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Peugeot 407

 

Peugeot's facelifted 307 might be its most important model in New Zealand, where it makes up a third of the brand's sales.

The revised version just revealed in Europe might now have the new family face, the gaping mouth and shortened bonnet imparting a strength the outgoing design lacked.

It might now have better spec at around the same price, and it might be launching in New Zealand later this month, but it was back-page news in Spain last week compared to the new 407 coupe.

Changes to the 407 Coupe's dimensions have imparted a clarity to the design that its 407 sedan and wagon predecessors lacked. They're elegant enough, but the coupe offers an aggressive edge beneath the silky skin that grows on you the more you look at it.

Where its 406 coupe predecessor was so understated it disappeared off the radar, this car's an eye-magnet, and for all the right reasons.

Longer by 139mm, a good 45mm lower and sleeker by far, it's an automotive shark even before you note the gill slashes that punctuate its flanks.

Slide in and you nestle 20mm lower and 9mm further back in an interior that's got the ambience to suit. Four supportive seats, here lavished in leather that extends across the dash and fascia, hold you firm as you fire up the 3.0-litre variable valve-timed V6.

NZ won't get the 120kW 2.2-litre four because it's felt not to suit the aspirational GT aura of this flagship car. The petrol V6 is filched from the sedan, and offers 155kW at 6000rpm and 290Nm at 3750, to take it from 0-100 in 8.4 seconds in six-speed manual form - or 8.7 in six-speed auto.

Floor the throttle, and there's an evocative growl as you hurl forward, slamming her up through the gears to a relaxed cruise in top. Perhaps a little too relaxed for NZ conditions, for in sixth at 3750rpm you're sitting on 150km/h - though it pulls and sounds its best immediately below the magical 6000 mark.

It might be hard to imagine, but the 2.7-litre V6 HDi diesel unit with its two, variable geometry turbochargers is actually quieter than that petrol engine. But it's far from innocuous in performance terms. There may be only 150kW on tap at 4000rpm, but at 1900rpm all 440Nm of torque is pouring to the front wheels. Despite the diesel's slightly hefty 1724kg weight, its claimed 0-100km/h time is 8.5 seconds - two-tenths quicker than the auto petrol car, though it feels faster still perhaps because of all that low-down urge.

This engine's been borrowed by Jaguar for good reason.

Floor it, and there's a smooth downshift, a distant thunder and the car lifts like a surfer riding the crest of a joyous, rolling wave of torque. That six-speed auto gearbox is well matched to this engine; you can change manually but will rarely need to, and it's now, in the midst of all that mumbo, that you really appreciate what Peugeot has achieved with this car.

 For the geometry tweaks have done more than define its looks. The wider track - up 19mm in front and 45mm to the rear in a car that's 57mm wider overall - is no doubt a factor in this coupe's strict roll control. But another reason it feels so planted is the lower centre of gravity - down 25mm on the sedan.

That's partly thanks to a drop in height, the front springs shortened by 10mm and the rears by 23mm. The double-wishbone drop-link front and multi-arm rear suspension features more rigid springs, plus shorter, denser bump stops than the sedan and wagon. And all cars get the AMVAR electronically controlled suspension, which variably controls each damper independently.

The result trod the fine line between comfort and performance, on Spanish roads achieving a blend that suits a GT car with sporting flavour. How it will cope with our tighter roads remains to be seen, but its unflappability near the limit in Spain bodes well for its future.

There's endless grip from the tyres wrapping those 18-inch wheels - indeed it might be more entertaining with less. The twin turbos spool up, offering smooth, seamless urge, and the wheels transfer it all with barely a twitch; you could balance the car on the throttle, helped by steering that mercifully is neither numb nor uncommunicative.

Let it go to your head, nudge that envelope a little too close and the barrage of electronics will gather you up - ABS linked to brake assist, traction and stability control. If it all goes wrong some seven airbags will cut in, but you'd have to be more than careless. We were pushing on and didn't see a warning light flicker, let alone get a fright.

Leaving the sun-blasted hills and dusty olive groves behind we slowed to cruise the motorways towards Granada, taking the chance to admire the car's plentiful spec as we did. Cruise control, parking aids, tyre pressure indicators; dual zone air con, and laminated windows to reduce cabin noise; electric seats and directional xenon headlights - the list goes on.

Peugeot says coupe buyers are hedonists, driven by aesthetics and sportiness not by brand loyalty. Which might be why NZ's marketing manager, Rod Cunningham, seems so confident, predicting 50 sales next year despite the car's arrival only in the second quarter.

Yet even if he doesn't hit his targets he won't care. For this coupe isn't important for numbers sold, but for the reflected glory it casts on the rest of the range. And if our drive is anything to go by, the other cars may need sunscreen to get by.

Review by Jacqui Madelin

 PEUGEOT 407 COUPE SPECIFICATIONS
Engine 2946cc V6 petrol with VVT, 155kW at 6000rpm and 290Nm at 3750rpm; or 2720cc twin turbo V6 diesel, 150kW at 4000rpm and 440Nm at 1900rpm
Transmission Front-wheel drive. Gearbox: six-speed manual (petrol) or six-speed auto (petrol or diesel)
Wheels and tyres 18-inch alloys with 235/45YR18 tyres (19-inch wheels optional)
Performance 0-100km/h (claimed): 8.4 seconds (petrol manual); 8.7 seconds (petrol, auto); 8.5 seconds (diesel, auto)
Fuel economy (combined): 10.2 litres/100km (petrol, claimed); 8.5 litres/100km (diesel, claimed); 8.3 litres/100km (diesel, achieved)
Dimensions Length, 4815mm. Width, 1868mm. Height, 1399mm. Wheelbase, 2725mm


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