Three-door superminis do not really sell in New Zealand. Even posh European ones. For that reason, they are few and far between.
There was the Audi A1, but as soon as a five-door Sportback version became available this year, Audi New Zealand stacked the remaining three-door models in a corner and never spoke of them again.
The ones that have gone the distance are the ones that aren't available in a conventional five-door format, like the Fiat 500 and Mini (a Countryman is hardly a Mini, so quiet down). And they obviously have other reasons for being the way they do, mostly regarding retro style.
So how do we explain this, the Peugeot 208 Allure three-door? Peugeot already has a perfectly good 208 Allure five-door, so this one might seem a little superfluous. Local importer Sime Darby has already given us the "it was available, we'll just see how it does" pitch.
But there's a bit more to it than that. The three-door might not sell in big numbers but it does glamourise the brand quite a bit. The five-door is already very fashion-forward, but the three-door is that much more stylish again - if you don't mind a bit of bling.
The other (related) thing about the Allure three-door is that it looks very similar to the forthcoming 208 GTi. In fact, the body shape has been designed with quite a few GTi-cues from the outset. Consider the sparkling chrome strip that bleeds off the C-pillar: it's intended to remind you of the days when the iconic 205 GTi had a fuel filler (and some badging) mounted up there.
For the above reasons, the Allure three-door has firm flagship status for now: at $29,990 it's $1000 more expensive than the five-door, despite offering less space and practicality. The GTi will be around $10k more expensive when it arrives next year, however.
The Allure's sportiness is all in the looks. The engine is good: a familiar 88kW/160Nm 1.6-litre also used by BMW-Mini. The gearbox is not: despite Mini being available with a six-speed automatic, the 208 reflects the French disdain for self-shifting transmissions by having a poorly calibrated four-speeder, which shudders during low-speed gear changes and yet goes into max-attack mode at the slightest hint of a brisk driving style.
The handling is impressive, though. The platform is a redevelopment of that from the old 207, but the 208 has decent steering and a chassis that flows over back roads in an elegant fashion. With a different gearbox it could potentially be quite entertaining.
The 208 certainly looks impressive inside and it has some interior idiosyncrasies that are quite endearing. The steering wheel is tiny and ovoid, set well below the main instrumentation so that you look over it to the dials, rather than through.
The seven-inch touch-screen uniting media and communications features is the big news in the 208 cabin.
The menus seem consciously fussy in appearance - as if it wants to look more high-tech than it is - but the system works really well once you learn your way around. It'll make much more sense with sat-nav, which is coming next year as a $995 option.
But be warned: it can't be retro-fitted to existing cars.
The 208 is also the first car I've ever road tested that doesn't have a CD player. Instead, you play music through your iPod, portable music player, Bluetooth streaming (perhaps a cellphone) or USB stick. I think it's too soon to abandon the compact disc, actually; but then I am rather old.
Old enough to remember what great GTi models Peugeot used to make. That's the three-door 208 I really want to drive.