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MOTORNET: Peugeot Twins Turn On The Charm

Peugeot twins turn on the charm

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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Is the 206 GTI the best looking hot hatch of all time? In brilliant cherry red, and despite being more than a little long in the tooth, the little Peugeot looks stunning. Colour coded body mouldings, neat rear spoiler, front fog lights, 17” alloys and chrome exhausts all add to the picture of a sensational looking small car.

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Nevertheless, time has hardly stood still on the hot hatch front and the question is; are looks alone enough to ensure the venerable GTi still has a following?

For a small car, it certainly packs a punch in the engine department, sporting a 2.0 litre, 16 valve four cylinder engine that produces a healthy 130kW and 202 Nm of torque at around 4700rpm. That’s 180bhp (as the name suggests) for those who prefer to think in horsepower.

This is an engine that loves to rev and in fact delivers peak power at the 7000rpm redline. It makes a great noise getting there too, willing the driver to push on, the tachometer blurring as the pace increases. Peugeot reckon the GTi will do 0-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds, which sounds about right to me. It certainly has enough in the grunt department to ensure the driver has plenty of fun.

And fun is definitely what you can have pushing the little pocket rocket through corners. It grips the tarmac in limpet like fashion, driving through the twisty stuff like it’s on rails. Steering is typically European – a little on the heavy side for low speed maneuvers like parking, but nicely weighted for faster motoring. Driven hard, it will typically under steer with the nose going wide, but it handles neutrally for the most part.

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The five-speed manual has a delightfully short throw which makes gear changes nigh on perfect, but things can get a little buzzy on the highway thanks to the low-gearing, which with effectively no overdrive, requires a fair few revs to trundle along at a modest 100km/h.

That’s not the only problem. The suspension – ironically, the very same set-up that helps ensure sublime ride and handling for spirited driving – is rock-hard around town jarring occupants with little reprieve. It’s hard to imagine anyone finding the GTi a suitable car for the daily commute unless they were true believers.

Fortunately, the excellent sports seats help offset the ride to some extent and do a great job of holding their occupants in one place. The downside is that they are so big, there’s virtually no room for anything else in the tiny interior! Legroom for rear passengers (assuming they can get in the back) is virtually non-existent. Only kids under ten will be comfortable.

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Despite the interior materials being a bit on the cheap side, equipment levels are good. Electronic stability programme, six airbags, leather/alcantara trim seats, leather steering wheel, drilled alloy pedals, automatic air-con and a six-speaker stereo impress. Getting behind the wheel doesn’t come cheap though. A slice of the iconic GTi pie will set you back a fairly hefty $39,990. Of course, if you like the idea a lot, but $40k is a bit beyond your budget, never fear, Peugeot now has the more modestly priced 206 Sport on offer.

When I first stepped from the GTi to the 206 Sport, I was genuinely a little apprehensive. Past experience tells me that a 1600cc engine mated to an automatic rarely a happy marriage makes. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge as with most things in life, there are always exceptions to the rule. In fact, the genuinely eager performance from this car is one of its most attractive qualities. It’s not especially fast mind you, but it’s such a willing trier you tend to overlook the more academic numbers.

Floor the accelerator and the little 206 will pin its ears back and go for the line, the athletic automatic holding the gear until 6000rpm, or just a fraction from the redline. It can be a little buzzy if you’re simply wanting to cruise, the low gearing effectively lacking an overdrive, but for the most part, I think Peugeot have got the mix right. Power comes from a 16 valver that produces 80kW and a healthy 147Nm of torque. NZ Autocar recorded a 0-100km/h time for the Sport of 10.8 seconds which isn’t bad at all.

The four-speed auto comes equipped with a tiptronic (pseudo manual) gearbox which is fun to use, and while it sometimes takes a while to make up its mind re-gear changes, it generally works pretty well. Punting it through corners, it’s fun to use the manual box to help keep things interesting. It handles well too, though not surprisingly, if pushed hard it tends towards under steer like most small front-drivers, but grip is good and there is good body control and turn-in.

In keeping with the theme, the ride is well, sporty. There’s a lot more travel compared with the GTi which considering local roads, is entirely welcome, but neither is it soft. It can get a little jiggly on unbroken surfaces but considering the small size of the car, it’s pretty good, and mercifully supple after the GTi experience.

It doesn’t quite have the looks of its two door sibling, but nevertheless, it is still a very attractive car. Peugeot have added to the appeal by including body moulding, 15” alloy wheels and a subtle but distinctive rear spoiler. On the inside, sports seats and some faux alloy complete the look. Equipment is bolstered too, adding climate controlled air con, leather bound steering wheel, and electric windows. Safety is catered for with dual font airbags and seatbelt pre-tentioners, and standard ABS.

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The little 206 can’t hide its age though when it comes to interior packaging. Like the GTi, interior space is at a premium and there is only moderate rear legroom. Fit and finish is only average and frankly, some of the materials are on the plasticky side. For $29,995 the little 206 can be yours.

Despite the premium price on both the Sport and the GTi, few will be disappointed with their purchase, but with competition in the small car segment fierce, a replacement 206 must surely be in the wings. \

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***** ENDS *****

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