Practicality from the Czechs, more panache from the French. Richard Bosselman assesses the latest talent from Skoda and Peugeot.
Eye candy Peugeot-style
July 16, 2007, 2pm. Though technical brilliance and enhanced brio are to the fore with these models, their primary role is to draw attention: we’re talking poseur power.
The open-top CC is clearly the more powerful preen machine; the GTi simply lets its engine do the talking.
The $37,990 GTi, the 207 range’s flagship takes a full-strength version of the turbocharged 1.6-litre, co-developed with BMW.
The CC manual has the same mill, but it’s detuned from the GTi’s 128kW to 110kW. Trim-wise, it dresses similarly to the GTi, but for $43,990.
There’s also an auto CC, with an 88kW naturally-aspirated 1.6 and a lower specification, for $2000 less. Who’d go there? Sad to say, about 80 percent of buyers, actually.
Of course, we’re not all like that. I’ll admit to having spent more time on the drive day in the GTi. Three-door hot hatches are just more to my taste, especially when you’re being allowed to chuck them around on a racetrack.
Mind you, this is a GTi for the new era. Technology has replaced simplicity and it’s more constrained by safety and environmental considerations.
Which means a safer, better-built and less tiring car, but also one that’s quite a bit heavier than the original 205 GTi from two decades ago.
There’s no argument that the GTi appears a lot racier than the standard five-door hatch, with a body kit, bespoke 17-inch alloy wheels with ZR-rated Bridgestone tyres, an alloy gear lever and pedals. It also gets a thicker steering wheel rim and Alcantara-clad bucket seats.
On the track it stops brilliantly and turns in adroitly. Stiffer springs and dampers, plus uprated suspension mountings, make a big difference.
Driver-friendliness is further helped by it having a much better-shaped footwell than the previous car. There’s enough space now to ensure bigfoots won’t snag the pedals any more.
Brought to the fore during a test run at Taupo’s Centennial Park circuit, though, was an unsettling feeling of sitting too high in the car, even when the driver’s chair is at its lowest, floor-scraping setting.
I really don’t know about the electric steering – adopted for fuel-saving benefits. It’s quick and accurate, yet is also light and doesn’t provide oodles of feedback.
Offering just five gears when rivals, including the Mini that shares this engine, have six also seems odd, though the motor seems very comfy revving hard in third and fourth.
And no-one should feel at all shortchanged that a 1.6 replaces a 2.0-litre. There’s just 2kW between the old and new engines and the turbo has a heap more torque; certainly enough to make swift overtaking relatively simple.
The manual CC’s not that much slower than the GTi even though it’s carrying 141kg more. It’s actually quite a handy car, much more enjoyable than the slow-to-go auto, so it’s a real pity the importer believes most buyers likely won’t identify with it.
The chop-top conversion is performed with more care in regard to body rigidity. There’s less shake, rattle and roll going on than in the old 206 CC.
That car, for all its cleverness, was really too small for its own good. The 207’s larger in every way, but is still cheek-to-cheek chic.
The big change with the folding roof mechanism now is that it has become fully electric, so drivers no longer need to operate manual levers or catches. Converting from a closed coupe to open-air cabriolet takes 25 seconds.
With the roof up, the boot is a huge 449 litres. Top-down capacity is reduced to just enough space to stow two medium-sized squashy bags.
With the arrival of these two models, the sole component absent from the 207 line is the SW station wagon. The importer has yet to decide whether to bring it here.
Meanwhile, rumours persist that Peugeot is working on a more powerful GTi, one that more accurately reflects its world rally championship heritage. I wouldn’t say no.
Czech out this room
July 16, 2007, 2pm. Skoda’s first MPV, the Roomster, is almost as much of an in-house project as the Estelle and Favorit once sold here.
All parent company, Volkswagen, did was sign off on the expenses and supply some basic bits.
Yes, the Roomster’s weird. In design imagery, it’s part plane, part house. This accounts for the strange styling signature of a marked – and awkward - difference in the front and rear window sill heights.
As odd-looking as it obviously is, the car works brilliantly. It’s car-like to drive yet also does well where it matters as an MPV.
Value is good. The dearest Roomster is the $35,990 manual 1.9-litre turbodiesel. At $29,990 manual and $33,490 auto, the alternate 1.6-litre petrol competes with the Honda Jazz and VW’s own Polo.
Specification is strong. Electric windows, a decent stereo, frontal and side airbags and a simple onboard computer are mere starters.
The package also embraces full window airbags, a rear parking aid, fully-automated air-conditioning, traction control and a panoramic sunroof that stretches 1124mm.
ESP stability control and tyre pressure monitoring are standard on the diesel and auto petrol, and a $1000 option on the entry version.
Interior space and seating versatility are brilliant. There’s front and rear legroom to spare and a fair amount of boot space, the minimum 460 litres more than trebling with the rear chairs removed.
The driving environment is good. You sit low and the steering wheel offers adjustment for both reach and rake. Without parking aids, the huge D-pillars would make reversing a challenge.
The diverse range offered in Europe is thinned down here to one trim level and the best of the modestly-powered engines, all older-generation stuff from the Germans.
Both develop 77kW but the oiler’s extra 87Nm of torque is easily felt on the open road, where it’s the more satisfying choice, surprisingly sprightly when asked and extremely flexible in gear.
Still, the importer reckons on more petrol sales simply because of that six-speed Tiptronic automatic.
More Skodas are coming. The Octavia Scout manual diesel is here now at $48,990; next year we get the new Fabia and, in 2010, the next Superb and the Yeti small soft roader.
Story and photography by Richard Bosselman.