You have arrived
Broad, long and fastidiously smoothed over at every corner and edge, the new Peugeot 407 coupé appears to fancy itself as something in the Thunderbird 2 line. Remember the big green one, with the pod inside? The 407 has clearly been built, similarly, with freelance international crime-busting and tricky spells of hovering in mind—and when a preliminary recce of the car’s dashboard uncovered no obvious vertical launch button, it was a source of some disappointment.
That said, parking Thunderbird 2 in a crowded indoor shopping facility would odds-on be a less nerve-racking experience than attempting the same feat in a 407.
True, there might be one or two maximum height issues, but in the Thunderbird, you would have the all-important jet-thrusters to guide you in.
In the 407, it’s just you, the reversing sensor and several yards of freshly painted aluminium that you’d rather not scratch.
It’s not just the backing-up that makes squeezing the 407 into tight corners such a knuckle-whitening ride. It’s also the going forwards.
Through the vast, endlessly tapering, low-slung windscreen, the even vaster, even lower-slung bonnet is just a persistent rumour. You know it’s out there somewhere; but it’s a question of where. Best to grit your teeth and cover the brake, while making yourself as narrow as possible. Not that this helps, of course, but it’s one of those reflexes it’s hard to fight.
By the time I had finished jiggling my 407 into a hemmed-in bay at my local Sainsbury’s, my shoulders were virtually touching under my chin.
But, of course, slipping unobtrusively into unremarkable spaces is not what the 407 coupé is about. A sister car for Peugeot’s determinedly respectable 407 saloon and the unusually attractive 407 Sportwagon (another word for estate car), the coupé version goes out to make a splash. Perhaps literally. At any rate, note how the two air-intakes, slashed into the car’s front corners, are strongly reminiscent of the gills on a predatory fish. The message seems to be that this decorous, faintly regal barge can get a little monstrous if the situation calls for it.
The impression of shadowy menace is possibly compromised a little by the gummy grin formed by the radiator grille. Yet the car has its fancy moments.
I had the entry level, fairly forgettable 2,2-litre engine, in a range that runs to a presumably more memorable 3,6-litre V6. But even in this beginner’s version, the 407 coupe could be made to slide effortlessly through the air like a well-made paper plane.
By rights, a vehicle of this length should be capable of carrying 26 people, plus a maximum of 12 standing. Instead, brazenly uneconomical, the 407 goes for the classic tourer format of four seats only. The two in the front offer almost comical amounts of leg, waist and shoulder room, such that one wonders whether the point of the seatbelts isn’t first and foremost to stop the occupants sliding across the interior and landing in a heap on the floor.
The two seats in the back, by contrast, though similarly ample in most directions, yield the sort of leg-room about which even a Jack Russell would have some legitimate cause for complaint—assuming you could get the Jack Russell to spring in past the tipped front seats in the first place.
Rear occupants are also destined to see the world through small triangular windows that might as well be portholes in a slave ship.
Like almost any coupe you care to mention on this scale, the 407 is chiefly for people who want the suggestion of sporty action from their car, but are unwilling to surrender even an inch of the corporate kudos that comes from nudging people aside in a padded-shouldered company saloon.
And the Peugeot has presence. But at the same time, the person in the market for this kind of car is more than likely looking to be sent some powerful signals confirming his or her executive worth. What is a giant, county-straddling coupé for, if not to provide a constant update on its driver’s social and professional standing?
The slickness of its gearstick, the whisperiness of its steering, the fat chunk of its doors shutting—you want these things to report back in glowing terms on your unarguable affluence and entitlement. And the likelihood is that the 407 is going to let you down in this area. It’s all a bit—how can one put this delicately?—second tier.
The steering is tidy without being pin-sharp. The door handles ping. The dashboard is plain and underwhelming. The gearstick is just a well-greased version of functional. Which doesn’t make the car unreasonable at the price. But on such things is status built, and grand and hotly cherished delusions of importance could collapse against the everyday ordinariness of the 407’s indicator stalks.
The Peugeot 407 coupé is available in South Africa and the 3 litre V6 costs R349 900 and the 2,7 litre HDI turbo diesel costs R379 900.—Â