It seems people can't get enough of small diesels these days. Once the preserve of economy-minded individuals who were prepared to sacrifice any driving enjoyment to save pennies, the diesel supermini has come a long, long way.
Most modern diesels are clean, quiet and incredibly refined. One of the newest kids on the block is Peugeot's common-rail turbo 206 HDi 1.4, which replaces the normally aspirated 1.9 D in the range. The engine has been developed in conjunction with Citroen and Ford, and also appears in the C3 and Fiesta. If the newcomer is a good example of what small diesels have to offer, then its rough, rattly predecessor was typical of the previous generation, with incredible reliability but sluggish performance.
That's not to say the newcomer is a fire-burner. If you're after a 206 diesel with some performance aspirations, you should take a look at the 2.0 HDi model instead. What the 1.4-litre unit does offer, however, is a much more rounded driving experience than the car it replaces.
It may be slow from a standing start, but once wound up, the engine cruises extremely smoothly, with reasonable mid-range torque reducing the need for gearchanging, while noise levels are much quieter than in the old 1.9. That makes for excellent motorway cruising and impressive fuel economy, although the lack of acceleration can be frustrating in town.
Peugeot claims a combined figure of 66mpg for this 206, putting it on a par with the Audi A2 as Britain's most economical motor. And it's not only the excellent fuel economy that contributes to low running costs - a CO2 figure of 113g/km puts it in the lowest 18 per cent company car tax bracket for a diesel. But there are downsides to using the 206 on long runs. The awkward arms-stretched knees-bent driving position won't suit all, the seats lack lateral and lumbar support and the steering column is positioned so close to the clutch pedal it will rub the shoes of drivers with big feet.
Additionally, some of the cabin materials feel flimsy and look a bit low rent, and the switchgear isn't brilliantly laid out. The driver's seat adjustment lever also proves difficult to operate and finding the right back support angle is an irritating process.
Overall, the 206 makes financial sense, but would benefit from more lively acceleration. It's fine if you favour economy above all else, but more enthusiastic drivers might prefer something which is quicker off the mark.