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Paddy Comyn reviews the Peugeot 408, a tricky car to define

It’s all getting a bit dull with all the SUV’s, right? For what seems like forever, we here in Ireland have blindly staggered into buying lumpy, unwieldly SUV’s without perhaps noticing that for the supposed benefit of sitting high up, we have lost out on things such as proper handling, the ability to find somewhere to park and, of course, we have added a whole lot of weight.

Thank heavens, then, for the French— in this case, Peugeot and Citroen, who remain brave enough to offer us something different. A case in point is the Peugeot 408. It’s a tricky car to define. It isn’t
quite an SUV, it is a bit tall to be a regular saloon, and it isn’t a saloon because it has a big hatchback. Peugeot aren’t that keen to define it either. What it is, however, is immensely pretty. In a world of cookie- cutter SUV designs, the 408 stands out. It is similar to the arguably slightly prettier Citroen C5X — they have the same overall silhouette, but the Peugeot design is a little more intricate.

Prices for the 408 start at a very reasonable €39,995, but we don’t often test the entry-point and nor have we here — we are in the GT spec, the range’s flagship, but with the entry engine, the 1.2-litre PureTech 130hp petrol engine. Before we go on, you will probably say: ‘A 1.2? Surely that is too small for a car this size?’ I had thought so too, and no, this isn’t a fast car by today’s standards, taking 10.4 seconds to reach 100km/h. But this is not the point of this car at all.

In a world of cookie- cutter SUV designs, the 408 stands out

This is a wafty, comfortable, executive-feeling car in the mould of the old French cars. That 1.2 engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic, which is smooth and offers seamless gear changes. Handling is decent, too, with well-weighted steering, but a suspension set-up that copes well with lumps and bumps, making this an excellent car for long drives. If you spend much time on motorways or in your vehicle, this will be a great choice. It loves a long drive. Step inside, and the cabin is impressive, well, in part. Peugeot continues to persevere with the small steering wheel design, which looks quite smart, but isn’t all that practical if you are tall. It blocks the instruments in front of you, and the only way to see them is to raise the seat to a degree where your head is hitting off the ceiling. Not ideal. The car features the latest generation of the Peugeot i-Cockpit, and that means two 10” displays: One behind the wheel with a 3D instrument display, and the second, central 10” touchscreen which works well and is available to connect to your smartphone, wirelessly or wired, via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. What is good is the touchscreen panel below it, which offers customisable shortcuts to hop between menus. There are no physical buttons for the air-con, unlike in its Citroen cousin, so this is a minus point, but that aside, the quality, fit, and finish are awe-inspiring and the best we have seen from Peugeot up to now. Space in the cabin up front is good, and in the rear, the sloping roof won’t bother most, aside from taller passengers. The kids will be okay.

Our test car, the GT, gets specific 19” Graphite diamond-cut alloy wheels in Onyx black gloss, and they look good, especially when the car is in black (Nero Black), and it also gets body-coloured exterior door handles, GT badging, and various gloss black touches throughout. You get a ton of equipment — there isn’t the exhaustive and expensive ticking of options boxes here, as the GT is well kitted out with things like a 180-degree colour reversing camera, electric tailgate, heated seats and steering wheel, and a DAB radio and a plethora of USB-C ports littered about the cabin.

Sadly, you don’t get much these days for €45,000 in the executive car world. The ‘cheapest’ Audi A4 is €44,360 before you start adding options (the BMW 3-Series now costs €56,000), so this will be a left- field, but pretty good choice if you want a refined, comfortable, well-equipped family car with an executive essence.