheapest car on sale with alloy wheels. Feels frisky but not fast. Mini Cooper: pounds 8,995. The original rollerskate, but overstuffed, overpriced and underpowered nowadays. Still fun, but curio value only.