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New Car Test - Peugeot 406 ST Automatic

A well-packaged, comfortable car with an excellent ride - and that famous Peugeot lion on the grille.

By Michael Knowling, Pix by Michael Knowling and Julian Edgar

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The 406 is Peugeot's recently facelifted mid-size market contender that comes available in a choice of sedan, wagon and coupe formats. The base model ST (available only as a sedan) is powered by a 2 litre four, while the SV (sedan and wagon) gets a 3.0 V6. There's also a turbo diesel version available - see our HDi diesel test here.

RRP for the base 2.0 five speed 406 ST sedan begins at A$41,900 and rises to A$44,400 for the as-tested four-speed automatic version. In comparison, the HDi turbo diesel sedan costs A$44,900, and the 3.0 V6 automatic SV sedan costs a substantial A$57,100. Note that a wagon body is available in both the HDi and SV - but not the four cylinder ST. The 406 competes in the marketplace with the Volvo V40, Alfa 156, Audi A4, Lexus IS200, Subaru Liberty RX and the parts-linked Citroen Xantia SX.

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The five buyer options are metallic paint (A$625), side airbags (A$1000), alloys (A$1300), electric sunroof (A$1500) and leather trim (A$3000). An unlimited kilometre 2 year warranty covers parts and labour on the car, and this is upgradeable to a full 4 years if required. Another noteworthy attraction is that Peugeot's servicing intervals have now been extended to 20,000 km or 12 months - therefore greatly reducing maintenance costs. Peugeot Assistance Premium Cover is provided free for two years; this can give you overnight accommodation, a replacement vehicle and various other services. Add to this Peugeot Assistance 24-hour roadside service that covers most run-of-the-mill problems (like flat batteries, running out of fuel etc) and you're certainly well backed.

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The automatic ST model on test is powered by a XU10J4R two litre four cylinder, capable of a fairly tame 100kW at 5500 rpm and 187Nm of torque at 4200. Its spec sheet includes DOHC, 16-valves, a 10.4:1 CR and a Bosch MP 5.2 multi-point electronic injection system. When at idle, the tachometer needle shows the engine hunting by around 200rpm, and it becomes reasonably loud when you're pushing the accelerator hard. But its torque delivery is smooth and it will rev out nicely too, so long as you've got the trans in Sport mode. (Incidentally, the manual version of the ST is rated slightly higher at 102kW).

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The automatic vehicle has its torque put through an AL4 4 speed (auto active) trans that is sealed for life (ie no fluid changes are required). By taking inputs from driving style, the trans learns when it's most appropriate to change up or down - but it is easy to pick holes in its operation. It is quite noisy when accelerating in first and second gear, and down-changes after a full-throttle squirt are very harsh. Another situation that's less than ideal is when you're trying to gently accelerate up a hill. Just easing the pedal down means it'll never kick down - you'll be left lumbering along at low rpm. What's needed is a swift stomp to the boards to tell the trans to drop down a ratio. An alternative is to leave the trans in Sport mode (where it will pick a lower gear), but leaving this mode on makes the engine rev annoyingly hard at some cruising speeds.

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With a kerb mass of 1350-1370kgs, the ST auto is listed with a conservative 0-100km/h time of around 13 seconds - although we recorded a slightly faster time on the test car. The standing quarter mile takes 17.4 seconds, and if you keep at WOT you'll attain a top speed of 196 km/h. On the fuel economy side of things, the Pug is frugal, drinking 10.5 litres per 100 around the city and about 6.5 litres on the highway. A range of between about 665 and 1075 kilometers can be expected from its 70 litre fuel tank. Oh, and filling up with high octane premium unleaded fuel is recommended.

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The 406's new rigid body design is the basis of a good ride/handling compromise. The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts with lower wishbones and an anti-roll bar, with a multi-link coil spring system used at the rear. During cornering, a passive rear steering system gives progressive toe-in, which increases as suspension height decreases. The car's shock absorbing is also improved over the old model, with gas-pressurised shock absorbers that work marvelously. The 406 has an uncanny ability to "tie itself back down" very quickly after large bumps (ie it has strong rebound damping), and its overall ride is wonderfully refined. Even the rigours of broken bitumen and potholes are absorbed with ease. When pushed through twisties, Mr 406's turn-in is crisp - but it does degenerate into understeer at the bitter end. In fairness, you have to be travelling quite quickly to bring this on and it's simply cancelled by easing the throttle slightly.

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Being the entry model, the car is poised on hub-capped 15x6 steel rims - but there is the option of alloys measuring the same size. Michelin Energy rubbers of 195/65 were fitted to the vehicle we tested and we'd expect them to last a lot of kilometres. Interestingly, the ST is fitted with the same four wheel disc brakes as found on the more powerful 406s - these are 283mm vented at the front and 290mm solids at the rear. In addition to this, the latest Bosch 5.3 ABS system works in conjunction with EBFD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution).

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This interfaced system distributes braking effort between the front and rear before the anti-lock system comes into action. The 406's overall braking performance is strong and can't be made to fade on the road in normal use. Rack and pinion steering features, with its power assistance varying in accordance to engine speed. Light and very precise, this beautiful steering enables exact placement of the vehicle through bends.

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Aboard the 406's cabin - even the base model - there is plentiful comfort.The new model scores a third rear headrest, auto wipers, climate control, a nice sounding 6 speaker radio/cassette, power windows and even a little bit of wood-grain across the well laid-out dash. The front seats are both soft and extremely comfortable and offer plenty of lateral support to match the chassis. To help achieve its very low levels of interior noise, soundproofing pads are fitted inside the doors and throughout the body, all major body cavities are filled with foam; even the pedal assembly is soundproofed.

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There's seating capacity for five, although rear shoulder room is limited when three people are lined up together. While we're back there, there's also a retractable rear blind to provide protection from the sun, as well as a medium-sized storage bin in the rear deck. Further back again, the boot is generously sized at 430 litres and comes with a convenient storage bin for small items.

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The 406 is undoubtedly one of the more attractive vehicles of its size. Its contemporary design features include a high boot lid, flush-fitting doors, a sweeping bonnet and windscreen and a sculpted nose cone. Plus for safe night driving, tricky looking double parabola headlamps are equipped. Aerodynamically, the body has a competent Cd figure of 0.32. Under the skin, it is protected by extensive anti-corrosion strategies - in fact, 75% of all sheet metal is either electro-zinc plated or galvanised. So it's no surprise Peugeot feel confident offering a six year anti-corrosion warranty.

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Pug 406 possesses exemplary safety thanks to its ABS/EBFD braking system, those fancy bright headlights, dual airbags, comprehensive crumple zones and seat belt pre-tensioners. A brief list of some of its other safety features includes adjustable headrests (including the centre one in the rear), extensive interior padding, the use of tube bracing and cross members and a specially developed steering column. A thousand dollars will also put side airbags into the ST.

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If you want power and performance go for the V6 SV, not the four. Instead, in the two litre you get a well-finished, well-packaged, comfortable car with reasonably good economy and a marvellous ride.

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