Peugeot 408

peugeot 408 01 front tracking
Peugeot follows Citroen in creating a super-stylish SUV-estate hybrid, but is there much substance here?

Before we get under the skin of this all-new Peugeot 408, let’s take a look at the numbers, specifically the ones on the nose and tailgate.Follow the French company’s normal naming policy and the newcomer should be a mid-sized saloon that logically follows in the wheel tracks of the 405, 406 and 407. But the heir to those models is the current Peugeot 508. What’s more, the 408 is actually a crossover, complete with subtly raised ride height and some tough-looking body cladding, so it should be a double-0.No, not a spy with a licence to kill, impeccable dress sense and a penchant for very particularly prepared cocktails but a Peugeot SUV. By rights, the 408 should be named the 4008, slotting in between the 3008 and 5008 and, in numerical terms, serve as a successor to the old Mitsubishi-based 4007. But that was a utilitarian seven-seat off-roader, while this car is a sleek coupé-inspired thing that Peugeot actually calls a fastback.Just to muddy the waters further, a 408 saloon already exists, having been available in Asian and South American countries since 2010. This car will continue to be sold in those markets alongside the new one, which will be called the 408 X to avoid confusion, even though it is all, well, a little confusing.So what exactly is the 408? In essence, it’s effectively Peugeot’s version of the Citroën C5 X, a car that aims to combine coupé looks with plenty of practicality and a smattering of SUV style. Not only do they share a similar fastback profile (I’m pretty sure we used to call this type of design a hatchback), it’s underpinned by the same EMP2 V3 architecture and offers an almost identical line-up of powertrains, including the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (PHEV) tested here and a forthcoming all-electric version.That said, while the two are closely related, there’s no doubt that Peugeot’s stylists have done a fine job of giving the 408 distinctive visual appeal. Bold surfacing, particularly the sculpted rear wheel arches and bold LED lighting signatures, help the 408 stand out, while it being a little shorter than the C5 X gives it a tauter and more muscular stance. Neat details include the retro-inspired script for the badging and the eye-catching asymmetric design used on the optional 20in alloy wheels. Even quirkier are the ‘cat’s ears’ at the top of each C-pillar, which are said to improve airflow as well as hide the extra metal needed to balance head room against the desired coupé aesthetic.Clamber aboard and the 408 provides further proof of Peugeot’s push to be a premium player, with plenty of soft-touch materials and the firm’s now trademark angular dashboard architecture that includes its i-Cockpit layout. As ever, i-Cockpit remains a bone of contention, with many drivers finding that the top of the small steering wheel impedes their view of the instrument cluster, which is a shame, because the 3D-effect display looks pretty cool.More successful is the new 10.0in infotainment touchscreen, which has already been seen on the Peugeot 308. Not only does it look slick and respond fairly crisply to your inputs, but also its strip of large touch-sensitive hot keys for the various menus make it simpler than most to use while you’re driving.The 408 is impressively roomy. Like the C5 X, it has a 2790mm wheelbase, which means there’s plenty of head and leg room for six-footers to stretch out in the back. There’s a cavernous boot as well, with up 536 litres of carrying capacity (or 471 litres in the PHEV), a wide-opening rear hatch and a 60:40-split folding rear bench.So the 408 is stylish and sensible, but what is it like to steer? The truth is that it drives in a very similar manner to all the other Stellantis cars underpinned by the EMP2 platform.For starters, the tried and tested 222bhp PHEV powertrain continues to be a mixed bag. In electric-only mode (the 12.4kWh battery gives a claimed range of 40 miles, which means an 8% company car tax rating on all models but the First Edition, which is rated at 39 miles and thus 12%), the 408 is a hushed and relaxing partner, the 79bhp electric motor delivering just enough urge to keep up with the flow of traffic. When the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine chimes in, it does so fairly unobtrusively, while the eight-speed automatic slurs gears smoothly enough for easy-going progress.And while there’s some firmness from the suspension at low speed, once you get going the 408 assumes a supple and fluid gait, certainly over the well-surfaced roads of our Spanish test route – although on the odd section of broken and scarred Tarmac, it revealed hints of stiff-legged secondary ride.Push on a little and the engine and gearbox also struggle. With a 1706kg kerb weight, this PHEV never feels as quick as its combined 222bhp output (there’s also a 178bhp PHEV) would suggest, plus the engine sounds strained when extended. It’s not helped by that auto, which still lacks the crisp and quick shifts of a good dual-clutch unit and is positively tardy when you try to use the column-mounted paddles. Plus, there’s the occasionally jerky transition between electric and petrol propulsion.All of which made it hard to get into the flow on the tighter and twister sections of our route, where the powertrain was often caught napping. On faster and more flowing roads, however, the 408 was able to demonstrate much of the fluency found in models such as the Peugeot 508 PSE and the latest 308 – cars that prove Peugeot’s chassis engineers still know their stuff.On such roads, you will discover steering that’s accurate and well weighted, decent turn-in bite (especially on the optional 20in rims, which are shod with wider, 245-section Goodyear rubber) and damping that strikes a decent balance between control and comfort. The 408 also sticks pretty resolutely to your chosen line, pushing into gentle understeer only when severely provoked.Even so, this isn’t a car that you will drive when you’re in need of spiritual uplift (our gut instinct is that the 1392kg, 128bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol will be a sweeter and more engaging partner), even if there’s enough agility and accuracy to mean you don’t always have to rule out the long way home.Either way, for most people most of the time, it will be a comfortable, hassle-free and stylish companion. It’s also remarkably spacious, well equipped and well built – plus we have to give thanks that it’s not just another SUV. Whether it’s worth more than £2000 over an equivalent C5 X is up for debate, but there’s no denying that for fleet users, this Peugeot’s numbers do add up – even if the ones on its bootlid don’t quite.
Source: Autocar

Leave a Reply