ALEC ISSIGONIS of B.M.C. displayed genius in putting 4-cylinder engines transversely across front-wheel-drive ears and combining sump and gearbox to gain maximum compactness. Now Peugeot have perfected this theme.
I waited nearly a year, impatiently, to try the new small car from BeIfort. It was worth waiting for! From the Lion Works at Croydon, where posters proudly remind one that the famous French marque won that toughest and most realistic of all rallies, the E. African Safari, I drove away last month in a 204 saloon. Within the first few miles I knew this 1,130 c.c. overhead camshaft Peugeot suited me very well indeed.
It is a plain-looking 4-door saloon, ugly, or at least very plain, when seen from the back quarters. The interior is quite spartan – no door pockets, oddments being stowed on the almost-too-deep under-facia shelf, rubber matting on the floor, no quarter-lights. a slab of mirror apparently stuck on the n/s vizor as an afterthought. Instrumentation is confined to a hooded 95-mph. Jaeger speedometer incorporating fuel and “battery” gauges and provision for four warning lights. Below, on a plated panel, two knobs control, respectively, wipers/washers and choke with heater controls between them. The fuel filler cap is very difficult to replace, and I’m surprised that Peugeot tolerate it; the odometer records only total distance, to the nearest mile.
But the separate seats, upholstered in imitation ventilated leather. are large and very comfortable, and the stalk-levers, like those of a 404 Peugeot, fall conveniently to hand—small black l.h. one for turn-indicators, r.h. one going “round corners” for the various lamps settings (obviating the need for a separate flasher), and with the steering-column gear-lever on the left. That the 204 is every centimetre a Peugeot is evident while walking round the car and noting, for instance, the single-stud retaining each wheel nave-plate, the roof-rack attachment points, and full use of stainless steel for bumpers, window frames, etc. The fuel range, at least 335 miles, is another typical Peugeot attribute.
The head-lining is utilitarian but a sunshine-roof is available. The doors shut nicely and incorporate lift-up internal handles beneath the arm-rests. Under the bonnet the nicely finished o.h.c., alloy-head power unit with its Solex 32PBISA carburetter looks highly efficient (53 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m.), and the U.S.L. battery has Peugeot’s expected master-switch, but one tries not to see the contortions of the dynamo-cum-fan belt!
The matt-black facia-sill has a couple of lift-up plastic vents, with volume control, which distributes cool air about the 204’s interior once it is moving reasonably quickly. There is generous room in the back seat and luggage boot, and the Cibie headlamps have an under-bonnet setting adjustment to prevent the combination of heavy load in the back and the supple suspension causing dazzle.
Clearly. Peugeot, in deciding it was time to re-introduce a small car, kept in mind the Frenchman’s need to motor comfortably over rough tracks while carrying considerable loads. The suppleness of the 204’s coil-spring all-independent suspension is almost on a par with that of Renault 4s and Citroen Ami 6s. This gives a very comfortable, if sometimes frenzied, ride and, in conjunction with front-wheel-drive and the gripping power of Michelin “X” (135 x 14) tyres, enables fast cornering to be indulged in by the strong-in-heart who are undaunted by the considerable roll angles and tyre noise then encountered. The Peugeot’s accurate rack-and-pinion steering has a very reassuring feel, with very little lost motion,. which contributes to the excellent handleability of the car. It transmits a lot of shake over bumps but no real kick-back, and the wheel gives good finger-grip. Good castor return action assists sensible gearing (31 turns, lock-to-lock) and f.w.d. power on/off cornering characteristics are not unduly prominent. A B.M.C. 1100 may corner slightly faster, especially on SP41s, it certainly corners “flatter,” but it will not leave the 204 many yards behind.
So, on the score of cornering and comfort, the Peugeot 204 receives high marks. It also has very excellent and progressive servo-assisted disc/drum brakes, giving light, really powerful retardation. But where it really comes into its own is in respect of quiet, effortless running. The engine becomes noisy only when wound up in the gears, but as it will exceed 7,000 r.p.m. without damage and is very close to the un-soundproofed bulkhead, this is understandable. But in normal running it is commendably quiet, as is the rest of the car. A mild buzz when cruising fast there certainly is, and at first I felt an even higher top gear than the 4.4-to-1 ratio used might be an improvement. But overall, the 204 is a very restful, willing and altogether delightful small car to drive, encouraging one to use it for long as well as local journeys.
The gear-change, with synchromesh on all four forward ratios, is smooth and quick of its kind, but strong spring-action has to be resisted in selecting 1st and 2nd. This makes for a smooth change-up from 2nd to 3rd. Reverse is easy to find, beside topgear position, and the gate formation of larger Peugeots, practical for France but less pleasing in English traffic, has not been retained for the 204. Bottom cog tries to baulk occasionally, and the brakes tended to squeal.
The pedals are splendidly located, the steering is light except for parking or on acute corners’ and free from front-drive snatch. Everyone who drove the small Peugeot enthused over it. As to performance, the 75 64-mm. overhead-camshaft premium-fuel-burning engine (8.8-to-1 c.r.) provides plenty of this. Remember that it is a family small car, not even a sporting version, when studying the following figures.
A 70-m.p.h. cruising speed is well within the Peugeot’s compass and its acceleration is such that it gets quickly back into its stride after a check. Overall petrol consumption averaged 36.3 m.p.g. and after 700 miles none of the Esso Extra oil lubricating engine and gearbox had been used. It is altogether an excellent little car, which is already available in saloon, estate-car, drop-head and coupe forms. Although its price of £992 8s. 7d. in this country is high in comparison with similar small saloons of British manufacture, if the well-established Peugeot reliability/durability factor has been built into the 204, many people will regard it as competitive, while in Europe it cannot fail to be a best-seller. I regard it as one of the most significant small cars of the nineteen-sixties. In comparison, other f.w.d. 1100s feel and sound. like—tramcars. . . .