The British thought we were crazy. We had just taken a redeye flight from Toronto to London and were now going to rent a car and spend the day travelling all over England. It was 10 am and we had the entire day ahead of us.
Ok, we were not planning to drive over all of England, but the plan was to leave Heathrow airport and head over to Stonehenge. From there, we would head up to Oxford, before returning to Heathrow later that afternoon. In all, it would be a total of 190 miles, or about three and a half hours of driving.
As a Canadian, driving four hours in one stint was quite normal. Eight hour driving days weren’t all that uncommon, so this trip seemed short and reasonable. But apparently in the UK, this sort of expedition is a bit bizarre to perform in a single day. Regardless, we were ready to get going
Pint-Sized Purple Peugeot
Being a car guy, I had been looking forward to this leg of our trip for some time. I always wanted to see Stonehenge and I knew how much my wife wanted to visit Oxford. But of course, the prospect of driving in another country intrigued me the most. I had never driven on the left side of the road before nor operated a right-hand drive car.
My goal at the rental car lot was simple – drive something obscure (to me) that we don’t get in Canada. There were a couple of choices in my price range, including a few right-hand drive Toyota Corollas, Vauxhall Astras and Volkswagen Polos. Although none were exactly what we got in North America, they all seemed too familiar. Then I saw it – something small, purple and French.
Noticeably smaller than the cars mentioned above, there was a Peugeot 107 sitting in the corner. This was unlike anything we had back home. A five-door hatchback, the rear doors and hatch were only separated via a small triangle of taillights. The rear hatch itself was just a big piece of glass. This was a city car in the truest form, and even had a five-speed manual transmission. I was sold, I had to drive it.
This Is Sparta(n)!
Due to the car’s diminutive dimensions, we folded down the rear seats and essentially turned it into a two-seater so we could fit all our luggage for the two-week vacation. Thanks to the tall dimensions, everything fit without issue.
The interior redefined spartan but was still stylish. Peugeot did the most with what they had. The doors had body coloured panels to match the exterior and although everything was hard plastic, it didn’t look half bad. The radio and HVAC controls were all combined into an ergonomically designed single pod.
There was a singular gauge in front of the driver that displayed speed and had a digital fuel and odometer inlay. There was no rpm gauge and I can’t remember if there was any sort of shift light either. Yes, I was about to embark on a three and a half hour drive in a foreign country, driving on the left hand side of the road for the first time, shifting gears with my left hand for the first time, in a car lacking a tachometer, that really shouldn’t be taken out of the city.
On the Road
The engine for this beast was a 1.0-liter three-cylinder making 67 hp. That’s not much juice, but the car did only weigh around 1,750 lbs. Performance was like that of a Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris. Around the city power was fine and even on the freeways it never felt dangerously underpowered. I did spend most of the time cruising in the slow lane due to a combination of not wanting to get a speeding ticket (ha!) and still trying to convince my brain that no, I wasn’t driving on the wrong side of the expressway. The car also got quite buzzy at speeds over 100 km/h.
Changing gears with my left hand was quite easy. It only took a few shifts to get comfortable with the feeling and I never missed a shift or selected a wrong gear. Twice I did kiss a curb in smaller towns where speed control measures would have the road snake through a tight S-bend. Both times I misjudged how wide the car was on my left and I felt the rear outside tire squirm a bit as it bounced off the curb.
Overall, the drive was uneventful and despite driving one of the world’s most boring cars, I still had a blast because it was all new to me. The simplicity, size and style all had a novelty factor that was perfect for a half day behind the wheel. Next time in the UK, look for me to try something else ridiculous. Maybe I’ll drive an Opel Adam to Scotland?