Road test: Peugeot 207 SW 1.6 vti
Peugeot has decided to reinvent the small estate car – and very successfully, too. All it needs now is a bit of competition to keep it on its toes, says John Simister
Price: from £12,575 (range £11,340-£14,365)
Engine: 1,598cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 120bhp at 6,000rpm, 120lb ft at 4,250rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 125mph, 0-62 in 10.7sec, 44.1mpg official average
Now here's an old-fashioned idea. A small estate car. As a breed, it has almost vanished because people buy little MPVs or things derived from small vans instead. The notion of an estate car derived from a supermini has all but died. But then you think again and realise that beyond the old Volkswagen Polo/Seat Cordoba pair and the Innocenti-built, Fiat Uno-based Elba, they never really existed.
Apart from one. The exception is significant, because the Peugeot 206 SW was made nowhere else but the UK, and its Coventry factory has now closed. But we must look forward, says Peugeot, and besides we're all in Europe nowadays. Our newish 207 range is selling very nicely, thank you, and now we'd like to bring you the next member of the family.
It is, yes, another small estate car, and its position as number one in its field is guaranteed because no one else makes anything comparable. Not until BMW launches its Mini Clubman estate next month, anyway, and that car is already fatally flawed because the side that has two passenger doors is the right-hand side, even on right-hand drive cars. For a car built in the UK, and inspired by a British past, this smacks of breathtaking arrogance.
Digression over, and back to the new Peugeot 207 SW. It has a full complement of correctly-positioned doors as well as sharing engines with the Mini. Its concept makes perfect sense, actually, especially now that today's so-called superminis are so un-mini.
The problem is that in today's world of myriad variations on the MPV, an estate car might be seen as a bit unimaginative and conventional. So Peugeot takes great pains never, at any point, to call the 207 SW an estate car. What, then, does SW mean? It could be Station Wagon, Space Wagon or Sport Wagon, but Peugeot won't commit to any of these.
And then there's the way the SW looks, a kind of 407 SW in miniature. The glassware along the sides rises to a point at the back, the angle almost following the line of the wraparound rear window. The triangular shape of this wraparound is mirrored by the red, and similarly wraparound, rear light cluster. There's a glass roof, too, standard on all 207 SW models and featuring an electricallly powered sunblind inside.
So the 207 SW does look quite cool and not at all utilitarian, despite its obvious utility. The aluminium roof rails add to this, as does a rear window able to be opened separately from the main tailgate. The whole car looks like a proper design entity in its own right and not like another model with an extension built on the back.
Inside, too, thought has been constructively applied. The rear seat is mounted 20mm higher and 15mm further back than in the hatchback 207, so rear passengers have a better view forward. The rear seats, their width split asymmetically in the usual way, fold easily; you press a button outboard of the headrest, and the assembly folds down and forwards with the cushion cantilevering itself downwards to make space for the backrest.
So far, so neat. Then there's the rear shelf, hinged in three rigid parts. You can flip just the rearmost part to let you put something in the boot when you've opened the rear window, or if you're sitting in the back seat and want to get into the boot from there, you can flip up the front section. It's all a lot neater than the usual pull-out rollerblind.
Fine. So what about driving it? There are four engines to choose from, two petrol and two diesel. The latter are the usual 1.6-litre Peugeot units, of 90 or 110bhp to choice, while the petrol engines are joint-venture units designed mainly by BMW and built by Peugeot. They are now used in the rest of the 207 range as well as in current Minis, and BMW returns the compliment by using the Peugeot diesel in the Mini.
The petrol engines come as a 95bhp 1.4 or a 120bhp 1.6, both with throttle-less Valvetronic (as BMW calls it) valve gear in which varying the amount the inlet valves open acts as the throttle. The lack of an obstructive separate throttle plus the use of direct fuel injection together make these engines potentially very economical, but curiously the 1.6 has fractionally lower official CO2 emissions – 152g/km versus 153 – than the 1.4.
The larger-engined car's urban fuel consumption is slightly heavier, its open-road thirst slightly lighter, all of which suggests that the 1.4 is overburdened by the SW's 1,200kg-plus weight whereas the 1.6 is not.
The performance figures reflect this, the 1.6 reaching 62mph from rest in 10.7 seconds instead of 13.1, pulling much more vigorously in the higher gears and having a potential top speed 10mph higher, at 125mph – a remarkable pace for a small estate car, if you think about it. It seems, then, that the 1.4 is fairly pointless apart from the fact it's a bit cheaper and will cost slightly less to insure. It's available only in the cheaper of the SW's two trim levels, called S, a level which isn't available with the more powerful of the diesels which comes only with Sport trim.
"Sport" doesn't mean a 207 SW so designated is actually "sportier" to drive. It simply has more equipment and a more aggressive nose design. All the SWs, however, have steering and suspension settings slightly different from the hatchback's, a little softer at the front (except in the 110bhp diesel), a little stiffer at the back (especially in the 110bhp diesel) to cope with the extra weight from the extended body and the loads it might carry. The result is surprising: never mind the fact it's an estate car, the 1.6-litre petrol SW I drove has the most supple ride and the most natural-feeling steering you'll find in any 207.
This in turn makes this version particularly pleasing to thread along a bendy road, because it flows and reacts with a subtlety and smoothness notably absent from sportier 207s. The steering has lost the glutinous and exaggerated self-centring you find in too many electric power steering systems; you feel the car is working with you rather than imposing its dynamic will upon you. It does make you wonder why the fastest 207s, the GT THP 150 and the new GTI, have to crash and thump and fidget over bumps the way they do.
So that's the 207 SW: predictably useful and unexpectedly pleasing if you have the right version. Any carmakers out there prepared to give it some competition?
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