Still wide of the mark
15 June 2004

Considering Peugeot’s long association with the diesel engine and the GTi, this car was bound to surface sooner or later. The all-alloy 1.6-litre engine, part of Peugeot’s second-generation HDi family and co-developed with Ford, has a combined fuel consumption figure of 58.9mpg, which should be a novel experience for GTi drivers.

It’s surprisingly clattery at idle, but smooth and refined once on the move, with effortless pace, especially once the ‘overboost’ facility (which supplies 195lb ft) arrives. Trouble is, it doesn’t feel fast. Opting for a diesel engine in a hot hatch can mean forgoing many genre essentials: raw power, infectious character and throttle response.

But some competitors offer vast reserves of torque by way of compensation. Skoda’s Fabia vRS produces a heady 229lb ft of torque that gives a considerable kick; in a straight line, our long term vRS would eat this little lion whole.

The petrol 206 GTi has become used to a drubbing where handling is concerned. But away from the likes of the Renault Clio 182, and put into context with cars such as its diesel VAG rivals, the GTi HDi feels good. Without an iron-block engine slung over the front wheels, the 206 feels agile, and with the ESP switched off the rear suspension works to help the nose turn in.

Introduce some mild-mannered provocation and the 206 will lift-off oversteer in a benign yet entertaining fashion. It might not be a classic by small Peugeot standards, but it gets very close to a proper hot-hatch driving experience.So it’s a shame that all the traditional 206 bugbears remain; the dreadful driving position, cramped pedal box and low-rent interior all hand points to its competitors.

Although Peugeot has specced the HDi much like the petrol GTi, £13,770 seems steep when compared to the much quicker £13,850 Seat Ibiza FR TDi 130, or the £11,990 Skoda Fabia vRS. At this price point, punch per pound counts.

As you can probably tell, the 206 GTi HDi is a frustrating mismatch. Of the current performance 206s it’s probably the most complete package, but that alone is not enough to justify a return to hot-hatch form for Peugeot.

Adam Towler

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