We test drive the new Peugeot 408, a chic new SUV that’s sure to gain interest when it launches in Australia.
Peugeot has always had a penchant for the unconventional, so perhaps the new 408 shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Peugeot calls it a ‘C-segment fastback’, and it’s a five-door hatchback with an almost sedan-like three-box shape, complemented by a lifted, SUV-esque stance complete with protective body cladding. The aesthetic won’t appeal to everyone, but you have to agree that it’s a striking thing to look at – and it’s headed to Australia.
Ahead of its local arrival – pricing and specifications are yet to be confirmed – we’ve had a look and drive of the new model in its home country. Inside, it offers a similar-looking cabin to the 308, and the 408 shares many parts. That means a plush, stylish space with a central stack angled towards the driver.
Within lies Peugeot’s latest infotainment. There are more responsive touchscreen systems on offer, but it’s much better than what came before: well laid out and user- friendly. Below sits a panel of customisable tiles, so all your favourite functions can be accessed with a single finger prod. You’ll want a shortcut to the climate controls there, because unfortunately they are tweaked via the touchscreen and not physical buttons.
Peugeot’s usual i-Cockpit arrangement is present, with a small steering wheel placed below a high-set instrument cluster. It takes some getting used to, because many drivers will need to position the wheel much lower than they’re used to for a clear view of the digital dials. On that front, the 408 gets a 12.4-inch device with two screens mounted on top of one another to give a 3D effect. It looks great and offers plenty of information, including a snazzy animation to show the energy flow of the hybrid powertrain.
The 408’s longer wheelbase addresses one of our main criticisms of the 308: its scant rear legroom. The elongated back end also gives a useful increase in boot space. There’s a 471-litre capacity in plug-in hybrids, and 536 litres in petrol derivatives.
We’re testing the 166kW plug-in hybrid here in range-topping GT trim. It combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and a 14.2kWh battery pack, giving an electric-only range of up to 64km.
Unfortunately, as we found in 308s with this powertrain, it has some issues. Firstly, it never feels that fast, and curiously, its 0-100km/h time is a mere 0.1secs quicker than the cheaper 133kW PHEV. The eight-speed automatic transmission, meanwhile, seems lethargic, with slow responses to throttle inputs and a clunky attitude at lower speeds. The car isn’t always the slickest at managing transitions between its power sources, either.
The internal-combustion part of the equation is smooth and refined, at least, even if it can sound a touch strained at higher revs. In any case, the 408 keeps you well insulated from the racket, and most noises. There’s a hint of wind and road noise at motorway speeds, but overall, this is a quiet and refined car.
It’s a comfortable one, too, with damping that irons out imperfections in the road surface deftly. Peugeot says the 408 isn’t supposed to be overtly sporty, but is intended for those who enjoy driving. This becomes clear when twisty roads are reached. It’s competent in such environments and reasonably enjoyable, without ever being genuinely thrilling.
It hides the weight of its battery well, changing direction with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm. The smaller wheel helps with fast steering inputs, which the 408 responds well to. The longer wheelbase means it’s perhaps not quite as chuckable as a 308, but this is offset by a greater sense of high-speed stability.
Body roll is well contained, and while it doesn’t take too much to push the front end into understeer, you can spec 20-inch wheels with wider tyres that give a bit more bite at the expense of a little ride comfort.
The Peugeot 408 is a niche but appealing alternative to traditional family hatchbacks, taking the inoffensive ingredients of the smaller 308 and reinventing them in a more practical and stylish package. The i-Cockpit layout still won’t be for everyone, however, and we suspect the 408 will be a better car when paired with a powertrain other than the 225 plug-in hybrid, which we found short of both range and performance. Overall, it certainly offers something different to the 308, but without demanding any particular compromise. If you like the styling and the price is right.