It was way back in 1999 that we first sampled a diesel turbo Peugeot. We drove that 406 sedan on a 1000 kilometre country drive over typical Australian secondary roads and marvelled at its comfort, handling and long legs. Not to mention the stunning real world fuel consumption of 5.9 litres/100 kilometres! (See The Parsimonious Peugeot )
Well, fast forward to 2006 and here’s the 407 diesel, this time in $54,690 wagon ("touring" in Peugeot speak) form with the newly released 6-speed auto transmission. Weighing-in at a hefty 1670kg and with 100kW and 320Nm from its 2.2 litre, 16-valve turbo intercooled powerplant, the 407 is the 406’s direct replacement.
And has the passage of those years allowed Peugeot to create a better car? We don’t think so.
In fact, not only did we gain significantly poorer fuel economy on a very similar drive in the newer car, but we think the interior design of the 407 model has many problems. Let’s show you.
Firstly, the front pillars are so thick and angled so steeply that it’s not just possible to lose whole vehicles behind them, but it’s a near-certainty that if you don’t continually move your head at intersections and the like, one day you’ll have a collision. At one intersection we lost a late model Commodore wagon – a large car – behind the pillar for something like 10 metres, giving the Peugeot driver a real fright when the car appeared. In some situations pedestrians are invisible.
But the visibility is even worse than that. Have a look at this, the sensor for the auto windscreen wipers. This black box is stuck no less than 30cm down the windscreen, obstructing the driver's vision in what could be a potentially dangerous manner.
The 407 uses an LCD screen to show a range of data – from trip computer to climate control to sound system to system warnings. It is simply impossible to operate the car without at times using this display. This is what it looks like normally...
...and this is what it looks like when you’re wearing polarising sunglasses. (This photo was actually taken through a pair of sunglasses with the screen unchanged from the above pic.) There isn’t a driving authority in the world that doesn’t recommend polarising sunglasses when driving in strong sunlight, but forget them if you’re behind the wheel of the 407 – the screen is completely blanked by the polarisation. (Saab – and many other manufacturers - make LCD screens that can easily be read while wearing polarising sunglasses – why can’t Peugeot?)
And while we’re on instruments, we challenge anyone to work out at a glance what the markings on both the oil and coolant temperature gauges actually mean. It’s great that numbers are used on the instruments (much better than just vague ‘H’ and ‘C’ letters) but at any in-between needle position, the result is near impossible to decipher. (No, don’t just skim past: actually look at the pictured gauge and try to work out the increments!)
But then we get to the design errors that amazed us. Things like the passenger side electric window switch (circled) that simply can’t be reached when the seat is in its rearwards position...
...and the lift-up blinds for the backseat windows, blinds which have such a sharp edges along their tops that this was the real world result....
...and then there’s the glovebox: it’s got a big lid but there’s nearly no space at all inside.
And cabin space? Remember when Peugeots were roomy cars? Well, not any more – here’s a child seat where the child is without choice positioned so far forward they can easily kick the back of the front seats. Like, that’s something which certainly doesn’t happen in the big local cars like Commodore, Falcon or 380... all of which are cheaper than the 407. Under the lift-up tailgate there’s a reasonable amount of room – but again a look at competitors (like the Saab 9.3) reveals a more practical use of space.
And then there’s the interior fan control. It’s a rotary knob but the only display of fan speed is on the (unreadable with sunglasses) LCD. Turn the knob and the actual fan speed lags a second or so behind your selection. In use, you’re sure to overshoot and then have to wind it back the other way where again you’ll probably overshoot. That’s time and distraction away from driving. And despite Peugeot installing no less than 35 buttons on the centre of the dash, there’s none for the air con. Instead of just pressing a button to turn off the air con compressor, you need to go into an LCD menu.
Then there’s the ride. Once upon a time Peugeots had amongst the best rides around, a rewarding composure on the broken bitumen that’s so common on Australian secondary roads. But not now. We’d rate the Peugeot as having a below average ride – it’s certainly less poised than the local Commodore, Falcon and 380 – and feels to have a quite short suspension travel. And the handling? Doughy, safe and unresponsive seems to be a good summary: there’s little for the driving enthusiast, unless you want dull understeer that’s held in check by the stability control. A Mitsubishi 380 with the sports suspension rides better and also handles far better... However, it must be said that there’s quite a lot of grip from the 407: it’s just that when the grip lets go there isn’t the expected finesse.
And we’d be prepared to forgive many of these deficiencies if the raison d’etre of a diesel passenger car in Australia – fuel economy - was brilliantly done. But this is a car with inferior fuel economy to its predecessor, and clearly inferior fuel economy to the hybrid Prius. (And yes, in the cabin at least, the Prius feels roomier than the 407.) The Prius that we drove across Australia (and remember long distance country touring is worst economy situation for a hybrid) achieved 5.5 litres/100 km. This 407 HDi Touring turned in a long distance country road fuel economy figure of 6.6 litres/100. It sounds good until you compare it with the seven year old diesel 406, or with the 17 per cent better Prius economy. (The only qualification is that the engine in the 407 was low in kilometres – but you’d certainly want a big improvement through loosening-up, wouldn’t you?) Significantly, Peugeot themselves list the city fuel economy as 10.1 litres/100km – poor indeed for a diesel.
The 407 HDi certainly has some good points: we like the steering, aerodynamic stability, standard tyre pressure sensors, the auto headlights, the excellent crash testing results, and the matching of the engine and 6-speed auto trans. (In fact, in a 200kg lighter car we think the engine and trans would sparkle.) The huge glass panel fitted in the roof (complete with an electric blind) is also fun. Considering the level of standard features, the 407 is also quite good value for money.
But the ride and handling are simply nothing special, the interior has some glaring – and safety-serious – design problems, the packaging practicality is apparently subjugated to the glories of having a radical windscreen angle and an avant-garde exterior, and the diesel simply doesn’t do what it’s meant to do – give outstanding fuel consumption.
And with strong diesel passenger car competitors now becoming numerous, that’s a major list of shortcomings.