Peugeot 407 HDI 136 2004 Road Test

Sat, 15 May 2004

Peugeot is very keen to impress on the press that the 407 is a working car. 70% of 407s will sell to fleets. 75% will be diesels. The company knows a 407 can never meet aspirations fulfilled by a 3 Series or a C Class. It’s a business tool, up against Mondeos, Lagunas and Vectras.

And cars as business tools stand or fall on what they can offer the 40,000 mile a year man.

That’s worth thinking about for a moment. At an average speed of say 50mph, 40,000 miles means 800 hours behind the wheel, which is more than thirty-three 24 hour days and almost a tenth of a whole year. So a business car has to do a lot more than simply convey its driver from place to place. It also has to be his communications centre from which he can do deals, arrange appointments and, on Britain’s crowded roads, phone ahead to apologise he’s going to be late.

Since, quite rightly, we’re not allowed to touch our phones in the car any more, Peugeot has turned its new business car into one.

Whether you go for the small black and white screen satnav, or the full colour screen version, what you get with it is an integrated phone. Slip a SIM card into the dash, programme the system and its voice activation allows you to take or make calls on the move, or even have your text messages read out aloud to you by a synthesised voice (when The News of the World isn’t listening). And that makes a huge difference to what would otherwise be down-time wasted in the car.

So now we’ve covered how you can use the car as your phone, and mentioned the satnav system to make sure you find your way to the next meeting, what’s the car like to drive?

A bit special. The one I took out was a 136PS twin-cam 16v common rail diesel with 251lb ft torque on ‘overboost’ and a six speed manual gearbox. All this is very well matched with a nice spread of torque, a gear for every eventuality and a restful 33.3mph per 1,000 rpm in sixth. In fact all the gears are so long that you are very likely to find yourself following the Institute of Advanced Driver’s advice to drive in 3rd gear in a 30 limit.

The steering is nothing short of sensational. It was designed by a young French chassis engineer by the name of Gaitan and you can instantly tell he likes driving. There are no cost compromises in the front suspension. It has double wishbones like the best. But the forces are fed into strut type towers to get the best of both wishbones and struts. So it’s not only grippy and accurate, it doesn’t get upset by bumps, undulations or pot-holes half the way round a corner.

The rear suspension is basically uprated 406 and fully independent too. So while the front end grips tenaciously, the rear doesn’t suddenly snap out of line like Peugeots of the past. And on top of all of this the ride is smooth and compliant, in the front seats at least.

The seats are comfortable. No aches or pains after 200 miles of twisting and turning on a route designed to show up deficiencies rather than flatter the chassis. The wipers clap hands, so no more complaints of right-hand drive blind-spots. When you switch on the lights, little red LEDs follow the needles round the rims of the dials. And when you park up the electric mirrors automatically fold up, so they’re still there when you return to the car.

You can buy a 407 as a four-door saloon or, for £1,100 extra, as a sporty-looking ‘lifestyle’ station wagon appropriately called the SW. The wagon has a useful opening rear window that actually flips up high and wide, making it very practical for dropping things into the load bay. And, for extra long loads, the front passenger seat backrest folds flat. However, unlike the 307, there is no way it can be made to seat 7. Peugeot has left that job to the smaller, more practical 307 SW and its 807 MPV.

The 407 has an awful lot of front, protruding way ahead of the transverse engine and radiator. The reason for this is Euro NCAP. It provides an easily repaired crushbox, so minor collisions don’t mean removing the engine to fix the damage. But increasingly important to NCAP, the front is also designed to be ‘pedestrian friendly’ so anyone fortunate enough to be hit by a 407 should have a happy landing on its soft bonnet. These measures are expected to land the car with five stars for crash and three for pedestrian safety.

So what’s wrong? Well, the back seat is definitely nothing like as comfortable as the front. There isn’t much legroom behind a very tall driver. The piggy in the middle centre rear seat is raised, so is really for children rather than adults. Yet the combination of huge front head restraints and a massive rear view mirror frame severely restrict forward vision for anyone in the back. Tyre roar, which you can’t hear from the front seats, is also very evident.

However, the 40,000 a year man, or even the 20,000 a year man is not likely to notice that. He will be very happy driving a comfortable, sporty, responsive and economical car with a satnav system guiding him to his next appointment and a communications system he can use to keep permanently in touch.

And that’s what’s going to earn him his bonuses and promotions. Not a propeller or a three-pointed star.

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