In Europe people aren’t talking about the ride and handling of this successor to the venerable 406. Nor are they discussing the merits of the thrifty-running engines and dynamically-engineered chassis.
No, it’s the extraordinary styling that’s the centre of conversation and debate. In France , locals are still fascinated by the shape and in Britain several weeks after he car’s launch, people are keen to talk about the design.
The 407 polarises opinion, and whether that will benefit the model long-term remains to be seen.
There are some remarkably handsome aspects to both the front and rear styling yet, to me, it looks as though two committees have designed the Peugeot – one attending to the front, the other shaping the rear end.
The jury is still out on whether the two ends come together in unison.
I’m not at all sure about the car’s overall look. Yet, from initial quizzing of interested parties (and there are plenty of them), I seem to be in the minority.
More people seem impressed enough to applaud Peugeot for its styling boldness. But will they be enthusiastic enough to buy the model in big numbers rather than merely talking about the car?
My initial impressions of driving a left-hand drive 2.0-litre HDi diesel were mixed. There’s heaps of refinement, keen handling and a more than half-decent ride, which is expected in a Peugeot.
But that high-waisted body, a vast and steeply sloping windscreen and bonnet that disappear into oblivion make visibility a real problem.
It’s not so much the 4763mm overall length that’s a bother (though the driver can’t see the car’s shortish tail) but the generous 1811mm width and the fact that in many urban situations you almost feel as though you are driving blind.
The 407 feels big and fat – which it is – and though you may be able to organise the ideal seating position up front, rear seat accommodation seems lacking for the class.
Things also feel somewhat claustrophobic in the back with narrowing side windows reminiscent of the smaller 206.
The 406 was, of course, a conservatively styled, highly competent car but the world moves on and today’s 407 cruiser is a generation apart.
Based on PSA Peugeot Citroen’s platform three for middle and upper segment vehicles, the 407 makes a bold statement in a market sector when anonymity is often desired.
The dashboard is imaginative and controls are light to the touch. But the quality of the interior materials and general finish of the early build example I experienced left no doubt that this is not a luxury car.
Both the 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels have air/air intercoolers and a new generation common rail system.
The bigger turbo diesel, which produces a strong 101kW at 4200rpm and peak torque at a low 2000 revs, provides excellent performance.
Matched to a slick six-speed manual gearbox, it makes the 407 a relaxed and responsive, low revving open road cruiser that has little difficulty replicating the highway fuel figure of 5.0 litres/100km (56.5mpg).
An impressive top speed of 203km/h compares with 216km/h for the manual 2.2 petrol and 225km/h for the V6 auto.
Significantly, the diesel’s brisk 80km/h to 120km/h fifth gear time of 11.8 seconds outshines all but the petrol V6.
Alas, New Zealand isn’t getting the diesel manual, with the HDi coming here only aligned to the four-stage Tiptronic automatic.
Even though the 81kW, 1.6 diesel makes do with a five-speed manual, it’s even more thrifty than the 2.0-litre, posting an impressive extra urban figure of 4.7 litres/100km (60.1mpg).
By comparison, the manual 118kW, 2.2-litre petrol 407 returns 7.0 litres/100km (40.3mpg) and the entry-level 1.8-litre petrol achieves 6.2 litres/100km (45.5mpg).
When the 156 kW, 3.0-litre V6 version arrives it will have a new six-speed Japanese Aisin AM6 automatic, a world first for a high torque front-driven car.
With its double wishbone front suspension and multi-arm rear set-up and dampers inclined and linked backwards to optimise boot area width, the 407 feels very good. Only the most indifferent surfaces produce a slightly sharpish ride.
Exclusive to the V6 is a variable electronic suspension and four independently and electronically-controlled dampers with nine individual settings. It also has vehicle speed variable power steering.
Despite a humidity sensor to detect condensation in the passenger compartment, the automatic air conditioner in the evaluation car still seemed reluctant to keep the windows clear.
An externally-controlled air-conditioning compressor reduces the car’s average fuel consumption, and a gentle diffusion system expels air discreetly through a grille at the top of the instrument panel.
Single blade butterfly arm windscreen wipers, each with its own motor, operate Mercedes-style.
Optional xenon headlights incorporate automatic height correction and a wash function. Generally, the 407 is well-equipped: all models have front foglights.
Included in the safely equipment is an optional steering column airbag to protect lower limbs.
Given the high level of standard specifications, the 407’s starting price of $47,990 in New Zealand is certainly keen.
Will the 407 top the sales achievement of the 406, never mind the 405?
It’s a moot point, especially given the French motor industry’s less than impressive sales record for larger cars.
70 years of 4-series
Peugeot’s 4-series models celebrate its 70th birthday with the 407, the sixth in a line of cars that began with the 401 Eclipse in 1934 – the first car with an electrically retractable metal roof.
That was an idea that was used many years later by Ford and Mercedes before Peugeot returned to it at the end of the 1990s with the 206 cc and then the 307 cc convertibles.
The 402 arrived in 1935, and 20 years later came the popular 403 which bettered a production run of 1.2 million units – the first Peugeot to exceed the million mark.
Pininfarina styled the 403 which was the first Peugeot designed by an outside company.
But the biggest-selling 4 series to date has been the 404 which was unveiled in 1960 and was the only model in the series to be assembled in New Zealand . It was in production for 20 years.
For many Kiwis, the rugged Pininfarina-styled 404 was the model that put Peugeot on the map, and world production reached 2.885 million.
The award-winning 405 of 1987 was the first front-wheel drive 4. Peugeot made 2.821 million during its eight-year model life.
Total production of the 406, which launched in 1995 and ran almost a year longer than its predecessor, was 1.638 million.
Article by Donn Anderson