On sale in May, Fleet News was invited to take a closer look at Peugeot's new big fleet favourite at the PSA test track in Belchamp, France, as well as on the road – as a passenger.
Saloon versions arrive in the UK in May, while five-door SW versions go on sale in July. Peugeot believes it will sell 18,000 units in the UK for the remainder of this year, and 27,000 in 2005. About 70% of 407s sold will have company car drivers at the wheel.
The car will go on sale with four petrol engines – a 117bhp 1.8-litre, a 137bhp 2.0-litre, a 160bhp 2.2-litre and a 211bhp 3.0-litre V6 – and two diesels.
A 110bhp 1.6 HDi is expected to be class-leading for fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, while a 136bhp 2.0 HDi blends strong performance and fuel economy.
An automatic transmission will be offered for diesel drivers, while the 407 will gain a new 2.7-litre V6 diesel.
The entry-level 1.8 S saloon will be priced at £14,750 on-the-road, with the 1.6 HDi S at £15,550 OTR. The SW versions start at £1,100 more.
The key areas where Peugeot thinks the 407 will steal a march on its main rivals are safety, and ride and handling.
PEUGEOT'S main safety objective was to ensure all occupants would be protected in all types of crashes, with attention to reducing repair costs in low-speed impacts.
Engineers have designed the car to achieve five stars for occupant protection in the Euro NCAP tests, and most of the range in the UK will have seven airbags as standard and nine in the top-of-the-range model.
As well as side impact beams, there is padding in the front doors at hip level to further reduce risk of serious injury. Active head restraints are fitted to reduce whiplash injuries in rear impacts.
Peugeot is also expecting better-than-average performance in pedestrian protection, suggesting a two or three-star rating was achievable. Few cars tested in Euro NCAP so far have achieved three stars for pedestrian protection – an area where manufacturers have been urged to improve performance.
Peugeot has ensured the 407 offers good protection in car-to-car collisions. The 407 has an upper beam and lower beam in the front-end structure, to ensure better absorption of front-end impacts. The lower beam has three distinct parts between the front bumper and the bulkhead between the passenger compartment and the engine, each able to withstand a higher impact before deforming, so in low-to-medium speed crashes, only the damaged parts need replacing.
Ride and handling
WHEN the Peugeot 406 was launched in 1996 it offered the best compromise of ride and handling in the upper-medium sector.
Since then it has lost out to the Ford Mondeo and Mazda6 to name just two, and is keen to regain its reputation for producing cars with fantastic handling and a sublime ride.
New front and rear axles were designed for the 407 as well as a new steering system, new braking system and new electronic stability programme.
Lower front suspension parts are common with the Citroen C5, while the upper parts are unique to the Peugeot. The rear suspension is a development of the 406's system. The suspension (pictured) has been designed so that in hard cornering, the negative camber is increased both front and rear, improving the car's handling. The 3.0-litre V6 has electronically controlled damping used in the Peugeot 607, which continuously monitors road conditions and adjusts the dampers in about 40 milliseconds.
Peugeot wanted class-leading braking performance for the 407 and uses 330mm discs at the front with 290mm at the rear – particularly large for this class. In Peugeot tests, the 407 has been hauled to a stop from 81mph in 66 metres, quicker than most of its rivals.
The 407's electronic stability programme comprises cornering brake control, emergency braking assistance, traction control, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and vehicle stability control.
A combination of systems in operation can reduce running wide on corners by braking three of the four wheels, or cut out oversteer with barely detectable intervention for slight oversteer or more overt control when the rear-end steps out in a more pronounced fashion.
Behind the wheel
STRICTLY speaking, this section is written from the front passenger seat, as no journalist is allowed to drive the 407 for a few more weeks.
However, with an engineer at the wheel who had already racked up thousands of kilometres in the 407 during its development, and with a far better knowledge of local roads than I had, I was able to gain a good degree of awareness of how the car performs.
Some of the distinctiveness of the exterior is carried inside with the instrument binnacle and centre console standing out from the rest of the dashboard, and a level of quality on a par with the best in the volume upper-medium sector.
The first of the two models available for assessment was the 3.0-litre V6 with the new six-speed automatic transmission, which is noticeably smoother than the four-speed unit it replaces.
The car picks up speed effortlessly and apart from the velvety muted six-cylinder soundtrack, barely audible unless pushed hard, the 407 remains quiet right up to the 81mph legal limit in France.
The engineer in the driving seat said benchmarks for the 407 were the Ford Mondeo, Renault Laguna and even the BMW 3-series.
It's quite a challenge for the engineers to give a front-wheel drive car as much driver appeal as a 3-series.
Off the motorway, the 407 seemed to relish being hustled along sweeping country roads, with seemingly few steering movements from the driver to ensure the desired line was held through corners.
Grip levels in the wide-tyred 3.0-litre were remarkable in the dry and on challenging and undulating surfaces, the ride was utterly cosseting. Occupants were aware of bumps and changes of road surface through the merest audible thump through the suspension, but the car's behaviour barely changed.
The 407 felt solid during high-speed corners, with very little leaning and sure-footed body control.
A spell in the 2.0 HDi showed that while there is no mistaking it for a diesel at idle, the engine is quiet on the move, with a healthy dose of mid-range torque allowing the diesel to keep the V6 in its sights in the chase along country roads.
IF the Peugeot 407 drives as well as it feels from the passenger seat, then the Ford Mondeo is in danger of losing its mantle as the best riding/handling car in the upper-medium sector. Strong on safety, performance and with good diesels, the 407 is bound to appeal to those who don't want a Mondeo or Vectra.