The supermini successor to the 205 has already taken the market by storm, selling 550,000 in the past full year throughout Europe, exceeding Peugeot's most ambitious predictions for the model by more than 50,000. A normally-aspirated version already available will remain in the model line-up, but the new HDi unit transforms the 'oil burner' element of the range completely.
To cope with expected demand, engine production is being hiked up, with 600 extra staff and the first introduction of weekend working at the French production plant in Tremery, which will be churning out more than 3,000 engines per day by next year, up from 2,500 at present, making the factory the largest diesel manufacturer in the world. Peugeot is certain that the increase in production will avoid the launch delays which dogged the 306 dTurbo HDi, caused because of demand for the 406 HDi.
Simple numbers are rarely a good judge of a car's performance on the road, but the HDi, which will be badged dTurbo in the UK and sold alongside the sporting models in the range, provides such a massive improvement that figures provide the best way of showing the difference between the two cars. The old non-turbo unit reaches a top speed of 100mph, hits 62mph in 16.1 seconds, achieves 49.6mpg overall and produces a respectable 156 grammes of CO2 per kilometre.
The HDi is a more powerful car with a bigger engine. Not only does it provide 20bhp more, at 90bhp, have a much higher top speed of 112mph and reach 62mph 4.1 seconds faster, it also has better economy, at 56.5mpg under the same Government tests. It also offers 136g/km of CO2, an ideal tax-efficient proposal for CO2-based company car tax in 2002 and changes to VED in autumn next year. The car, like all HDis, is fitted with a filter to cut down on oxides of nitrogen, a particular problem for diesel units, which is one of the reasons behind Government concerns over the fuel.
In road tests and long-term tests, the little 206 has already been described as a worthy successor to the 205, while offering much more leg, head and shoulder room. But there have been criticisms of some of the engines, particularly the 1.4-litre petrol which seems to lack the power and 'go' needed for a small car competing against the likes of the Ford Fiesta and the Renault Clio.
The normally-aspirated diesel, while offering a worthy effort, is loud and slow compared to petrol variants. The 2.0-litre diesel answers all these concerns to produce a delightful small car. During a launch event in Luxembourg for the model the new HDi unit offered a perfect match to the 206. Although at start-up the car sounds like a normal diesel, albeit without the need to wait for glowplugs to warm up and without the traditional puff of smoke at first turnover, the difference on the road is huge. Putting a traditional turbodiesel in the 206 would have made a huge difference, but the sheer flexibility of the HDi is what makes it stand out.
A steep mountain road was tackled in fourth gear, offering an 'automatic' option all the way from 15mph to practically top speed, with the engine offering enough torque for good acceleration from just over 1,500rpm. At cruising or motorway speeds, the noise of the engine dies away, unlike the normally-aspirated diesel unit which is always chugging away in the background. However, it does make you realise how much noise comes from the tyres and the body from wind rush.
Service intervals have increased from 9,000 to 12,000 miles, which will provide a boost to fleet maintenance bills. Prices for the new model have yet to be announced, but expect a significant premium over the £10,995 diesel, probably as much as £1,500 when the model launches in January.
When the HDi arrives in the UK it will be offered as a sporting model, dTurbo, similar to the 306, to be followed by luxury and economy variants. The traditional diesel will continue, but it is expected to account for much less than the 28% of total production Europe-wide and 21% of fleet sales it has achieved in the UK so far.