Peugeot has done a magnificent job in keeping the 206 looking good through the transition from hatchback to SW. At first glance it seems cute, and the more you take in the lines the more you appreciate how much work the design department has put in. There are attractive curves everywhere - even the roof rails are smart, and the doors have clearly been very carefully shaped.
The perceived cuteness is important, though the real reason for the car's existence is to provide maximum usefulness from a fairly limited volume - hence Peugeot's description of the SW as "a car the size of a conventional hatchback, boasting the practicality of an estate".
The SW takes up only a little more road than a conventional 206, but it's significantly taller and has generous luggage space. One nice touch is that the rear window can be opened separately from the rest of the tailgate, so you can have awkward loads sticking out without worrying that the whole shebang will end up in the middle of the street.
This window is very heavily tinted and makes it very difficult to see into the luggage area, which is no doubt an excellent piece of security thinking. The only problem is that when you're sitting in the car it's also very difficult to see what's behind you. It's not too bad during the day, but at night you may as well be looking at a blackboard. The reversing light makes no difference, to the point where I began to wonder if the SW had a reversing light at all (it does) or if it worked on the test car (it did).
The increase in size compared with the hatchback doesn't seem to have added anything to the rear passenger room, which is very limited, but there's plenty of space up front. I would have felt safer and more comfortable if the steering wheel adjusted for reach rather than height - it's an inch or two further away than I'd like - but on the plus side the seats have tremendous side support which helps you remain comfortable on long journeys.
And long journeys are certainly possible thanks to the 1.6-litre engine's very moderate thirst - it shouldn't be a problem to get 500 miles from a tankful of unleaded. That's despite very decent performance. Almost 110bhp is available if you wind the revcounter round till it's pointing to 5800, and since most SWs will probably get through their entire lives without approaching that kind of engine speed it's just as well that there is quite a lot of oomph much further down the rev range.
There's handling to match, too. Nobody would ever consider a 206 SW to be a sports car, but it grips very well and corners nimbly. In fact, you need quite a light touch when driving it, otherwise the front end may dart all over the place as it reacts to every twitch of your fingers.
Something about the shape of the car suggests solidity, so it comes as a surprise when the doors and tailgate shut with a clang rather than a clunk. There are a couple of other question marks about build quality (or perhaps design) too. Having come to us with over 6000 miles on the clock, the test car had an unusually high mileage as press vehicles go, but even then it was a surprise to hear so many rattles when driving over rough ground, and to find that the clutch already needed adjusting to get the biting point further down the pedal travel.
These things gave the SW a real feeling of being French rather than German, though in one sense it's neither - all these cars are built (to French instructions, obviously) at Peugeot's UK factory in Coventry.
If you go for the more expensive extras (leather trim, sat-nav, metallic paint and so on) it's quite easy to get the price of even this mid-range version up to £15,000 or beyond, at which point it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. I think I'd settle for a more basic spec, because at just under £13,000 this car represents decent value for people who want a bit of load-carrying flexibility without needing to move up to a size of car they might consider inappropriate.
Second opinion: It's the style that does it, every time, for the 206, although as with many estate cars I wonder how many people ever get around to installing cross-pieces and completing the roof rack. While the SW admittedly doesn't have any more rear legroom, there's improved headroom and a bit of extra shoulder width. In any case, supermini-sized cars are usually roomy enough three-up, with the front passenger seat sympathetically placed, and that's the case here. Very accurate handling when you steer with the fingers or wrists rather than the elbows or shoulders, but a car with the style of the SW could handle like a dustbin and still win friends. Ross Finlay.
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