Peugeot's pugnacious little scrapper, the 106, arrived at the tail end of 1991, riding in on the success of the 4 million plus selling 205, long regarded as the benchmark of the hatchbacks, a position which it has rapidly supplanted with it's combination of space, comfort, performance and agility.
Now, just over a year after launch, comes this week's test car, a diesel variant from Europe's largest maker of oil burners and a market where diesels sell in far greater numbers than in the U.K. where only 200,000 were sold last year.
In part, the 205 gained it's enviable reputation by having one of the most responsive hatchback chassis on the road and the 106 has even improved upon this to offer a simply excellent handling package with a fluency and poise which leaves many of it's competitors trailing, or rather, wallowing in it's wake.
Designed partly by Peugeot's own design team and partly by the famed Italian house of Pininfarina, the car is an attractive little package, easy on the eye, with a low CD of 0.31, which, perhaps, assists the new diesel model in coming up with a remarkable fuel consumption.
Build quality is as high as ever from the massive PSA group, the doors closing with a solid thunk, the whole car feeling very rigid and safe. The doors are very wide opening so access into the rear is easy, both seats travelling forward to aid entry.
By virtue of good design and a long wheel base, the 106 offers a superb amount of space, head and legroom being impressive for the body size and the rear load area, with the folding rear seat down, more than doubling in size.
The cabin is well trimmed with comfortable supportive seating and a clear dash fitted with traditional, white on black, instrumentation, all switches falling readily to hand. A neat touch is the high level fitting of the stereo, built into the dash and thereby just about thief proof.
This basic trim model may be light on equipment but represents quite excellent value for money and comes with a sunroof, and good stereo.
Handling, however, is one of the best features of the 106, easily among the best in it's class with a sporty yet perfectly comfortable ride from the all independent suspension, minimal roll, very light, direct, steering and good grip which even the additional weight of the diesel can't faze.
The car is great fun to drive, being as at home cruising on a motorway or nipping through town traffic or for rapid, B road, cross country journeys where it sticks like glue.
The 1360 cc diesel engine is surprisingly refined, a little clattery on start up as most are but barely discernible as an oil burner at higher speeds where it matches the noise levels and smoothness of most petrol engines. It's claimed 50bhp feels understated as it moves the little car in a quite sprightly manner, feeling better than the performance figures suggest, smooth, no slouch and with exceptional frugality.
Drive is taken to the front wheels via a sweet 5 speed box which is a delight to use, slick and fast acting.
The 106 has already built a great following, it's both easy and great fun to drive, well built and combines incredible fuel economy with reasonable performance. A very likeable and economical car.