Road test rewind: Peugeot 407

This week we rewind the clock back to 2004, when Peugeot’s latest saloon was turning heads for all the right reasons:

Back in 1995, the Peugeot 406 was voted European Car of the Year. Good looks, fine handling and excellent space made it a worthy winner. And it was far from a dry year: the Peugeot saw off challenges from such distinguished competition as the E39-generation BMW 5 Series – often touted as the finest executive car ever made.

Now, we have an all-new Peugeot saloon, one whose dramatic looks hide a chassis that – according to its maker’s bold claims – will return Peugeot to dominance in the family saloon market.

In a class where anonymity is the norm, Peugeot’s in-house design team deserves credit for thinking outside the three-box in creating the 407. The styling takes time to get used to, but drive a 407 around town and you’ll get the sort of reaction that Mondeo man will never experience: people really do point, stare, question and compliment.

To cut weight, Peugeot engineers have employed aluminium for the roof and bonnet, and aluminium alloy subframes support double wishbones at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear. But at 1505kg, the car is among the heaviest in class.

It hits 60mph in 9.6sec, 0.2sec behind the Mondeo TDCi 128, and 100mph in 29.0sec, 3.0sec slower than the Ford. With 33.3mph per 1000rpm in sixth, you’ll need fifth gear for overtaking, the pay-off being near-silent running at 70mph.

If going around corners quickly is your priority, the 407 is peerless. The petrol version pulled over 1.0g around Brands Hatch in our search for Britain’s best driver’s car – a respectable figure for a sports car 10 years ago.

Body control is awesome, with no pitch or dive over speed humps, and the absence of body roll when attacking corners gives the car a real sense of agility.

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But we were perhaps guilty of getting a little too carried away by the looks and handling, because they also created significant compromises. The 407’s thrusting low-drag shape resulted in a small boot and even worse rear-passenger space, and the ride was pretty terrible away from the billiard-table- smooth Brands blacktop. Inevitably, against the wider talents of the Ford Mondeo and Honda Accord, it struggled. But still, 1.0g!