Available to purchase (I believe) from the 2002 model year, the Peugeot 206 SW (station wagon) is a highly unusual car, being as it is a variant of the outrageously popular Peugeot 206 hatchback. If you can consider the 206 to be the AMC Pacer, then the 206 SW is the Pacer Wagon. The effect is much the same.

History

The 206 line was the successor to the immensely popular Peugeot 205, albeit considerably larger. Nonetheless, it is a very common small(er) car, and one that Peugeot have decided to exploit, like their other models. The 206 has done well as both a two and four-door, as well as a two-seater cabriolet. With the Peugeot 307 SW, the successor to the popular 306 estate being almost as big as the old 406 estate, there was a need for a new smaller wagon. The result is an extremely bizarre-looking 206, slightly smaller than the 306.

Technical

The 206 SW comes in 1.4 and 2.0 HDi (diesel) variants and 1.6 and 2.0 petrol variants. It has both driver and passenger airbags. The 1.4 HDi is capable of about 500 miles highway driving per tank.

Comfort and ride

Being one of the cheaper economy ranges offered by Peugeot, the 206 was never going to have a palatial interior. However, surely a car costing £11,000 can offer nicer seats than this! The seat backs end extremely low, pushing a taller driver (like me, at 6'2") forward almost into a hunch. The fabric is rough and unpleasant like cheap carpeting, although one's spine seems to eventually change shape. Suffice to say, long journeys are anything but restful.

Discomfort continues into the interior, with a tacky, cheap and brittle plastic cockpit, concluding with an extremely hard and unpleasant steering wheel. The driving position is extremely awkward, and, with nowhere to rest your arms, you will eventually find your hands aching and hanging off the wheel by the thumbs. The gear shift is miles away, practically on the floor, and shifting, especially into first or second will result in your left hand bashing into the passenger's right arm.

Like other 206s, the car suffers from horrendously loud road noise at high speed, especially on concrete road surfaces. The stereo is washed out by the roar of noise, and hands-free mobile phone kits will also result in very muffled experiences for both parties.

In terms of performance, the 1.4 HDi, at least, is underpowered. Acceleration from a stop is extremely slow and laborious unless you practically redline each gear, while steering feels surprisingly heavy for a relatively small car. It will reach speeds exceeding 100mph, but acceleration in 5th gear is extremely slow, resulting in agonising crawls up to speed when a slower driver moves out of the fast lane.

Finally, and in common with all 206s, the pedals are tiny and impossibly close together. If you have large feet or wear large shoes, driving is an absolute pain.

Practicality

The added storage of the station wagon body is not that much greater than the standard hatchback 206. The rear bay is about three and a half feet long, just enough to hold two big standy-up suitcases. If you wish, you can fold the two rear seats (in 1/3rd-2/3rd configuration) down flat and more than double the storage space.

However, there aren't many loads that you can carry in the SW that you couldn't in the standard car, which makes it being a wagon quite pointless. Nevertheless, you could fit a good pair or maybe three mountain bikes in the back, or a lot of luggage, or maybe some furniture, but this is not a cargo carrier like the 406, Mondeo or other, larger wagons.

My 206 SW (and issues)

My 206 SW is an 04 (2004) reg 1.4 HDi, absolutely bottom of the range model. It boasts little more than a CD player/radio, and rear fog lights. It had only 22,000 miles when I acquired it, and despite this newness already suffers from problems. The gear shift is spongy and unresponsive. There is an extremely loud rattle from the engine compartment or front wheels at low RPM. The wipers are already giving up the ghost, smearing the window pointlessly. I should note that the wipers have not been altered for the right-hand drive model: the passenger gets a full swipe of the blades and has a completely clear view, while the driver's upper right-hand corner of the windshield is untouched and will soon be obscured by dirt or rain.

Evaluation

As a car, the 206 SW doesn't really serve a purpose. People after a station wagon have far superior (and bigger) options like the Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 406 and Opel Vectra, among others. People who need a small car won't want the added bulk of the the bigger station wagon body. I add to this the general cheap, stodgy feel of the car in terms of both construction and performance, and I find a desperately mediocre example of motoring. If you want a station wagon, £11k will buy you a beautiful, fully-loaded used car like a nice Honda Aerodeck or possibly even a BMW wagon, which will be far more useful and enjoyable to own.

Update 19/02/2005: The car has now returned from its 24,000 mile service. Aside from bits of interior trim falling off and new wiper blades, nothing was found to be wrong. The garage says the rattle is therefore standard for the engine. Take this as a warning then: diesel engines are capable of being quiet, but the 206 SW's is as noisy as a van.

Update 17/10/2005: I've just finished a month of driving long wheelbase Sprinter vans. I absolutely hammered the crap out of them, and never once produced a rattle like the 206's.

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