A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?

After decades of resolutely conventional if well executed D-segment offerings, Peugeot has tried something different with the latest 508. It deserves credit for doing so, but has the market recognised and rewarded its innovation?

2018 Peugeot 508  Image: ANE

For over a century, Peugeot has been the very essence of French conservative respectability. Its automobiles have, by and large, been well engineered, durable and reliable, with quietly elegant and unflashy styling. At the heart of its range has always been a medium / large saloon car, a natural and uncontroversial choice for middle-class professionals in France and beyond.

The post-WW2 series of such cars began with the Pininfarina styled 403 in 1955, a neat and contemporary looking RWD car with smooth ponton(1) styling. It was manufactured for over a decade in saloon, estate, coupé, van and pick-up versions and sold in excess of one million units. The 403 was joined, then succeeded(2) by the handsome 1960 404 model. The 404 was produced in a similar range of variants to the 403. Its modern styling was an immediate hit, but it became exceptionally well regarded for its quality and durability. The 404 was sold widely and was particularly popular in developing countries, where its robustness was an especially valuable quality. Almost 2.9 million units were sold over three decades on the market.

1960 Peugeot 404  Image: kodefouw.nl

Following the discontinuation of European production of the 404 in 1975(3), Peugeot covered the market segment with the slightly smaller FWD 305 and larger RWD 504 and 505 models until 1987. That year saw the launch of the 405, a new D-segment FWD model that quickly established itself as a success, thanks to its elegant styling, again by Pininfarina, and excellent ride and handling characteristics. It was voted European Car of the Year in 1988 and went on to sell over 2.5 million units(4).

1987 Peugeot 405  Image: autoevolution.com

The successor to the 405 was launched in 1995. The 406 was, in essence, a slightly enlarged and more refined version of its predecessor, maintaining its strengths and adding more space and comfort. The styling of the saloon and estate models was elegant and understated, if perhaps a little too derivative of the 405.

Nevertheless, the 406 was still adjudged to be the pick of the mainstream contenders and was even a match for the German premium trio in many respects, if not car park bragging rights. An exceptionally pretty Pininfarina designed 406 coupé, with more than a hint of Ferrari to it, was a fitting halo model for the range.  The 406 remained on the market for nine years during which time a total of almost 1.7 million units were sold.

1995 Peugeot 406  Image: autoevolution.com

This was, unfortunately, the point at which things began to go wrong for Peugeot. The aforementioned German premium trio were making deep inroads into the mainstream D-segment market, thanks to attractive lease-finance rates based on their models’ lower levels of depreciation. Peugeot realised that it could not simply reprise the sober if elegant conservatism of the 405 and 406 again, so it went for a more radical and distinctive style for the 407, which was launched in 2004.

The new saloon was characterised by an unusually long front overhang with large headlamps swept back into the front wings. The windscreen was very deep and steeply raked, lending the car a distinctly cab-forward aspect that exacerbated its awkwardly short screen to front axle ratio. The rear side window had an unusual reverse-raked trailing edge, behind which was a broad triangular C-pillar. Overall, the car looked as though Peugeot had simply taken the centre section of the smaller 307 C-segment hatchback and tacked new front and rear ends onto it.

2004 Peugeot 407. Image: favcars.com

The 407 estate was, if more coherent, barely less controversial, with a reverse-rake D-pillar bisecting the two-part fixed rear side window. Unwisely, Peugeot chose to design the 407 coupé in-house and made a complete hash of it. All three variants shared an overly large front grille that gave them a piscine appearance, exacerbated on the coupé by gills ahead of the front wheels.

The market did not appreciate Peugeot’s attempt to do something different with the 407: total sales over seven years were under 750,000 units. By comparison, Ford sold almost 1.1 million Mondeos and Opel / Vauxhall over a million Vectra / Insignia models over the same period.

Chastened by its experience with the 407, Peugeot decided to revert to a much less polarising design with its 2011 replacement, the 508. This was an altogether more conventional saloon and estate duo, although the shape of the head and tail lights exacerbated an unfortunate impression that the car was drooping at both ends. In any event, if potential buyers were no longer repelled, they were now merely indifferent: total European sales over eight years were just 383,175 units.

2011 Peugeot 508. Image: carsguide.com.au

Of course, sales of all mainstream D-segment saloons and estates were now being squeezed by the relentless rise of the SUV / crossover. Ford still managed to shift over 500,000 Mondeos and Opel / Vauxhall over 700,000 Insignias over the same period, so Peugeot’s decision to play it safe with the 508 was apparently of little benefit.

So, where next? Peugeot realised that the virtues of space, comfort and practicality on which D-segment saloons and estates traditionally sold to European buyers were now fully met by much more fashionable crossovers. It could at this point have decided to abandon the market segment completely, as Ford is planning to do when the current Mondeo ends production in March 2022. Instead, it decided to reinvent the 508 as a four-door coupé, where space and practicality would be subordinate to visual appeal, even in the estate variant.

The latest 508, launched at the Geneva motor show in March 2018, is a strikingly handsome car, to my eyes at least. Its best aspect is the rear three-quarter view, which shows off its rakish lines to best effect. The rear light bar appears to be a uniform gloss black when not illuminated, while the frameless door windows give a very smooth DLO and side profile. Only at the front, where the walrus-tusk DLRs look a bit awkward, is the 508 less than very good. Even the estate model largely reprises the saloon’s svelte style.

2018 Peugeot 508  Image: ANE

Except that it is no longer a saloon. Peugeot has given it a large liftback tailgate instead of a boot lid. This is a wise move, as the boot opening on fastback cars such as these is typically very shallow, limiting the access to and usefulness of the boot space.

There are, of course, compromises with the new 508’s format. Reviewers report that headroom is restricted for anyone over 1.8m (6’) tall and rear legroom is very tight for anyone sitting behind a more than averagely tall driver or front seat passenger. Visibility through the letterbox shaped(5) rear window is restricted and the C-pillars create substantial blind spots, as do the steeply inclined and broad A-pillars. Peugeot’s i-cockpit, with its small, low-set steering wheel and high mounted instrument cluster, is not to everyone’s taste.

If these drawbacks are deal-breaking issues for potential buyers, they can always choose the well regarded 5008 crossover instead. At least Peugeot is giving buyers a clear choice to satisfy their different priorities, for which it should be commended. Unlike, for example, Volkswagen, which offers the (more expensive) Arteon four-door coupé alongside the conventional Passat, Peugeot has chosen not to hedge its bets.

2019 DS9  Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Or has it? For the Chinese market, Peugeot offers the 508L, which is not, as one might assume, simply a long-wheelbase version of the European 508. Instead, the 508L is a four-door saloon rather than a five-door liftback. It is larger, but more conventional and lacks some of the distinctive features of the European model, like the frameless door windows. The 508L has also provided the basis for the DS Automobiles DS 9, a large saloon built in China which, unlike the 508L, will be exported to Europe.

Returning to the European 508, is Peugeot’s strategy of offering something distinctively different to a conventional D-segment saloon working? It is difficult to say with certainty so far, but the signs are not auspicious. European sales of the new 508 started strongly in 2019, its first full year on the market, when 41,329 found buyers, but this number fell to 29,011 in Covid-affected 2020. The first five months of 2021 saw sales of 11,175 cars, which is 26,820 annualised, so perhaps the novelty and appeal of the new model has faded rather quickly. If so, this is a shame, as the current 508 might well be Peugeot’s last stab at a D-segment competitor for Europe that is not a crossover.

 

Author’s note: My thanks to Peter Wilson, assistant editor of The Pugilist, the Peugeot Car Club of New South Wales magazine, and Emmanuelle Flaccus of, l’Aventure Peugeot, the Peugeot Archive, for their assistance in completing this piece.

 

(1) Ponton is the name that describes full-width bodywork with fully integrated front and rear wings, rather than the separate wings and running-boards that typically featured in pre-war designs.

(2) The 403 and 404 were both in production simultaneously for five years between 1960 and 1965.

(3) Production of the 404 continued in Argentina until 1980 and in Kenya until 1991.

(4) Although the 405 ended production in Europe in 1997, overseas manufacturing continued, notably in Iran until 2020, albeit in heavily modified form.

(5) When viewed from the driver’s seat or via the rear-view mirror.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

51 thoughts on “A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?”

  1. Somebody I know bought the last available 405 T16 4 x 4 from Peugeot’s showroom on Champs Elysees where it had been on display for about a year. It was a white example loaded to the gunwales with equipment and its leather-cum-alcantara seats somehow looked very incongruent with the cheap and nasty rest of the interior trim. But it suited his driving needs, doing up to 100,000 kms a year on autoroutes as a civil engineer travelling between his projects. The car was fast and entertaining to drive but just a little bit less entertaining than a Mi16 with its built-in tendency to swap ends through lift off snap oversteer.

    In the mid-Nineties German magazine ‘auto motor und sport’ ran a brake test on a large group of cars. The drove the cars down Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse in a so called ‘Touristenabfahrt’ (tourist downhill drive) where the cars are loaded to their maximum weight and driven slowly and brakes are almost permanently applied.
    As expected Porsche, BMW and Audi products passed the test with aplomb and the car with the worst brakes was a 406 whose brakes caught fire and completely failed on the last couple of curves. Peugeot’s reaction was to reduce the 406’s payload to take some stress off the brakes. I doubt that this would have been considered the appropriate reaction at the 404’s time…

    When the 407 came out CAR had a lengthy interview with Gérard Welter.
    Monsieur Welter openly confessed that the 407 looked the way it did because Peugeot’s stylists didn’t know how to design a car without outside assistance from Pininfarina and that they’d not yet found a way to cope with pedestrian protection regulations and therefore had to give the car that ungainly long nose.
    He also promised that future Peugeots would look less – he just avoided the word weird or ugly.
    But the 407 wasn’t just terminally ugly it also lacked a range of good engines and it showed far too much cost cutting to be competitive against cars like an E46 or A4 B6.

    1. I have personal experience of the brake issues a loaded 406 had. On a drive with five friends – yes, someone was illegaly in the boot but I was 19 – in the hilly bits of Northern France, the brakes produced the metal on metal sound and provided next to no power. More alarmingly, the rotors didn’t “communicate” that they were experiencing trouble, it was rather sudden.

      Brakes aside, the 406 SW was a lovely car to travel in. Smooth turbodiesel, spacious, comfortable. Steering was rather vague but the handling was quite decent if not quite Mondeo-like.

  2. Re the 403, are there any other models which have been produced as a coupé and a van and pick-up? You’d have thought that the latter two would detract from the desirability of the former.

    1. Andy – there’s a question. Immediately springing to mind are various generations of full-size Holdens, the Toyota Crown S50, and just about every late ’60s / early ’70s Japanese small car.

      Was there ever an official 404 van? The factory offer was a camionnette bâché, a fabric construction on a lightweight frame. The solid-bodied vans seem to be third-party boxes on a chassis cab or pick-up bed.

    2. Hi Robertas. Yes, you’re right. The 404 solid-roofed vans were aftermarket conversions. I was referring to the canvas-topped pick-up, which is probably stretching the definition of ‘van’ somewhat!

    3. And another one: Borgward made a small number of Isabella panel vans, and also pick-ups for their Southern African markets. This as well as two different types of coupes and cabrios, but never a four-door saloon.

    4. Opposed to you I always liked the 406 coupé because it put emphasis on elegance and style rather than on sportiness in the best Pininfarina tradition like a Gamma coupé or 130 coupé.
      But I agree that the interior was the weak point that let down the car. The 406 dashboard with its oily shine on the surface and the general mis-coordination of materials and surfaces that didn’t match in colour, grain or surface was a mess that not even the leather seats could balance out. And I always found the rouched leather option simply awful and utterly inappropriate in a Pininfarina car.
      Otherwise the 406 coupé suffered from the same shortcomings as the saloon – lack of appropriate engines above all. You got the clattery and slow diesel, the not that powerful but thirsty V6 or some mediocre fours.

    5. If you needed a panel van you always could buy a Peugeot J3, so would they have needed a panel version of the 404? There also was the normal estate which was quite large.

    6. Morris Marina! I’ll leave the desirability debate to others…..

  3. Good morning gentlemen. I had completely forgotten that there was a 404 coupé, so thanks for the reminder. Dave, that was a disarmingly honest admission from Gérard Welter. I suppose one only has to compare these two to see the truth in it:

    At least the 407 saloon and estate were distinctive, for good or bad. The coupé just looks like a really badly executed clone of its predecessor.

    1. For some reason I can’t warm up to the 406 coupe. Even when it came out I found its design bland and just unexciting, and having the rather ugly 406 saloon dashboard didn’t help at all. Almost exactly the same feeling I have for the Calibra, down to its also ugly Vectra Mk1 dashboard.

      As for the 407 coupe, I remember a certain Mr. Clarkson’s unkind words about its design on Top Gear magazine, which I won’t repeat here!

    2. By the time the 407 was created, Peugeot’s design studio had undergone significant changes. Instead of having interior and exterior acting as two separate units, subordinated to the sales department, design was turned into a single department, with a dedicated executive in charge of it. This completely changed the balance of power, as Pininfarina’s enormous significance had been due to sales executives giving their proposals preference over in-house designs on a very regular basis (rumour has it week-long business trips to Turin, including fine dining and wines, also played a role in this).

      Having said that, a Pininfarina proposal for the 407 coupé did exist (by Maurizio Corbi), but the in-house design was chosen instead.


    3. Hi Christopher. Thanks for posting those images. The Pininfarina proposal for the 407 coupé might not be quite as pretty as their 406, but it’s still miles better than Peugeot’s in-house job.

    4. The production model and that Pininfarina proposal look very similar to me in terms of basic graphics, profile and proportions – it’s the details and execution which mark the differences.

    5. I guess Peugeot had to add their own garnish to fend off the accusation of plagiarism from Pininfarina. The result was so bad that the carrozzeria would not want to be associated with it, so job done!

    6. I think the 407 vies with the first generation 3008 for the distinction of being the absolute nadir of Peugeot post-millennial design.

      (Trigger warning!)

      That Pininfarina proposal looks better, although the disastrous dimensions make it a hopeless exercise. I’ve once tried the i-cockpit on a hired 208 (with an absolutely dismal automatic gear box) and found that I got used to it quickly. The steering was a little over-light though and I’ve not missed it at all driving my “regular” cockpit.

      Pininfarina was certainly onto a succesful design theme with the 405, 406, 605 and Alfa 164:




  4. Hi Daniel, nice post! I rather liked the 407 and generally found it rakish and bold. Having said that, the short rear doors and awkward A-pillar to front wing/wheel relationship (which I think exaggerates the front overhang) detract quite a bit from the overall design.

    As for the current 508, what can I say? I love it and I think it’s the perfection of the 407 approach, that of putting style and sportiness clearly above practicality. I love the higher-trimmed 508s with their twin exhaust pipes (real pipes!) sticking proudly under the rear bumper. To me the 508 is a practical coupe rather than an impractical saloon.

    Finally, I think the 407 and current 508 seem to work better in Mediterranean markets. I see quite a number of 508 here in Spain and at the peak of its time the 407 was everywhere, although now they’re starting to get a bit difficult to spot.

  5. My parents had a 504, easily the worst car they’ve ever owned, despite the reputation this car had. It was the first and last Peugeot in our family.

    I always liked the 405. It’s biggest shortcoming was the interior. The gaps between the doors and door cards was so big it looked like they fit the panels of a smaller model. However, it’s chassis was great. I’m not a fan of the estate version, though.

    I drove a 406 only once shortly after its introduction, but can’t really recall what it was like to drive. I never completely got all the excitment about the Coupé. It certainly isn’t a bad looking car, but not better looking than other coupes of its era.

    The 407 is hideous to my eyes. The less said, the better.

    The first iteration of the 508 is an improvement, but still not a very attractive car in my view.

    The current 508 is a huge improvement, but only few care about it. they only sold 307 in the first half of the year in the Netherlands. Not sure if the i-cockpit is a good idea. I’ve no experience with it, but it seems gimmicky to me, rather than useful. One other thing I noticed is that there aren’t many engines, exterior and interior colours to chose from.

    1. All Peugeots from the era of their chassis guru Jean Baudin are great to drive as long as its a standard model and you don’t go for racing speeds. Anything with GTI or equivalent can be a handful because of their tendendy to oversteer on lift off.
      I remember a case when I was overtaken by a 405 Mi16 at considerable speed on a light left hand corner with the 405 having five persons on board and the driver obviously the quite young son of the family. Two corners later the 405 sat on the fast lane the wrong way round with a very battered left side and some bent armco. Poor young driver had lifted his right foot in the middle of a seriously fast bend…

    2. Now that you mentioned it, I remember a 605 SV 3.0 quite vividly. Oversteer when lifting off can be the source of considerable joy, but it’s not so nice when it comes unexpectedly, so the GTI and Mi16’s were not that great for the unexperienced.

  6. For me, the most significant model in the sequence is the 405. Its arrival in the UK came when the dominant “company car” market (split between company-owned & leased fleets) had yet to totally eclipse the demand from those who bought their own motors. The former had ignored Peugeot whereas the latter held the rugged and reliable 404 in high esteem.

    Ford & Vauxhall dominated the company car market, but the 405’s unlikely impact changed that for ever – although my first encounter with what seemed to be a rather spartan and flimsy device did not impress me much. But it seems that the attraction to fleet managers was simple – the 405 fell into an insurance group which was appreciably lower than its direct competitors, at a time when premiums were rapidly increasing. The 405, apparently, was much cheaper to repair than anything remotely comparable.

    Having said that, the last one I saw was in 2007….

  7. The current 508 marks a shift in mentality from Sochaux. Previous models were mass market products and Peugeot would discount them to gain sales.

    On the launch of the 508, Peugeot insisted they were realistic about the sales prospect and they would not sell the car at a loss, a tactic that had started with the 3008. If I remember correctly, that car gave Peugeot on a brand level better margins than Volkswagen.

    The 508 has a top-10 place in its category in the EU market. It’s outselling the Arteon, Insigna, Mondeo, Mazda 6 (all somewhat older offerings now), but itself of course completely overwhelmed by the Passat and indeed the German premium trio.

    I’m happy for the 508 to exist, but would not consider it myself.

    1. Hi JRE. Your closing sentence sums up Peugeot’s problem succinctly. If I were a betting man (I’m not.) I would wager that we won’t see another 508, sadly.

    2. When did Peugeot fall off the rim of the world for most customers?
      For me it was when they stopped their cooperation with Pininfarina which of course was a symptom but not the cause.
      As an exaple they replaced a good looking 306 with fantastic road manners and crap quality with an ugly 307 that was much worse to drive and just as crap.
      They took away what was good – looks and road manners – and didn’t improve on what was bad – build quality and reliability.

    3. I genuinely like the 508 – its interior even more so than the exterior.

      It’s interesting how many journalists consider the i-Cockpit ‘quirky’, whereas I found it a joy to use. Moreover, it’s been used as an example of outstanding UI ergonomics at Hochschule Pforzheim, but I guess it’s got to be considered ‘quirky’ on the sole basis that it’s French. Oh well.

      Gilles Vidal likened the previous generation 508 to ‘a French Opel’, which wasn’t intended as a compliment.

      Everybody at PSA, starting with Carlos Tavares, was under no illusions regarding 508’s sales prospects. It was decreed that the model was essential for the Peugeot brand’s standing in the market, so it’s basically an image-driven product. Having said that, I’ve started seeing a surprising number of these around here in Hamburg – mostly, but not exclusively in estate guise. I don’t know whether PSA dropped their ‘not discounts/fleet sales’ policy or not, but for some reason the 508’s popularity seems to have increased significantly.

      To those interested in my take on the 508 (which I sampled for several, 1.5 years ago): https://driventowrite.com/2020/01/08/driven-written-peugeot-508-sw-1-6-l-puretech-180/

    4. I don’t think customers disregard Peugeot as a brand, Dave, as they do seem rather fond of the 3008 SUV. Peugeot sold 125 000 of those last year in the EU alone, netting it a top-3 place in the segment.

      Saloon cars are mainly bought (or rather selected) over SUV nowadays by people who appreciate the dynamics or the badge. The latter will end up in CLA’s or Volvo’s, the former will stretch to the 3 series with some individuals choosing an XE or Giulia. Your assessment elsewhere in this topic is correct: the 508’s uses C-segment engine-gearbox combinations that simply cannot compete with the longitudinal (often ZF-‘boxed) rivals.

  8. Very interesting analysis. I wonder if there’s a time lag between impressions made by previous models. For example, did the 407 initially get the benefit of the doubt, and then gradually erode Peugeot’s image, with the first 508 then having fewer people consider it at all, as Peugeot had dropped off people’s lists?

  9. Daniel – I’d say definitely fin de siècle.

    Or possibly the automotive equivalent of the “contractual obligation album”. Posterity has later regarded some of these as the band’s best – or at least most interesting – work. I’m doubtful if this will apply to the current 508, though it’s a visually appealing farewell statement.

  10. I like the current 508, but I suspect, like others, that it will be the last large saloon/ hatch we will see from Peugeot for a while at least. Although it’s a much more interesting and exciting looking car than any of the Germans at present, it’s not enough to draw punters away from those ‘no-brainers’. PSA’s somewhat tarnished reputation for durability and reliability (which, I read, is now an unfair view as they regularly do better than at least some of the German brands), coupled with the quirky i-cockpit layout are enough to put people off even considering one of these. Moreover, if people do want a Peugeot, it seems they are more likely to follow the herd and go for a 3008/ 5008.

    The back-catalogue nicely described by Daniel also demonstrates how consistency of design quality is essential to maintaining interest in a marque within a segment of the market. The 407 and initial 508 were equally repellent, although in different ways, and, once that brand loyalty has been lost, it’s really hard to attract buyers back into the fold. Peugeot is likely to need at least another generation of a successful 508 design before it starts to claw back buyers, and I can’t see them bothering to take that risk.

    1. I suspect that one of the reasons people don’t buy the 508 is the engines.
      Would I buy a 508-sized car with a moped engine of just 1.6 litres and 225 PS? Certainly not, at least not as long as competitors are offering proper engines for similar cars.

      And I don’t like the i-cockpit either. In photographs it looks as if the wheel is simultaneously too small and set too low.

  11. Still a bit overwrought but compared to their ugliest-fish-in-the-aquarium design language it’s a stunning return to form. Although it’s not obviously a retro design I see an awful lot of the 505 in it’s nose, whilst the tail lamps are a 21st century crib of the unusual diagonal lenses from the 504 coupe and convertible.
    Whilst their Pininfarina supported designs were consistently good I always thought the 405 was a bit too flabby. I now wonder if that was deliberately done in order to put as much clear blue water between it and the much tighter looking common platform Citroen BX?

    1. It amazes me that half a decade passed between Citroën launching the BX on the 405 floorpan and the 405 itself coming out. It seems like a long time.

    2. Hi Richard, allow me to take your reponse to Daniel’s wonderful post to draw a few converging lines on the back of this topic: i drove a then-new 405 Break for a few days back in my days as a student-courier and it struck me as amazingly comfortable and easy handling for such an average-looking Peugeot. The BX Break 19 TZI (what a wonderful car that was…) i had myself years later at least equally so. Now back to my today’s 308 sw: a totally satisfactory and reliable car 6 years down the road, only letdown is a bit of a clunky auto gearbox with little intelligence. The i-cockpit is an ergonomic wonder in my experience, and degrades the big steering wheels of anything else contemporary to feeling hopelessly outdated and cumbersome…

  12. Terrific overview Daniel. There’s a current model 508 around here and it’s one of very few current car designs I notice in a positive way. I’m not convinced by the side scalloping but otherwise the exterior is excellent. Not sure about the interior but it looks a bit coal-mine-esque from a distance.

    It’s interesting to see in the comments that not everyone appreciates the 406 coupé. I think it’s a very pretty thing, though can imagine the interior lets it down.

    1. Hi Chris. I can’t help wondering if the 406 coupé isn’t simply too quiet and modest a design for today’s tastes. We have been pummelled for years by increasingly noisy and overwrought automotive designs. Appreciating the 406 now is akin to trying to hear someone whispering after leaving a noisy club*.

      * Not something I’ve done for over thirty years!

    2. Seen from today’s Manga-inspired world of bulges and creases the 406 coupé certainly is like whispering in noisy surroundings. It is perfect design as you can’t take away anything because it already is so reduced and you can’t add anything as Peugeot’s own stylists most capably demonstrated with the Phase 2 version with the oversized grille of that time

      That grille simply ruins the front of the car

  13. As those familiar with both the site (and myself) can attest, I’m fond of repeating myself, so in light of Daniel’s fine piece, I couldn’t resist proffering this golden nugget from tortured psyche of one S. Cropley – once of sound mind – taken from his rather self-indulgent Autocar Diary section, published in August 2015.

    “Funny how your opinion of a car changes with time. When it was new, I thought of the Peugeot 407 (2004-2010) as an inoffensive car of no great merit, its plus points all but obscured by the better credentials of the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo. Now I’m starting to see 407s as special because of the Ferrari-derived front-end styling that starts with the ‘mouth’, the rakish lights and the wide egg-crate grille.

    All of a sudden it seems remarkable – and as history flows it will inevitably become more so – that a big-selling family model was styled to echo the best points of the Ferrari Daytona by a French designer (Gerard Welter) who simply could not disguise his admiration for the Italian supercar.”

    Now as we know, to describe the 407 as “an inoffensive car of no great merit” is perhaps to dignify it somewhat, but really, where does one even begin with a statement like that.

    Regarding the Pininfarina proposal for the 407 Coupé posted by Christopher above, I do wonder how it would have looked repurposed as a four-door saloon. A whole lot better than La Garenne’s effort, that’s for certain.

    1. Perhaps it was something hallucinogenic Mr Cropley had ingested (unintentionally, of course)? I cannot think of any other credible reason.

    2. How I laughed! Autocar fell off my radar so long ago that I had forgotten the pearls cast down by the eminent scribe.
      This particular extract leaves me pondering whether he was wearing some other chap’s glasses, or whether he was going all Stephen Bayley on us.
      The only true pretender to the Family Ferrari tag must surely be the Rover SDI, the most wonderful adaptation of supercar sexiness for the executive car market.
      Intelligent dashboard design too, the LHD variant taken care of by a cunningly placed air vent…
      David Bache and the boys did a star turn for Auntie, for sure.

  14. I heard that Pininfarina first offered the 406 Coupé to Fiat, which preferred the Bangle-penned design for the Fiat Coupé.

    The current 508 is indeed a great-looking car, both in saloon and estate. It’d be lovely if they offered an RXH version of the wagon, like they did with the previous generation (which had a huge drawback in the shape of the automated gearbox) but they probably thought it would not be good to bring the Vauxhall/Opel Insignia Country Tourer some domestic competition.

    And the Country Tourer is already gone.

  15. I wouldn’t touch a 21st century Peugeot with a 100 foot pole, but I do find the current 508 very attractive. I didn’t realise it was a hatch, as I haven’t ever seen a parked one – they are very scarce. But new Peugeots are everywhere – mostly extremely ugly crossovers, so most Peugeot customers don’t care about style.

  16. My father has had three 2008s, one now being owned by my sister. She has never referenced the ICockpit or remarked on the small wheel compared to her previous Jazz, but what was noticeable is the parking brake control: not for them the regular lever, instead it is a small square – again, not a huge problem except they put the release button on the underside. That idea must have come from someone who never had to use it! I also can’t work out why a squared-off gearknob was considered a good idea. Were these just poor designs, or an attempt to nudge people into the automatic versions?

    Offering the DS9 is a brave move; perhaps Stellantis should read the recent article on DTW about the Seat Exeo?

  17. “This was, unfortunately, the point at which things began to go wrong for Peugeot.”

    Key sentence of 21st century Peugeot history! As I recall those were pretty stressful times for both Renault and Peugeot as the news were full of employees committing suicide on the job, must have been a really bad environment that resulted in a row of really bad product.
    However it is noteworthy that the diesel-mania of the early 2000s and the fact that PSA’s engine department made the best automotive diesels at that time acted as a pretty solid counterweight for the botched design of the 407. Although the comapny’s sponsorship of Luc Besson’s Taxi series became ridicolous after a while, the 407 indeed made a great taxi, there are lots of high-mileage versions, it’s not hard to find examples with 5-600.000 kms on the clock and there are many 1.000.000 km+ ones that never required major engine overhaul (the odometer gets stuck at 999.999). The longevity is there, even if the appeal is not.

    As for the Coupés: The 406 needs no praise, the shape speaks for itself, whereas the 407 Coupés only merit was that the assembly returned to Sochaux – if that’s a merit at all. The tue successor though was the RCZ produced at Magna in Austria.

  18. We keep dodging the 507 in this conversation. I liked it when I first saw it and went cold when I sat in one in a showroom. The high window line made it oppressive inside (the 407 at least was airy). And on the outside the huge rear bumpers are compromised, the C6, in needing to be as huge a possible which then compromised the lights. The front is as messy as the contemporary 308 and yes, the car droops. It´s rather heavy-looking as well. Finally, it doesn´t offer the Peugeot driving experience. Peugeot´s engineers and designers need to get a 604 and 406 out of the company archive and drive them about for a week or two and then reconsider what a Peugeot saloon is about. While the current offering is good from afar, up close it´s disappointing. Good detailing is not a preserve of any one design culture. Anyone can do it if they set their minds to it. Peugeot seem to think customers won´t notice.
    If you want a good looking saloon, Polestar is the place to go, or else the Volvo S60. Much as I want Peugeot to succeed, the fussy 508 is not the car to rekindle my affection. Luckily my (safe-braking) 406 is still in fine fettle. The 1.8 engine does a decent job, by the way: easy on fuel and entirely adequate in the Rolls-Royce sense where speed limits are enforced and speed limits quite low.

    1. Further to my comments the Polestar, I add this gem, this huge pearl of sense from Autocar. Matt Saunders is talking about the Polestar coupe: “If it were mine, I’d want to get as much use out of this car as I could, because it’s so nice to just punt around in. The trouble is, if the car had a bigger boot or you could fold the back seats down, you could get so much more use out of it”. Does he realise he is asking for a thing called a saloon (he may as well be) and as we have determined from this article saloons are as popular as boaters and PCs these days. I wonder if he´d write the same words about the Porsche 911 which, good as it is, fails the Autocar test entirely since its boot is tiny and it falls very short in the back-seat department. In another parallel universe Saunder might have written “If it were mine, I’d want to it to look much sleeker and sportier since it costs 140,ooo pounds, but the large boot and seldom-used rear seats add too much bulk.”. I recommend the team have a look at the Polestar interior.

    2. Hi Richard, by ‘507’ I assume you mean the first 508 and, like you, my enthusiasm for it faded with familiarity. It was certainly less challenging than the 407, but the detailing was poor, droopy front and rear ends in particular. Interesting to hear that he visibility was poor too.

  19. A Peugeot like the one in the first picture in the article overpassed me in the morning, moving fast. It caught my glance, it was an elegant vanishing shape in a tarmac background. I just noticed that when we see a car, usually the background colour is the colour of the asphalt.

    1. The 508 is not bad from afar; it´s the detailing that unsettles me. If they´d applied simplicity to it then the overall profile would have been very nice. That said, I do like the purposeful shape of Peugeot´s more formal saloons.

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