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Peugeot 408 – Outsmarting the competition

Even if you cannot exactly tell what kind of car it is, the 408 will win you over. It’s just a whole lot of ideas rolled into one machine but, somehow, it works.

 Being an industrial designer, I am always very ‘worried’ about the aesthetics of any object. And while I am not a fan of form over function – at school you are taught that the balance between them is what a designer must strive to achieve – I tend to find something that is visually appealing, even if it doesn’t work as well, more interesting than something that is perfect at its ‘job’ but just plain ugly.

My last text about the original Audi TT is a case in point. It’s not the best driving car of all time, but it’s so exquisitely beautiful I can’t help but love it.

From where I am sitting, we are not living in the greatest era of car design. In order to draw attention to their products and stand out in a sea of social media content, constructors have decided to adopt a more ‘look-at-me’ approach instead of choosing to create a timeless design language.

Some are obviously more successful than others in getting this right and building a catalogue of coherent products. Peugeot is probably a touch above all other mainstream brands in their ability to adapt quickly to the market and understanding what customers want.

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Their cars from the last 10 years have brought them from a run-of-the-mill market position to leaders in desirability, connectivity and, therefore, sales. In Portugal, they have taken down Renault from the number one spot after more than 20 years. That’s quite an achievement.

The 3008, 5008, 2008 and the new 308 all look different from the rest and now we have this, the quite bonkers new 408. I mean, what is it? An estate mixed with an SUV mixed with a coupé? It should not work, but the French designers are very smart and they nailed it.

It’s not a beautiful thing in the traditional sense – look at a Peugeot 205 GTI from the Eighties if you want to see something truly beautiful – but it is striking and perfectly in tune with today’s market. Because market segments are not as static as they were before, constructors can take risks on these crossovers that are not just one thing but several layouts all in one.

The genius of the new 408 is that it does not seem to compromise much by mixing so many solutions. It drives as well as an estate, looks as modern as an SUV and as striking as a coupé. Plus, there’s loads of room on the inside – the wheelbase is 2790mm long – but on the road and around town it feels perfectly sized and not too big for the real world. There are plenty of soft-touch materials and a kind of architectural dashboard with different layers where the i-Cockpit system sits.

It also feels comfortable in all situations and a quality item. There are no rattling noises, and you can sense Peugeot’s push upmarket is well under way.

I drove the Plug-In Hybrid version, with the Stellantis Group tried-and-tested 1.6 four-cylinder turbocharged engine mated to an electric motor for a combined output of 225 horse power and around 50km of real-world pure electric cruising.

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The eight-speed automatic gearbox is perfectly integrated with both propulsion systems and the transition between them in Hybrid mode is almost always very smooth, except in some situations where you have to brake a bit harder and the car is unsure if it should remain in petrol power or engage electric mode.

In fact, the feel and lack of consistency of the brake pedal are my only criticisms of the car. However, it’s one of those things engineers will iron out in the first upgrade the car gets.

Use the electric ability to the maximum and fuel efficiency is incredible. Around town, leaving the car charging during the night, I was getting under 4 litres per 100km. Get out onto the road and it’s easy to go above 6 litres but, in the end, averages are extremely good. As for charging times, a domestic socket will do it in seven hours, whereas a 7.4 kW wallbox in just 1h40 min.

Prices start at €35,800 for the entry-level 1.2 litre petrol option with 130 horse power in Allure trim. The press car was a top-of-the-line PHEV 225 in GT form, meaning you need €50,000 to park one in your garage. The 1.2 is much better value for money, the PHEV 225 is objectively a more advanced car, of course.

What’s curious, and what I liked more in the 408, is Peugeot’s ability to come up with different offerings all based on the same basic technology. The 3008, 5008, 308, 2008 and now the 408 are not that different between them in engineering terms, but they look different and they feel different, and they seem to be attracting not only Peugeot’s traditional customers, but a lot of new buyers as well.

Looking at the mainstream market at this moment in time, my money would go on Peugeot being the most successful constructor of them in the next decade. I may be wrong; I may be right. But take it from someone who drives all their cars – these guys know what they are doing and they are absolutely killing it.

Guilherme Marques

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