The Peugeot 407 SV is without doubt a well finished product. However, after spending time with the mid-sized V6 sedan, we're unsure if Peugeot intended it to be a luxury sedan or a sports saloon. It seems Peugeot wasn’t quite sure either...
The 407 represents a major change in direction from the previous 406 model, a car which combined traditional Peugeot long-travel suspension with intuitive steering, practicality – and was dressed in relatively anonymous styling. The styling of the 407 is anything but bland - in the week we had the car, we received numerous positive comments on its looks. This is a car that looks 50 per cent more expensive than its AUD$55,990 sticker. But as we found out, that styling wow factor comes at a practicality cost...
The 407 is available with three different engines. At the cheapest end is a 2.2-litre four cylinder developing 116kW and 217Nm. The price for the base ST model is AUD$42,790. Also available is a direct-injected diesel version with 100 kW of power and a stonking 320Nm of torque, with prices for these models starting from AUD$45,990. The as-tested top-line SV comes with V6 petrol engine developing 155kW at 6000 rpm and 290Nm at a relatively high 3750 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission is fitted.
When the model procession is outlined in this way, the 155kW engine sounds impressive for its power, but the car’s mass of 1660kg puts it in perspective. Many competitors have more power and weigh a similar amount. The factory lists a 0-100 km/h of 8.4 seconds but our time was at least a second slower than that. However, while you could never say the 407 is a fast car, the engine is smooth, silky and happy to rev. Variable valve timing is used on the intake valves and the exhaust system has dual modes to give a quieter exhaust at low loads while still breathing freely at high outputs.
The 6-speed auto – a compact and light unit manufactured by Japanese company Aisin AW - is a mixed bag. With a ratio for all occasions, it gives good rolling acceleration and the Tiptronic facility allows easy driver over-ride. However, the gearbox refinement is way behind many competitors that also use high tech autos. The main problem is as the vehicle slows, the gearbox actively down-changes, meaning the ‘box is always in the right gear for immediate acceleration when the driver re-applies throttle. So far, so good. However, unlike competitors like Honda and Mitsubishi that use similar control logic, each down-change is felt as a distinct and noticeable clunk. While not out of place in a sports car, this behaviour is intrusive in a luxury family sedan. With all the gearchanges obvious, the hyperactive gearbox can become tiresome – especially in urban cut-and-thrust conditions.
The fuel economy result of a relatively low power V6 pulling around a body of typical weight - with a hyperactive 6-speed auto juggling the ratios - can only be described as poor. The factory lists the urban economy as a woeful 14.5 litres/100 km and the highway cycle at an impressive 7.0 litres/100km. When corrected for an optimistic odometer, we averaged 13.8 litres/100 in a mix of freeway and urban conditions.
It can be said that the driveline of the 407 looks rather better on paper than in the reality – and the ride can be summarised in much the same way. At the front there are double wishbones while the rear features an all-new design using multiple links. The damping is electronically controlled and varies over nine settings. Each damper is controlled separately and a dashboard button allows the selection of a firmer sporty setting. However, we found that in normal mode the car was inclined to float, with especially the rear being overly soft. In sports mode the ride was too firm – at times even hard. There was also a disappointing amount of banging and crashing from the front suspension; like the gearbox clunks, this substantially detracts from the luxury pretensions of the car.
But on the plus side, the handling is excellent. The 407 uses a very rigid body – it’s claimed to have a torsional rigidity higher than Peugeot has ever before achieved on a road car – and this can be felt on the road. The electronic stability control system is also superb. In addition to normal functions such as counteracting understeer and oversteer by braking individual wheels, it also has a mode that reads driving style, slightly delaying interventions when it detects that the driver is deliberately sliding the car. On the road – especially in wet conditions – the stability control is seamless and fluid. There are no sharp reductions in power and no sudden yaw movements: the driver is simply aware that the car is following the intended path. In some cornering situations you could almost guess the car had constant four-wheel drive. However, as you’d expect from a 1660kg front-wheel drive, there can be quite a lot of turn-in understeer.
Open the front door (doors which, given the body weight, seem flimsy) and step inside and you’ll find seats that are firm, easily adjusted and never uncomfortable. But sit in the back and be amazed: this is a car that has seriously little rear legroom. Head further rearwards and you’ll find a huge boot – which can be made even larger by folding the rear seats flat. However, all is not good news for the driver. Firstly, the incredible slope of the windscreen – which stylistically works so well – has a real and major downside. The top of the A-pillars are so close to the driver that they create a major blind-spot, especially when turning right. We’re talking a gap in vision big enough to easily lose a pedestrian behind. And it’s not just the A-pillars, either. Incredibly – and we wonder how the car can pass Australian Design Rules with this in place – there’s a huge box placed way down the windscreen. It’s the sensor for the auto wipers and in this right-hand drive car, creates a vision blockage that has to be seen to be believed.
Like other recent Peugeots, the centre of the dash houses a digital display screen that shows climate control and sound system information. Also like other Pugs, it cannot be read when wearing polarising sunglasses... However, more troubling is the multitude of small buttons housed beneath. How many buttons? Try about forty! One of our drivers put it like this: the centre dash buttons are attractive and reasonably intuitive to use... if you are stopped. Like the forward blind-spots, this part of the design looks like it was OK’d in the styling studio rather than being tested on the road.
But there aren’t any problems with crash safety. With eight airbags (the side curtain ‘bags are full-length designs), tyre pressure sensors, automatic hazard light activation under emergency braking and the usuals like pre-tensioning and force-limited seatbelts, the 407 is very safe. Just how safe was demonstrated by its 5-start rating in the ENCAP independent crash tests.
The 407 SV is a car with an identity crisis. It doesn’t fit the categories of either luxury sedan or sports saloon. In sports mode it has the hard suspension and the aggressive transmission of a sports car, yet it lacks the performance of a sports car. It has the equipment levels and size of a luxury mid-sized saloon, yet lacks the rear legroom and comfort.
The 407 isn’t all things to all people. If you frequently travel on wet mountainous roads, the 407 will delight you. If you want a soft pampering car to drive mostly in urban conditions and on freeways, it won’t.