So far we've only seen the pictures but an opinion of Peugeot's latest 207 - eventually to replace the 206 (5.4m sold so far) - quickly forms.

This interesting newcomer is much less original than its predecessor - in fact, we found ourselves this morning carefully checking that the first officially released photos were in fact of the 207 - and not mis-captioned shots of the larger 307. At first glance, the nose and tail styling is almost identical but, ironically, the front end would look different had Peugeot not recently given the 307 a 'facelift'.

We suspect the much-enlarged dimensions will also make the new car harder to pick on the road from its bigger brother - it's 201mm longer, for a start, at 4,030mm, on a wheelbase stretched 97mm to 2,540 and 65mm wider and 56mm taller. Weight, too, is up a hefty 121-131kg, 207s will tip the scales in the 1156-1253kg range.

Of course, there are reasons for the weight and size gain Ever-stricter European crash safety regulations (particularly for pedestrian impact which requires more space between bonnet and engine) and the attendant need to score well in the official Euro NCAP tests, which many European buyers now watch like hawks, leads inevitably to greater bulk.

And downsizing buyers want a big-car feel in small cars, which leads to more driveline isolation and more soundproofing; hence more weight.

Finally, there's the obvious need to move the 207 a bit up-market in the range, differentiating it from the 107 (Peugeot's version of the PSA-Toyota joint venture citycar trio built in the Czech Republic) and sliding-door 1007 (with which it shares its platform) so the various ranges don't steal each other's sales.

The automaker's official comment? "With the 207, alongside the 107, 1007 and 206, Peugeot can now provide different vehicles for customers with differing profiles, many of whom have a high level of disposable income and also meet their differing expectations and needs."

After the 206's sector style-setting achievement back in 1998, the in-house-designed 207 disappoints on originality - the exterior, as mentioned, looks like a scaled-down 307 and the interior, especially the dash, is far too much like rival Renault's latest cockpits in the Megane and new Clio III.

The 207 is more interesting when you scrutinise the petrol engine offer - it's the first car to have the new range of petrol engines jointly developed by PSA and BMW. There are three initially: 1.4-litre eight-valve 54kW (75 bhp), 1.4-litre 16-valve 65kW (90 bhp) and 1.6-litre 16-valve 80kW (110 bhp), "soon to be supplemented by new high-tech engines", according to the press release.

'HDi'- branded diesels -from the well-established joint venture from Ford - are more familiar as all three are already widely used in PSA and Ford Europe models. They are a 1.4 litre 50kW (70 bhp) and two 1.6 litre variants developing 66kW (90 bhp) and 80kW (110bhp); the latter can be had with a particulate filter. CO2 emissions - critical in some European markets for tax reasons - range from 120 g/km to 126 g/km.

Five-speed manual gearboxes will be standard on all versions. There's no word yet on automatics but these get less priority from French automakers because few home market buyers in this class want self-shifters.

The 207 has a number of innovative new features, such as static directional headlamps, which make it easier to identify a pedestrian about to cross the road when driving in town, or a cyclist riding at the side of the road.

It's also the first Peugeot with an interior fragrance diffuser (the Citroen C4 pioneered this for PSA) with seven fragrances from a leading French perfume supplier.

Six airbags are standard. The 207 also has two front impact absorption structures like the much larger 407 sedan/wagon range. These distribute impact energy more efficiently in a collision and enhance 'repairability' and pedestrian protection.

Peugeot claims the 207 has been designed to resist impact levels even more severe than those of regulatory or Euro NCAP tests - it is also one of the first vehicles to be designed to meet the requirements of the new European directive concerning pedestrian impact protection.

The 207 will be launched with three or five door hatchback body styles but others will follow - we'd expect some sort of wagon and a coupe-cabriolet to succeed the current 206 variants.

There are 14 body colours, two interior 'ambiences' in black or light beige, ten main fabrics, two leather trims, and seven trim/equipment packages.

Two more PSA-BMW 'high-tech' engines and fuel-saving Stop and Start (probably supplied by Valeo) are already promised.

Right-hand drive 207s reach the UK and other markets from mid-2006.

Despite the 207's debut, the 206 will nonetheless continue in production for "many years to come", according to Peugeot, and will soon be built at eight individual production sites on three continents.

"The launch of the 206 sedan [already being built in Iran] at the 2005 Frankfurt motor show continues this momentum," the automaker said.

Graeme Roberts

Peugeot's new B-segment contender