peugeot 408 review

Overview

What is it?

A good question. It’s a sort of five-door-coupe-hatchback-crossover machine. Crossovers per se are no longer enough it seems; Peugeot thinks there might be a demand for a crossover crossed with something else. And the Peugeot 408 is in the vanguard. Although note it’s not crossed with a van.

In Peugeot land it’s priced between the 308 estate and 3008 crossover. There aren’t hordes of direct rivals. A Kia XCeed is probably closest. If your heart aches for a coupefied crossover such as a BMW X2, Volvo C40 Recharge or Mercedes GLA, the 408 might look like good value.

The 408 is based on the 308, and has the same mechanics and dash. But the wheelbase is longer ­– similar to a 508’s – so legroom in the back is pretty impressive.

At launch it’s available with the 130bhp three-cylinder petrol engine that seems to nose its way onto the price list of every Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall or DS car. Alternatively is the almost equally commonplace plug-in hybrid system, in either 180bhp or 225bhp forms. An eight-speed auto is your like-it-or-lump-it transmission, and despite the crossover body-armour the 408 is FWD only.

An electric version will launch next year, using the same battery and 156bhp motor as the upcoming e-308 hatch and estate. Target range is 260 miles, which, given the battery is just 51kWh, should mean impressive efficiency.

That’s a whole lotta styling.

Certainly is. In a testament to the art of metal-pressing and plastic-moulding, every panel is contorted into maximalism. There are fake grids on the nose and tail, little gouges at the tops of the front wings, oblique folds in the doors, and semi-circular channels between the plastic and metal around the wheel-arches.

The roof has a channel in the rear, with spoilers either side like a fox’s ears. It’s said to cut drag. In fact the whole car drags less than your usual crossover because the body, floor-to-roof, is slim. A bulky diffuser hangs off the back but we’re suspecting that’s more ornament than useful.

Now if the proportions were off ­– too-big overhangs, too-short bonnet, too-small wheels ­– this could have all been a disaster. But that’s not the case, so the 408, to most eyes, carries things off with quite some strut.

Inside, the dash is like the 308’s, itself a pretty angular assembly of screens and switches. As usual for a Peugeot the driver’s screen is above the steering wheel rim, almost like a HUD. The centre touchscreen has its own additional mini-touchbar where you can configure your own shortcuts. Trim is plush.

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Want the new Peugeot 408 First Edition? That’ll be £43,250, please

Anyway, the 408 is meant to sell as a design proposition rather than a utility object, so they piled a more-is-more philosophy into the design enterprise.

So is it practical?

Rear legroom is impressive, and head space is just about OK for the outer two. But only two, really. More on all this in the Interior section of this review. But in the meantime, try to think when you last saw a car with all five seatbelts in use.

Any good out on the road?

The Peugeot PHEV system isn’t the best-integrated. It occasionally drops the ball, hesitating between petrol and electric power if you come on and off the throttle suddenly. But the engine cuts in and out quietly, so you don’t realise how big a proportion of a journey might be made with it switched off.

Anyway, the hybrid-and-battery system adds 300kg so the performance boost over the little pure-petrol engine isn’t that great.

Handling is more than acceptable, once you’ve tuned the way you drive. The steering is sharp but the suspension rolls a bit, perhaps because of the raised body, so at first you can overdo the steering and have the car lolling around. Use smaller, more gradual inputs and it’s actually quite engaging and fluent.

The relatively softly damped body gives a pretty relaxed ride over big bumps too, so you can chill out in the general quietness.

What's the verdict?

“The Peugeot 408 turns out to be a tempting concept. It also drives more engagingly than most crossovers”

In aiming to touch so many bases, Peugeot was in danger of smashing none. But the 408 turns out to be a tempting concept. The rear space is a good step up from the slightly cramped 308 hatch, and the boot has a lot of floor area.

It also drives more engagingly than most crossovers. But the PHEV version struggles to justify itself. Not unless it’s a company-car tax play. Or unless your regular radius from a home charger is little more than 10 miles (in which case do you really need a new car?).

In the end then, it’s down to the looks and image. How much do you want something that isn’t the something you had before, nor the somethings that fill the middle lane? And if so, how much do you want a something that looks like this? As a rule we admire brave design, and at the very least this qualifies.

Driving

What is it like to drive?

As with all Peugeots, first thing is the steering and control concept. You’re presented with a flat-topped steering wheel, and you look at the high-mounted instrument pod above rather than through it. Some of us like this a lot; provided you sit fairly upright and adjust the steering column downward, the dials are in clear view and you don’t have to drop your sightline very far.

If you tend to sit reclined or are shortish and keep the seat base low, your eyes won’t be able to peer over the wheel rim and the dials will be more or less cut off. The whole idea also depends on a small steering wheel, which makes the steering feel direct, because Peugeot hasn’t installed a low-geared steering rack to compensate.

So small movements of the rim give you a rapid turning effect. Because the 408 is relatively soft in roll, it takes on a lean easily. You need to calibrate your movements, and feed in initial lock gently, so the roll angles build gradually. Once into the corner, it’s grippy and keen, and resistant to hog-squealing understeer.

And the ride?

It’s not soft-riding like a Citroen but the springing and damping do let the body breathe, giving it a long-legged and relaxed feeling. Yet there’s enough control on big undulations and dips. Only in really tight bends does the PHEV feel its 1,700kg mass.

The least happy part of this chassis setup is on motorways. Because the steering is light and flighty just off-centre, it takes more effort than it should to hold the centre of your lane accurately. And it’s not that stable in crosswinds.

Performance?

Outright poke is perfectly OK, at least in the 225bhp hybrid, the one we tested. But it’s carrying 300kg more than the 130bhp pure-petrol and experience of these two powertrains in related cars tells us the little donkey would be at a surprisingly small disadvantage in lower-speed acceleration where weight takes a toll. For higher-speed overtaking the hybrid opens out an advantage.

If you don’t mash the throttle the hybrid is a refined powertrain, but it doesn’t like it if you’re on and off the power. Which you will be in a series of interesting bends. Then it sticks in high gears, aiming to use turbo boost and electric assistance. Until you floor it, when it clumsily shifts down two or three ratios.

There are steering wheel paddles to control the transmission’s indecision, but they’re pretty much a waste of plastic. The override lasts only a couple of seconds before it defaults back to auto, so you can’t successfully hold a gear through a sequence of bends.

The brakes are a proper blended system, bringing regeneration when you lightly touch the pedal. It does it without a messy stepping point between electric and frictional retardation. Good.

Interior

What is it like on the inside?

The relationship between seat, wheel and instruments is significant in modern Peugeots, so we’ve talked about it on the driving tab. The dials themselves are pretty clear, but you’re mostly relying on digital readouts; the circular graphics don’t actually give more than a vague hint of how fast speed is rising or falling. On the hybrid, though, the power-regen dial is more useful.

Top-spec 408s have Peugeot’s ‘3D’ cluster, where a second transparent screen is overlaid a couple of centimetres closer to your eyes than the main one, giving a visual depth that clarifies the graphics.

The main centre screen has the usual reconfigurable tiles. But Peugeot also has a screen to control the screen: a shallow wide touchbar where you can add shortcuts to the menus you use most. The system could go further (we want to set one to go direct to the audio settings, but it will only go one level up) but it is undoubtedly helpful for keeping your eyes on the road for longer, as are physical climate and driver-assist keys below that.

Vents are at the top of the angular dash, meaning they aim at your actual face not your elbows. Always helpful.

Peugeot uses expensive-feeling trim materials where it counts – seats, door pulls, the main dash roll – so it feels a smart cabin, and disguises the cheaper slabs of plastic elsewhere. The buttons have a nice clicky action too, including the ones on the steering wheel.

The front seats are well-bolstered and have plenty of adjustments, and a massage in the top versions. The rear bench is shaped for two. The poor fifth adult is squeezed between a raised hump in the middle of the seat and the falling roof-line.

Behind that, the boot has a good floor area but isn’t that deep, at least in the PHEV version. In the base petrol with no fancy hi-fi it’s a big 536 litres; with the hybrid battery and Focal hi-fi it’s an OK 454 litres.

Buying

What should I be paying?

It’s a well-equipped car; go for the mid-spec Allure Premium and you’ll want for little unless you’re fussy. That’s £32,175 for the pure-petrol and a big step up to £39,325 for the 180 hybrid or £40,670 for the 225. Can you justify the hybrid? On BIK, probably – it’s eight per cent versus 32 per cent.

But on driving cost, the saving is marginal. In electric mode you’ll probably get 20 miles off-motorway. Otherwise, assume you’ll use fuel at the rate of 45mpg, plus those 20 electric miles if you charged up.

So if you drive 65 miles, you’ll use a gallon: 45mpg plus 20 electric means 65mpg average. Drive 110 miles and it’s 90 hybrid miles for two gallons, plus the 20 miles battery equals 50mpg average. But the electric miles aren’t free. At 30p per kWh they cost about £3.50. Not vastly different per mile than the petrol. So to make sense of it you need to be a short-distance commuter (20 miles a working weekday equals 4,500 miles a year) who wants to travel in low-CO2 silence.

Servicing is more on the hybrid too. A three-year/30,000 mile service contract is £18 a month for the petrol, and £21.60 for the hybrid.

Warranty is three years and unlimited miles, and it’s eight years/100k miles on the hybrid battery (to 70 per cent capacity).

Keyword: Peugeot 408 review

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