Behind The Mirror Lurk The Blajini

Recently the opportunity arose to take a closer squint at a 2.2. litre Peugeot 406. What did I find?

2002 Peugeot 406 2.2

The base model of the 406 is already a pretty splendid car. I drive a 1.8 engined-version regularly and there is very little to criticise and a lot that is so eminently right: the delightful steering, the smooth ride and agile handling. On top of that it has superb seating front and back and a huge and useful boot. How does the 2.2 edition differ?

Alas, I can only provide a visual guide as I did not get to drive it. The owner who previously had a Citroen BX and a Renault 25 is more than satisfied with the performance though misses the rear legroom of the R25. Period reports noted that the 1.8 had slimmer tyres, a lighter engine unit and was supposed to be the most pleasant to conduct. Higher spec-versions had a slightly different suspension set-up (passive rear steer, I believe), a different steering system and, of course, heavier engines. That made it better in some ways but also a little less sensitive and indeed less sensuous to conduct.

2002 Peugeot 406 door skin

The 2.2 model shown here corresponds the the SRi model sold in the UK. The car here has no giveaway badges (most Danish market Peugeots were unmarked apart from the mysterious sporty TS4 model and even then that was a decal on the front wing, nothing more).

Peugeot endowed the 406 with a broad range of engines so if the 2.2 (as used in the 607) was not for you, there were plenty of others: “1.8, 2.0. 2.2 and 3.0 V6, while from May a 2.0-litre direct injection engine will join the range. Diesel lovers are also well catered for with 90bhp or 110bhp 2.0-litre HDi engines, and a new 2.2HDi joining the range from the larger 607.

Sitting in the car, you see that the SRi driver gets an arm-rest and the passenger gets one of their own. That’s a pleasing touch. The upholstery is hide and while I am not very fond of leather, in this car it adds a rather ministerial atmosphere. The rear seats, with the centre arm-rest down, can only be called very comfortable indeed. In Martin Buckley mode, one can easily imagine being ferried from the Elysee to somewhere elegant and refined for a glass of Lillet and a very long lunch. Yes, it’s a cliché of French imagery but allow me my romantic visions, please.

The hide is applied also to the door skins and lifts them rather, in comparison to the base model’s textile – though that’s not at all bad.

2002 Peugeot 406 rear seats

The stitching pattern gives the seating a luxurious and nicely old-school appeal. At some point in the last 20 years seat patterns went square and the profiles went flat. I seldom see a seat at any price as good-looking and comfortable-looking as this, with the exception of Volvo who still bother about their passengers.

Clambering back to the front again, we find the one possible annoyance to be found when you get more 406: the panel for the HVAC controls reveals a mass of buttons where rotary dials should be sited. It’s a bit of an invidious choice: to stay lower down the spec levels and get safe and effective dials or to look for more engine power and hide and get ergonomically dubious controls like this in the package.

2002 Peugeot 406 centre console

It is all properly assembled, yes, but those buttons are obviously a lot less easy to use than three dials. Repeat the mantra: to defrost turn all three dials anti-clockwise. You can do it with your eyes closed. One small mercy is that the radio volume control is still a rotary dial.

Fans of fake wood will be pleased with this:

2002 Peugeot 406 interior trim

And those who hate it won’t. I wonder how much it would have cost per car to use real wood and would it not have been a rather distinguishing feature, worth every euro?

I had a look around for information on the 2.2 petrol and only a review of the 2.2 litre 406 turned up. This site considered the 2.2 adequate, with a nought to sixty of 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 130 miles per hour. This seems to me to be a little more than adequate even if not near what is considered high performance today.

That said, even if one can get a car with a 0-60 of, say, 7 seconds, the world is not any more accommodating of such performance than in 2002 and so I consider under ten seconds to be more than okay for normal use. I don’t imagine anything a lot faster will be so comfortable or affordable. How does 32 mpg sound?

The main question outstanding is what the 2.2 petrol version of this car, with leather and air-con meant for the larger 2.2 litre 607 which cost a fair bit more. One does get more space in the 607 yet I don’t consider it better to look at nor could it be more wieldy than the 406 which hits the sweet spot for its balance of interior space, exterior size and overall utility.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “Behind The Mirror Lurk The Blajini”

  1. 0-60 (or 0-100, as we SI disciples day) is completely irrelevant for daily driving. (So is top speed, usually, unless you go crazy on German Autobahns.) Have you ever accelerated from standstill to highway speed in one stretch while staying in the two or three lowest gears? Much more important are accelerations in fourth or fifth gear from 60 to 100 or from 80 to 120. I guess here the 2.2 litre does much better than the usual 1.8, provided they didn’t make the gears much longer.

    1. Agreed: that stat is also buried in reviews. Finding such details involves trawling through eBay for 250-word “newcomer” articles. Or I could get a brochure, of course.
      I guess the 2.2 has pretty good mid-range torque. So, its 50-80 mph time is probably more than alright.

  2. Richard, I have to confess to preferring buttons controlling the HVAC. It can be a little fiddly when fine tuning, but to demist all that’s required is pressing one button. One button that directs air directly to the windscreen, switches the fan to high and activates the a/c compressor. With the rotary controls you need to spin three separate dials and press another a/c button. Also having grown up in the’80s it’s impossible to have enough buttons imo.

    1. I used to agree with Richard on the rotary control business, but then I lived with a Peugeot 307 SW for over a decade which had a development of the control panel shown in the 406 above. I now think what makes the biggest difference is how well the HVAC itself works. The 307’s was so very good that all I ever needed to do was leave it on Auto, nudge the temperature up or down a few degrees and press the demist button on winter mornings. With such a good system behind the scenes those three buttons were all that was ever used.

      That’s why I would be intrigued to see how the HVAC on a Cactus works, with it’s controls hidden away on a touch screen menu somewhere. If the HVAC itself is of sufficient quality then it shouldn’t really matter, as you would so rarely need to access the controls.

    2. That’s a good point about the efficacy of modern HVAC systems Adrian. As a driving instructor I drive different cars depending on availability and what different students need. Mostly they have digital displays and button controls and once they are set to my liking I never have to touch them. I can’t remember the last time the windscreen began to fog up. However the automatic in our fleet is a 10 year old Focus with rotary dials. I often adjust the fan, temperature and direction in this car as it’s much more prone to misting up and harder to remain comfortable in.

  3. I have lived for five years now with a car that has a good HVAC system. It works as you describe, not a lot of adjustments needed. And still, sometimes I like it a degree warmer or cooler, and I want a cool breeze from the top when the sun is burning or warmer feet. The C6’s centre console certainly isn’t an example for easy controls, but in the mean time my fingers have learned to find the spot for any of these operations. They’re in a fairly convenient location, too. I don’t think I’d want to fiddle with a touchscreen every time I want to adjust something.

  4. Setright marveled at TVR’s two machined aluminum knobs mounted on the driver’s side of the transmission tunnel, one dispatched hot air and the other cold, just like the faucets on a bathroom sink. However, LJKS didn’t address the matter of defogging, but if we imagine a completely automatic defogging function, I think that TVR’s unique interface might be the most delightful, rewarding and engaging, and isn’t that more important than being “best”?

    1. There is an interesting debate to be had on ergonomics, affordances and surprise-and-delight. A mass of buttons is in my view not ergonomic and not delightful and the afforfance of buttons inadequate. TVR´s solution offers some tactile interest and perhaps an alternative and valide approach to varying flows and temperatures so it is well worth considering. Rotary dials major on their easinees to learn and general effectiveness under all conditions. If you want to markedly change the state you can do it as easily as fine-tuning. The buttons set ups seem okay at fine tuning though the rocker switch and “up” and “down” buttons are simply inefficient. Nobody is as dogmatic as a person into ergonomics. Nobody.

    2. I am intrigued; how are the up and down buttons inefficient Richard?

      In my Peugeot I could put the first two fingers of my left hand on the two sides of the rocker switch and press index finger (+0.5C) or second finger (-0.5C).

      In it’s replacement (a Mitsubishi ASX with three knob set up) I grab the whole knob with my left hand and rock the knob one notch clockwise or anticlockwise to increase or decrease the temperature setting.

      Both require my left hand to use and can be done without taking my eyes off the road once one knows where one is reaching on the centre console in each car. I didn’t have to look at which button I was going to use and then point my index finger at it. If I knew how to post a photo on here then I could show you how this HVAC control unit differed from the 406 one that started this conversation.

      Prior to the 307 I owned two 406s, to return to the original subject. They were both brilliant. The 307, HVAC controls aside, wasn’t.

    3. How are buttons inefficient? Because they are digital and not analogue. Buttons require a display to show the state of the system: when the button is pressed it remains visually quiet about what setting it’s at. The rotary dial moves around and graphically reveals it’s at lowest, mid or highest. It stops turning at its min/max states whereas a button can be pressed continually even when the setting can be reduces/increased no more. Further, to get from one state to another one must press once per step. As the fineness of the increments is increased so increases the number of actions required to get from one level to the desired level.

    4. Richard, you’re absolutely right – in theory.

      For my practical application, I’ve found most of these points to be irrelevant. It all depends on the execution of the buttons and displays, though. For my temperature regulation, I usually need max. 2 degrees up or down. With 0.5 degree increments, that’s no more than four clicks. If I want to go further, I can still keep the button pressed for a longer time. The way it’s set up in my car, I can easily read the temperature on a highly-placed display. It’s better than looking at a knob that’s usually placed on the lower part of the console. Regarding reaching the end of scale, I’ve never used that. I don’t want 15 or 28 degrees in my car.

      It reminds me a bit of the eternal discussion about analogue vs. digital instruments on the dashboard. Yes, a dial lets you see at a quick glance if you’re roughly at 30, 60 or 120 km/h. Yet that’s information I normally know anyway. The more interesting question is if I’m cruising at 118 (fine) or 125 (risking a fine). I have yet to find a dial that gives me this information as accurately and conveniently as a digital head-up display. Small differences are usually hard to read on a dial that has to go from zero to 260 or 300 km/h.

    5. Simon: in a way it seems you have adapted well to a sub-optimum solution. I agree the analogue speedo is not able to show speed with legal precision so the digital read-out is a good addition. That said, I notice when I set my car to x kmph using the cruise control it is precise enough to please road side speed warnings we have here in Denmark. These are speed measuring devices that show your speed on a display. If you are too fast the displays flashes (it’s not a means to impose fines, just a guide).
      Coffee/tea, left/right, wet/dry shave, realist/antirealist and analogue/digital. These are the great life debates.

    6. I think it’s not that I’ve adapted to a solution, but rather that the solution that might be sub-optimum in principle has been adapted to quite perfectly suit my needs.

      (By the way, you forgot Beatles/Stones.)

    7. Simon: one can like the Stones and the Beatles at the same time, though. Do some people ever like them both. Ditto Blur/Oasis yet I feel Oasis is not a band for people who like music in the abstract.
      Front wheel drive/rear wheel drive (or AWD?).
      My conclusion is that there are hybrid solutions that work, and that the principle solution works best. Some of the deep-dive, screen-based systems are retrograde.

    8. Actually I do like Beatles and Stones. I also drink coffee and tea and like the good varieties of both. The same goes for beer and wine, which (at least around here) is often seen as irreconcilable.

  5. I am lucky enough to have ready access to three cars – a FIAT 500 Lounge, a C6 and a Skoda Octavia SE-L (hence with automatic activation and control). The former relies almost totally on twist knobs for the HVAC (one pushes the rotary knob controlling the fan in order to activate the A/C – the rear window heater is the sole button among the knobs). The second is like Simon’s, the Octavia is a bit of a mix of the other two, but the critical heat and fan speed controls are rotary knobs, with airflow controlled by a row of buttons. Of them all, the FIAT’s are the simplest, the C6’s the most complex (A/C and activation/ de-activation of the separation of temperature side to side alone controlled via the Infotainment screen), and the Octavia’s arguably the nicest to use – the rotary knobs have a lovely action and conveniently placed just in front of the gear-stick.

    The C6 and Octavia offer ‘Auto’ management of the system, but I find I’m always overriding them both: I don’t like the aircon being on all the time, nor the re-circulation being in play as often as both systems (that of the C6 in particular) seem to like.

  6. The Alfa 156’s original dashboard had a brilliant solution. There were three rotary controls with fixed centres that had buttons in them. There was a ‘defrost’ button that selected maximum temperature and full blower speed and directed all air at the windscreen at the simple push of one button.

    The silliest possible solution must be the one found in an Audi A4 B8 with optional triple zone air con. There are rotary controls that rotate and click endlessly and a digital display (duplicated on the high level screen when the dials are in use) to show the selected value. You can grab the knob without looking at it but you can’t use it seamlessly and you still have to look at a display to see what you did.

    1. There are a lot of dumb standards and there is a lot of good, solid research on ergonomic principles.
      It´s a puzzle as to why the standards bodies never got around to an industry code for HVAC. I also doubt whether the newer screen-based systems have been fully and independently assessed. We are still living as if Don Norman´s books had never been written.

    2. That’s one of the results when cars are designed by marketing people instead of engineers or ergonomists. Many buttons or switches exist only to show that you payed some money for an extra functionality that wouldn’t need a switch when properly designed. That’s the same crap as endlessly configurable setups that exist just for the sake of it and because it can be done.

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