2009 Peugeot 407 ST HDi Sedan Road Test Review
FRENCH MANUFACTURERS have never been strangers to unique and unusual automobiles. Their reputations have been built on individual cars that, for the most part, put function ahead of conventional form and appeal most to drivers who appreciate their uniqueness.
Peugeot’s 407 mid-size sedan has been with us since 2004, and while familiar to most Australian motorists, remains somewhat uncommon on our roads.
Like many a French car before it, the 407 challenges what we know and trust about conventional car design.
Is the 407 another classic French design that will surprise and delight those who prefer their motoring with a point of difference? Or is this unusually styled sedan just an unhappy collision of Gallic style and function.
The lines of the 407 could never be described as conventional.
Viewed in profile, the 407’s body is a mixture of shapes and lines that challenge conventional styling norms.
The nose is huge and front overhang immense, but it’s not balanced at the rear of the car. The A-pillars and windscreen are raked back steeply, however the B and C-pillars are quite upright.
Its large, chrome-latticed front grille, huge 'whale-shark' mouth and pulled-back headlamps give a curious 'animate' look to the front which divides opinion. (In a world of imitation and imitators, few other manufacturers - outside of France - have been so daring in breaking styling norms as Peugeot.)
It’s a shape that appeals to some, and a statement of high Gallic-fashion, but doesn't quite work in my opinion. It certainly isn’t beautiful in a regular sense, but its individuality will endear it to those wanting something “a little different”.
At the very least, its lines ensure you can never lose a Peugeot 407 in a carpark.
The little sprinkles of chrome on the rubbing strips and on the grille are a refined touch, and the rectangular foglight housings are nicely integrated into the front bumper.
The 17-inch alloy wheels fitted to our ST model look a little undersized within the 407’s wheelwells, but the 18-inch alloys of the range-topping SV would arguably fill the guards better. The entry-level 407 SR makes do with 16-inch alloys.
In stark contrast to the 407’s exterior, the interior is for the most part conventional and more broadly appealing.
A well-finished black plastic dash is offset by tan upholstery and carpet, with the tan headlining giving the cabin a light, airy feel.
The dark red woodgrain accents are fake (and not very good fakes, at that), but, these aside, the 407’s interior definitely possesses a premium feel.
Our test car was equipped with the optional leather package, which brings heated and power-adjustable front seats.
The front seats are comfortable (if a little short in the squab), but the rear bench is cramped for legroom and can't accommodate three adults on anything more than a short trip – a side effect of the 407’s strange external proportions.
It doesn’t end with the rear seat either – there are many other aspects of the 407’s interior design that are compromised.
Take the glovebox, for instance. Although the lid is large the actual usable space within is tiny, the rest taken up by air-conditioning hardware and the car’s fuse and relay box.
The driver’s footwell, too, is rather cramped - no doubt a side effect of having the front wheels located so far rearward – and the shallow windscreen means the A-pillars block a good chunk of the driver’s forward vision.
The parking brake is mounted on the very left of the centre console, and using it often results in uncomfortable brushes with your front passenger’s thigh.
The speedometer is numbered in odd increments (50km/h, 70km/h, etc), but the instruments are clear and legible under most conditions.
Remote controls for the stereo and cruise control are standard, but are irritatingly mounted behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel rather than on it.
Rear seat passengers benefit from their own air-conditioning outlets, a 12-volt power outlet and retractable sun screens for the rear side glass and rear windscreen. A generously sized fold-down centre armrest also contains two cup holders and provides access to the boot via a ski flap.
The rear seats feature a 60/40 split and fold down to increase boot space. With the rear seats up, the 407’s smallish boot can accommodate up to 407 litres of luggage.
Equipment and Features
As the mid-spec model in the 407 range, the ST comes generously equipped in standard showroom form.
Electric windows, heated and electrically folding wing mirrors, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and tinted glass are standard for the ST, along with cruise control, dual-zone climate control and an air-conditioned glovebox.
A trip computer is factory-issue, but satellite navigation is a cost option on the ST and SV and unavailable on the base SR.
Auto-on wipers are standard but seem to get easily confused during dawn and dusk, occasionally activating themselves when the sun is low in the sky.
Front and rear parking sensors are provided on the SV and ST, and are handy given the 407’s limited rear visibility.
Sound is taken care of by a single-disc AM/FM CD tuner in the ST and SR, while the SV gets a more sophisticated JBL premium sound system with a six-disc CD changer and auxillary audio input.
Active safety equipment consists of traction control, stability control, ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution with brake assist.
A full suite of eight airbags (dual front airbags, side airbags for the front and rear seats, and full-length curtain airbags), active front headrests and three-point seatbelts take care of passive safety.
The 407 ST is powered by Peugeot’s 16-valve 2.0 litre turbodiesel inline four, which is shared with the 407 SR. Equipped with a variable geometry turbocharger, common-rail direct injection and an intercooler, the 2.0 HDi engine produces 100kW of power and a handy 320Nm of torque, the latter of which is available from as low as 2000rpm.
A diesel particulate filter cuts down on exhaust soot, and the 2.0 HDi emits 189 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
Average fuel economy is a claimed 7.1 l/100km on the combined cycle, and we managed to use just 0.1 l/100km more during our time with the car.
Peugeot gave the 407 HDi a major mechanical update in 2006, replacing the archaic four-speed auto with a new six-speed automatic. The new gearbox is available alongside a six-speed manual (in ST grade only), and features a sport mode and tiptronic shifter.
As with nearly all modern Peugeots (the just-released 4007 is the notable exception), power is taken to the front wheels.
The Peugeot 407 features a relatively sophisticated suspension setup, forgoing the popular MacPherson strut in favour of double wishbones up front.
The rear uses a multi-link independent layout, and the 407’s suspension package enables it to maximize grip without compromising ride comfort.
Braking hardware consists of discs all around, each gripped by sliding calipers.
The driving experience starts the moment you drop into the driver’s seat. In the 407’s case, it doesn't get off to the best of starts.
While the seat itself is good, its position in the cabin puts it either too close to the pedals or too far away from the steering wheel.
While the steering wheel does adjust for reach and rake, its range of movement isn't enough to make the driving position truly comfortable. Long-legged drivers will find it particularly hard to adapt to the 407’s cockpit.
Thankfully, the 407 ST’s 2.0 litre turbodiesel engine is an efficient unit that adds positively to the driving experience and has no problem hauling the 1732kg 407 around town.
With all 320Nm of torque available from 2000rpm, the 407 ST is not lacking in grunt. Like most diesels, its job is done early in the piece and it runs out of puff as the tacho needle swings past 3500rpm.
The six-speed automatic tends to keep the engine in the bottom of its powerband for much of the time, which is great for fuel economy but not so good for throttle response.
There’s a delay between mashing the throttle and the power actually finding its way to the front wheels, but a sports shift mode holds onto ratios for longer and results in slightly improved performance.
Suspension control is impressive with the softly-damped long-travel suspension soaking up all but the worst of Melbourne's patchy back streets. It is on the highway though where the 407 comes into its own.
Here, on a long country run, its long legs, ample low down torque, superb supple ride and quiet refinement make it an ideal companion for the inter-city across-state dash.
Like all French cars, when pressed hard into a corner there is some body roll. And occasionally a transverse bump encountered on a sweeping corner will unsettle it, but for the most part, the 407 has tenacious grip.
It simply does things differently, and the way the suspension keeps the wheels to the contours of the road takes a little adjusting to if you have just stepped from another car. But for both driver and passengers, the 407 is a smooth and unruffled cruiser.
On the downside, the electro-hydraulic steering is lacking in feel and isolates the driver from the front wheels. The 407’s turning circle is also rather wide, and the car’s bulbous nose makes parking maneuvers harder than they should be.
On the upside however, torque steer is well controlled thanks in part to the sophisticated double-wishbone suspension geometry.
Freeways are perhaps the 407’s preferred environment. There’s a small amount of wind noise from the wing mirrors, but for noise supression and refinement, the 407’s cabin is good for long-distance cruising – as long as you can find a comfortable driving position.
Rearward visibility is okay, but those long A-pillars limit forward-vision when rounding corners.
The Peugeot 407 ST will surprise many. Equally certain is that it is not everyone's cup of tea. While it is a competent and relatively swift performer, its lines will be the deal-breaker for some.
In this market, the fact that it doesn't look like it was carved from the same well-worn block will be both a plus and a minus in the showroom.
But buyers who appreciate the unique styling and intrinsic 'Frenchness' of the 407, will also need to decide if they can live with its downsides.
Perhaps the biggest fly in the Peugeot 407’s ointment is the Skoda Superb TDI, which features more interior space, flawless ergonomics, top-shelf build quality and - arguably - a superior drive experience, all for $200 less than the Peugeot.
Of course, the average 407 buyer will consider the Superb to be far too sensible, and that is the 407's intrinsic appeal. They will look beyond its shortcomings, and see a car that is more than mere transport.
For those looking for a long-legged tourer, the 407 can more than hold its own. Its real point of difference though, is the simple fact that it's different. Few cars make the bold statement of the 407.