For the last few years a lion has been sitting in the centre of me steering wheel with one paw raised defiantly; as if to champion the cause of "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité" to the world. The econobox version of the Peugeot 206, which once gave Marcus Grönholm two WRC championships gave us reliable service until without warning it threw a timing belt, yelled "Vive la révolution" and then summarily executed eleven of sixteen valves. The last act of this internal mechanical revolution was to ensure that the engine would never again give us the several thousand revolutions that it was supposed to - how very French in action, French in civil disorder, French to the very end with a general strike.
The 206 was a spirited car to drive, gave us oomph and zing when we asked for it and because it was primarily designed for its home market on French roads where every single kilometre is accented by eleven million potholes, the suspension was excellent because it had to be. It was was said of the Citroen 2CV that one of its design requirements was to be able to carry a basket of eggs across a field at 40km/h and not break any of them. I'd believe that.
We've pretty well much decided that we're done with French motoring. If we were in Europe then it might be an easier prospect to throw many Euros at the car to keep it going but ten thousand miles away and throwing the little Aussie battler around, that has started to pall. The problem is that apart from the Falcon, Commodore, Camry and Cruze, every single car sold in Australia is imported and from 2017 when the last Australian produced car rolls off the assembly line, that will be brought to completion.
So then, faced with the dilemma of having to replace one imported car with another imported car, we're caught between the horns of a dilemma and they're not the horns of Ferruccio Lamborghini's raging bull either.
I like the look of the Fiat 500 but even I know that the Cinquecento is built to Fiat's less than immaculate standards. The 500 would be made from rubber bands and bits of balsa wood if Fiat could get away with it. Nor is our replacement car likely to be a Toyota Yaris, which although is put together splendidly by an army of robots in an airtight factory whee nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out, knowing they way that most Toyotas feel, it will feel like a car designed to be driven by robots. Most Toyotas are perfectly polished to the point where they feel completely neutral and dead to drive. I'm sure that the Yaris would be an excellently built car but most of my impressions of Toyotas is that they lack fun to drive.
There is the Kia Rio which looks interesting and is worth considering. Even ten years ago if you'd asked me what I thought of Kia, I'd have laughed incredulously and thought that you were a few sandwiches short of picnic but starting with the Magentis, Kia have improved their build quality a million billion percent. The VW Polo is probably the best engineered supermini of all but it is serviced by the same people who repair Skodas, Audis and Porsches. A VW Polo is likely to come with a Passat sized parts bill and I'm sure that inside the workshop, the mechanics would rather be working on a Touareg or an Amarok than a Polo.
This then leaves the obvious candidates for the replacement car as either one of the two cousins, the previous model Mazda 2 or the Ford Fiesta. Both sit on the same platform, which means that the geometry of the car should produce a communicative and fun thing to drive (I had a Ford Ka which was an absolute hoot) and the engines should be nice and torquey.
The Mazda 2, ever since the DE came out in 2007 has always been a cheekily styled car. Even when it went through its "happy face" stage from 2011, where a white number plate would remind you of Bugs Bunny's teeth, it still looked fine. The current DJ sits on the new Skyactiv platform rather than the Ford B3 platform.
The Fiesta has always looked a little more aggressive but Mk.7 looks far better than the anonymous Mk.6 which it replaced. The dashboard in the Fiesta looks a little spaceshippy but how it looks isn't as important to me as how it feels to drive. All the reports I've ever read about the Mk.7 Fiesta suggest that even in the 1.0L three cylinder "Ecoboost" model, Ford have played their trump card of handling yet again.
That's the problem. Now that the Peugeot 206 has destroyed itself in the most French way possible, finding a suitable replacement is going to be difficult. The truth is that no one produces an objectively bad car anymore; not even Chery. If we have to part with hard won dollars and live with our new chariot for a long time, we'd better make the right choice. I'd personally prefer to have Henry's signature in a blue oval staring at me from the centre of the steering wheel but even I'll admit that although my heart beats for blue, my wallet is ruled by slightly more practicality. I do know that for the immediate future, that Armand Peugeot's lion will not be waving at me any more.
Au revoir, le lion d' tribulation.