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Peugeot builds a luxurious small car to enter strong bid in US market

The Peugeot 505, successor to the durable 504, is simply a cradle on four wheels. Yet the control is far from vague. Indeed, the driver of a Peugeot 505 is in charge at all times so long as he keeps his hands firmly on the wheel and a sharp eye on where he's going on the road.

Peugeot is not a big factor on the American road, but the company is determined to expand its small footing.

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If the French automaker can provide the kind of service and parts delivery which US motorists demand, plus such cars as the brand-new 505, which is bound to be around for a long time, it should be well on its way.

To help it gain ground, it may bring back the Citroen, which hasn't been sold here for years. Peugeot merged Citroen into its organization a few years ago when Citroen ran into a financial blizzard in the marketplace. Peugeot, which also will bring the new 305 here in the 1983-model year as well as a subcompact by model year 1986, only sells about 15,000 cars a year in the US.

All French-built cars have a reputation for high-level comfort, meaning not only the suspension but those magnificent seats as well. It doesn't make any difference whether its a Renault R-5 (Le Car), Citroen, Talbot (Simca Chrysler), or a Peugeot, French-built cars are nice to sit in. The velour upholstery in the 505 helps a lot, too, and gives a super-rich atmosphere to the inside decor of the 3,000-pound automobile.

Legroom is substantial and so is the room overhead. The new 505 is slightly wider and longer than the car it replaces, the 504, and its aerodynamics are improved as well.

The 505 -- the Peugeot for the 1980s -- was styled by Italy's Pininfarina although the plush living-room interior was designed by French stylist Paul Bracq. The tow styling entities fit like a glove.

In putting together the car, the designers went to extreme lengths to reduce sound transmission to the riders inside. Further improvements might come very hard and clearly at a high price.

Indeed, the aim of PSA Peugeot-Citroen, the manufacturer whose main manufacturing facility and research lab is on the French-German-Swiss border at Sochaux, was to provide the maximum in convenience, comfort, and performance within the scope of the design criteria and the price range at which the manufacturer was aiming. The glovebox, so often only an excuse in a car these days, is segmented into two parts and is large -- super large, as a matter of fact.

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Still, the French car manufacturer has stayed with its peculiar headlight switch at the end of a control stalk on the left of the steering post.

As for economy on the road, the US Environmental Protection Agency rates the Peugeot 505 gasoline engine at 16 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway, and 19 combined, using a 5-speed manual transmission. Interestingly, the automatic 3-speed gives a combined 21. This was right in line with what I got on the road. The 2-liter gasoline engine is a 4-cylinder in-line design rated at 96 horsepower (SAE) at 4,900 r.p.m.

The best deal on mpg is the optional 2.3-liter diesel plant, a reliable engine that's been around for years. The EPA-rated figures for the diesel are 3 i combined with the manual and 29 with the automatic 3-speed. In California the manual is slightly less.

The dashboard layout is practical and convenient, not only as to the view of the instruments themselves but also control.

The Peugeot 505 is one of those cars -- even though it still has a conventional front-engine-rear-drive configuration -- which I reluctantly give up.

Of course, the fast-paced ding of the safety-belt-warning system could be improved (perhaps a more gentle tone such as used on some of the Japanese cars); and I find it too easy to slip the automatic gear selector into second rather than drive. It's only when the engine begins to rev up that I realize the gear lever is in the wrong spot. Too, I found the cruise-control system rough but it finally stopped working entirely, so the roughness may be only a warning that something was amiss.

Nonetheless, at $10,000-plus, it's a car that's hard to walk away from. It is a joy to drive. The "S" package adds another $2,200 to the tab.

Too expensive? Even a loaf of bread is edging $1 these days.

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