Striking looks, lots of cabin room and a spacious boot set it apart from the herd
It’s great to see a car that defies being categorised as a hatchback, saloon, SUV, coupe, crossover or whatever.
Citroen’s C5X (reviewed here some time back) is one. And this week’s review car, the new Peugeot 408 is another. It’s hardly surprising, as they are closely related.
The simplest way I can describe the Peugeot is to say it looks like a low-slung crossover with coupe looks.
It has an eye-catching fastback effect; curvaceous with a swept-back look and a dashing front dominated by a striking grille centring on the brand’s new coat of arms. I thought my test car looked exceptional in Elixir Red.
Peugeot say they never made anything like it before. In a way it is an act of faith that sufficient numbers will be tempted to buy one simply because it is different in many ways, especially its design. Of course, such boldness undoubtedly runs the risk of being spurned too.
And maybe potential buyers might be put off this sizeable coupe-crossover because, in the case of the GT range-leader I drove, it is powered by a little 1.2-litre petrol engine that develops a solid 130bhp. Petrol? Yes petrol. And with an 8spd automatic transmission into the bargain. There are not too many matching such a transmission with so small an engine. (A larger, 1.6-litre petrol powers the plug-in hybrid versions in the wider 408 range.)
On start-up I couldn’t help but smile at the cheeky little burble from the exhaust; the sort you’d expect from a 2-litre sports engine, maybe, but not a 1.2-litre 3cyl little powerplant.
As such engines go, this was mostly sweet and responsive. Its power surprised me. But here’s a thing. While the outside is most definitely different, there is a great sense of familiarity about the cabin, especially the front/dash. Much of it echoed the smaller 308: the dashboard, i-Cockpit set-up. That is by way of a compliment. The seating was excellent and offered real comfort every time I sat in. Maybe I would have liked a little more adjustment.
Rear-seat passengers, in particular, are spoilt with the legroom afforded them thanks to the longer wheelbase.
From a driving perspective I enjoyed the fact that the small steering wheel with its flattened top allowed me to see the high-set gauges relaying core information. This is part of the i-Cockpit combination that involves two 10in screens; the one with all the gauges on show in front of the driver and a central infotainment touchscreen.
The suspension took most types of road and drive demands in its stride. To be truthful you have to ask who pushes a car like this for performance anyway? Maybe the sporty looks suggest performance? If so, maybe the plug-ins I mentioned are more suitable for pace and power, if that’s a priority.
I drove it a lot and there was no doubt the 408 I had wasn’t as much at home in city driving as it was on the open road. I thought the stop-start system was a bit slow to react – either when I braked or looked to get going.
Anything by way of a load appeared small in the 536-litre luggage department – that soars to 1,611 litres if/when you fold the rear seats.
Did you ever get the sense that a car’s headlights were weak, especially if you’re driving in lit-up areas? I have noticed and meant to raise it here a few times.
It was only when I realised how exceptionally powerful the Matrix LED headlamps on the 408 were that I took a note to make sure I mentioned it. They seemed to have serious high beam power but didn’t dazzle oncoming cars.
When you place a long list of other items – such as night vision – alongside those lights that you realise how much safety tech they have on board.
I really should be highlighting (no pun intended) such elements more often.
My driving shone a light (pun intended) on many things in the course of my test drives, notably how quiet it was at motorway speeds, and how nice and easy it was to park.
All of which went to build my perception of the car in a mostly favourable fashion. Just because it is different to look at doesn’t make it a raging success throughout.
It has its flaws and shortcomings: I would have liked that bit more visibility out the rear windscreen, and sometimes it was too easy to push the sliding gear selector into the incorrect mode (parking and reverse were the main culprits).
But my quibbles were mostly of a minor nature overall.
The 408 is not perfect but it has a lot going for it too, not least those stunning looks that set it apart from the herd. I’d have it on my list.
Peugeot 408. From €39,995 for Allure model, €41,995 for Allure Pack; from €44,995 for GT version tested.
GT had 130hp 1.2-litre PureTech 3-cyl petrol engine, 8spd EAT8 automatic gearbox. It’s 4.69m long, 1.4m tall, wheelbase of 2.79m.
Depending on spec level there is adaptive cruise control, extended road sign recognition, night vision system detects pedestrians/animals, long-range blind spot monitoring (75 metres), 360 degree parking assistance, AGR-approved driver and front passenger seats.