The Peugeot 408 is blessed with eye-catching looks and respectable dynamics

Tired of seeing ‘samey’ Sport Utility Vehicles on the school or work run and crave something that little bit different? Different to the point that it will convince you to make the step away from hatchback ownership? If so, then perhaps the fastback-styled 408 from Peugeot is the car that ticks both boxes?  

The 408 melds the core aspects of a crossover – raised ride height, protective armoury, and a loftier driving position – with the svelte lines of a coupe and the typical cues of a family hatchback, chiefly room for five and a boot flexible enough to lug their belongings around.   

Best thought of as a halfway house without compromise – or in the words of Peugeot’s UK Managing Director, “a car that combines heart and head” – there’s three models to choose from: ‘Allure’, ’Allure Premium’ and ‘GT’.   

The 408’s engine portfolio consists of one turbo petrol (1.2-litre, 128bhp) and two hybrid powertrains that use a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol paired to the same electric motor for either 178bhp or 222bhp.   

Power is sent to the front axle via a silky self-shifting 8-speed automatic that can be overridden via two small flappy paddles behind the steering wheel. The latter – as tested here – guarantees strong economy (52mpg) and real punch, sprinting from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds and hitting a top speed of 145mph.   

In terms of EV range, the 12.4kWh battery guarantees 40-miles from a full charge that takes three hours 25 minutes using a 7.4kW wallbox or one hour 40 minutes if the optional 7.4kWh onboard charger is fitted.   

A ‘CONQUEST MODEL’

Based on the EMP2 V3 platform, the 408 is arguably the most striking car in the French manufacturers’ portfolio right now – and that is not by chance. Peugeot describes this as, among other things, a “catalyst product”, and a “conquest model”. Or in layman’s terms, a car that gives the brand greater presence and desirability in an increasingly crowded marketplace.   

We drove the bells and whistles ‘GT’ trim as this is expected to be the big-seller with private and fleet buyers, especially the plug-in hybrid. At the front is the latest Peugeot ‘shield’ badge that sits within a grille that has no fewer than 130 individually coloured accents, deep reaching ‘fang’ DRLs, and LED headlights that are upgraded to slimmer, sleeker Matrix versions on our car.   

Side-on, the 408’s ground clearance is more apparent, as are the “disruptive lines”, muscular rear haunches, sloping roofline, and wafer-thin boot spoiler. Things not to like? This is personal, of course, but we think there is too much plastic cladding at the rear which is a shame as this overshadows the excellent on-all-the-time ‘three claw’ LED tail-lights.   

On the whole, though, this is a smart package and one accentuated by larger 19-inch ‘Monolithe’ wheels and six body colours that includes ‘Obsession Blue’ – a hue that changes colour depending on how the light shines on it.   

TECH HEAVY CABIN

Few mainstream car manufacturers design – and build – interiors as attractive or intuitive as Peugeot. In the 408, the unquestionable star of the show is the 10-inch touchscreen. Ultra-bright, brimming with colour, and quick to process commands, the system is a joy to use.  

Both it and the ledge of six ‘i-Toggles’ shortcuts are fully tailorable, so the functions commonly used by a driver can be grouped together for ease of use. A volume knob for the stereo and physical press switches for heating and ventilation functions can be found directly beneath this, ensuring a straightforward experience day-in, day-out.   

Up-dates have been applied to the 3D ‘i-Cockpit’ digital driver display, although the complaint common to other Peugeot cars applies here, namely not every driving position will ensure an unobstructed view of information without needing a second – or even third – look.  

Standard equipment across the board is strong but particularly so in ‘GT’ guise as it carries heated Alcantara and leather-trimmed front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, ‘Adamite’ green contrast stitching for the dash, door cards and centre arm rest, a frameless rear-view mirror and a power-operated boot that can be activated by dangling a foot below the back bumper. A massage function is an £1,100 extra, meanwhile.  

HYBRID IS BEST

Having driven the pure petrol and petrol-electric 408 back-to-back at the UK launch in Oxfordshire, it will come as no surprise to learn the PHEV is a more attractive proposition, both from an enjoyment and cost of ownership perspective.   

The 1.2-litre turbocharged engine is strong but lacks the finesse of the more complicated set-up which benefits greatly from the extra shove divvied up by the e-motor. However, even the 1,600cc unit turns coarse under hard acceleration and when the system switches from ‘EV’ to ‘Hybrid’, you are alerted to this by a muffled groan from underneath the bonnet.   

Other than that, moving from one or the other is seamless and barely noticeable and the ‘EAT8’ automatic gearbox is superb, too. The good news continues on the dynamics front as the 408 is lithe enough to thread down a country road with confidence.   

Quick and light steering helps but does take some getting used to. Even on the biggest wheelset the damping is excellent and is a match for the comfort orientated C5 X from Citroen with which the 408 shares many of its components.  

The only blot in the 408’s copy book is how it handles itself through town as pedestrian speeds give rise to occasional thuds and jitters.   

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