The Peugeot 206 1.4 is recommended for those who appreciate a car with the simple, yet rare, virtues of responsive steering and sweet handling
It's very pretty and it's fun Peugeot 206

BEING young, single and out for a good time perpetually, I tend to look out for just two things whenever I am trying to decide if a new car is any good: One, it has to get attention from women, and two, it has to be fun to drive.

The Peugeot 206 1.4 is just the candidate for such meticulous professional assessment.

Being the cheapest step to Peugeot ownership (at $89,800 with COE), it lends itself to the kind of customer profile that, the Peugeot people will be horrified to know, resembles me closely.

Having spent a day pottering about in one, I have no idea about that first criterion, because my girlfriend was pretty much present the whole time to spoil every chance I got. Besides, I was having too much fun driving the thing to notice whether or not it managed to turn feminine heads.

The 206 is an absolute howler of hatchback and is an almost constant source of driving pleasure. The unexpected thing about that is that its eight-valve, 1.4-litre engine manages to squeeze out just 75 horsepower.

Despite the constipated engine, however, the 206 does feel nippy enough, with plenty of low-end grunt from the little four-cylinder giving it perky in-town performance. The dash to 100 kmh from standstill takes a respectable 13.2 seconds.

The same cannot be said about the automatic version, however, which needs 17.3 seconds to wheeze to the same speed.

Although I have not had the pleasure of driving the 1.4 auto, I suspect that if you put Moses Lim on a bicycle, he would probably have no trouble outpacing it.

Well, perhaps he would have trouble, but the experiment would be worthwhile anyway, just to see what it looks like when Lim rides a bicycle.

In any case, the 206 1.4 is best enjoyed with its standard five-speed manual transmission. 

The gearbox is not without its faults - its throws are too lengthy and the shift mechanism too gritty - but when so little power is on offer from the engine, the extra control you get from changing gears yourself can make all the difference, helping you to nose ahead by vital centimetres in that battle away from the lights.

But speed is not always the main ingredient in motoring fun. The Pug allows you to get your jollies mostly with its enjoyable handling. Despite riding on economical tyres, the 206 steers with a precision that lets you delight in aiming the car as accurately as you can around corners. The Peugeot likes to dive into bends as well, its nose darting in whatever direction a flick of your wrist on the steering wheel sends it.

The small engine and game handling conspire to have you driving in a manner that keeps you on your toes, trying to shed as little speed as possible around corners in order to conserve momentum. In its own way, the 206 1.4 is a lot more fun than its much faster (and pricier) sibling, the 206 GTi, which feels like a car for grown-ups.

Not that the 206 1.4 is strictly for juveniles, mind you. It appeals for other reasons, like space packaging. Despite a tiny exterior, it is surprisingly roomy, especially in the back seat. It rides commendably smoothly for a small car, too.

On top of that, the 206 is an extremely pretty car, with sinewy bodywork full of extraversion and lovely styling details, like twin bonnet scoops offset to one side and a single rear foglamp. Park it, and it refuses to be overlooked, drawing enthusiastic reactions from the people around it.

It loses points in a number of areas, however. Cheap plastics let down a splendidly-handsome dashboard, and the 206's standard equipment list is disappointingly short. Some of the missing items, like electric mirrors, can be done without easily, but others, like ABS or a passenger airbag, are worth having. The brake pedal is spongy, and footroom awfully tight up front, as well.

Partly making up for that is an excellent three-year servicing package and warranty, locally-fitted leather seats and a 10-disc CD changer. A more fully-specced 1.6-litre 206 is on the way.

As it is, the 206 1.4 is a car neither for frill-seekers nor thrill-seekers, but it is recommended highly for those who appreciate a vehicle with the simple, yet rare virtues of responsive steering and sweet handling.

It has the irrepressible personality of an over-eager puppy that is humping your shin constantly.

When it comes to a hatch, some like it hot, but the 206 shows that hysterical will do.

FAST FACTS

Peugeot 206 1.4M

Price: $89,800 with COE

Engine: 1,360 cc, eight-valve in-line four

Gearbox: Five-speed manual

Power: 75 bhp at 5,500 rpm

Torque: 111 Nm at 3,400 rpm

Top speed: 170 kmh 0 - 100 kmh: 13.2 seconds

For enquiries and test drive: Contact AutoFrance on 473-7727