Peugeot 206

Welcome to the world's most economical GTi! Auto Express is the first magazine to drive Peugeot's new oil-burning 206, which the French manufacturer hopes will combine its hot hatch and diesel expertise into one car - at last!

Putting a diesel in the 206 GTi is a bold move, but Peugeot enjoys a reputation for making great derv units and hot hatches, so combining the two is a logical progression. The HDi GTi looks good and is entertaining to drive, but we fear those looking for a hardcore hot hatch will find it lacks character.

Welcome to the world's most economical GTi! Auto Express is the first magazine to drive Peugeot's new oil-burning 206, which the French manufacturer hopes will combine its hot hatch and diesel expertise into one car - at last!

And while Peugeot GTi purists may be horrified at the prospect of a derv-powered car wearing the famous three-letter badge, it's worth noting that the 1.6-litre engine develops 110bhp - or 5bhp more than the legendary 205 GTi when it was first launched.

The newcomer is smartly turned out, if lacking in drama. The 206's styling still looks fresh, despite having been on the market for six years, while the neat 16-inch alloys, mild bodykit, front foglights and chrome tailpipe mark the car out as meatier than a standard 206. It differs from a petrol GTi in badging alone, with a small HDi logo - featuring a coloured 'i' to hint at its sporting potential - at the bottom of both front wings. The appearance is subtle rather than brash, but to some buyers that will give it added appeal. Inside, it's a similar theme. Part-leather sports seats, aluminium dash details and drilled pedals suggest this model has more oomph than a standard 206, but sadly the supermini's awkward driving position, cheap-feeling plastics and fiddly seat adjuster levers remain.

The Peugeot is also starting to show its age in terms of packaging - it's cramped in the rear, the dash is poorly laid out and there's a distinct lack of elbow room in the front, although the sports seats are at least comfortable.

At £13,770, the HDi GTi is exactly the same price as the familiar 2.0-litre model, and while this petrol version offers greater performance, sprinting from 0-60mph in 8.3 seconds compared to the diesel's 9.8, the difference in real-world terms is negligible.

The 1.6-litre oil-burning unit produces greater torque and mid-range punch, but sadly lacks the petrol car's growling exhaust note, which detracts from the driving experience. The accessibility of the engine's performance is also frustrating - while it may be a reasonably quick car, the HDi GTi isn't hugely responsive off the mark, and you have to rev it harder than you'd expect for a diesel in order to make swift progress.

However, the handling doesn't disappoint. With sharp steering, a firm ride and superb balance, this car proves that traditional Peugeot GTi traits aren't lost on the current generation of models. The new car also borrows the close-ratio five-speed transmission from the GTi 180 - this is precise and rewarding to use, but is let down by a long throw between gears.

The HDi GTi, then, is fun to drive, although it does lack the character of its petrol-powered twin, especially in terms of the noise it makes - or rather the lack of it. The diesel unit is well insulated and refined at speed, which would be creditable if fitted in a lower-spec 206. But in a model wearing the GTi badge, you can't help but feel short-changed by the disappointing aural entertainment when driven hard.

However, for many people the draw of a car that looks sporty, offers decent performance and returns nearly 60mpg will provide more than enough pleasure, especially as it uses the GTi's already rewarding chassis. The HDi also comes with a particulate filter, and is compliant with Euro IV emissions regulations, meaning it falls into the lowest company car tax bracket. This aspect could well attract a whole new type of customer towards Peugeot's GTi brand.

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