The implications are obvious only from inside the cabin, where the relationship between driving position, windscreen and A-pillars is near MPV-like. You sit lower, of course, but so far back the thick pillars create a real blind spot.
Pushing the driver rearwards also impacts on rear seat room and boot space. Rear head- and knee-room is disappointing, and the 407’s 407-litre boot is not only smaller than the 406’s, but also the smallest in the class, where the 500-litre Mondeo boot rules.
On the new 407, apparently, distinctive styling takes precedence over practicality. That’s a radical departure from a company whose 403, 404, 405 and 406 placed so much emphasis on accommodation. Peugeot claims customers now want status and character rather than MPV-style space; we shall see in the coming months.
Peugeot’s ambitions for the 407 are realistically in line with a class that has fallen from 27 per cent of the market, at the launch of the 405 in 1989, to just 17 per cent in 2003. In the first year, Peugeot hopes to sell 27,000 407s – including the SW estate that joins the range in September – compared with the 406’s best of near 50,000 a year.
After the styling, Peugeot’s key objective was driver appeal. It’s a measure of the attraction of contemporary turbodiesels that we’re driving the 134bhp HDi, the only new engine in a range that includes four petrols – £14,750 entry level 1.8-litre, 2.0- and 2.2-litre fours, and 3.0-litre V6 – plus 1.6-litre diesel and 2.0-litre TDi. The 2.7-litre V6 TDi, first seen in the S-type Jag, will follow later.
Depending upon the engine, five- and six-speed manuals are standard. Four-cylinder models continue to offer automatics with only four speeds, though the V6 gets a six-speed auto.
Developed by PSA, as part of its diesel joint venture with Ford, the 2.0-litre common-rail unit first appeared in the Focus C-Max. In the 407 it develops the same 134bhp at 4000rpm and 236lb ft at 2000rpm, despite the addition of a particulate filter to ensure it meets Euro4 emissions. Between 1500-3200rpm, under full load, an ‘overboost’ facility lifts peak torque to 251lb ft. Helpful when the 407, at 1505kg for the test diesel, is the heaviest car in the class.
Apart from an obtrusive oil-burner rattle at idle, the TDi engine is one of the best. Once on-song at around 1600rpm, it delivers a strong, near-linear push well beyond the rev counter’s 4400rpm red warning section.
No surprise, then, that the engine encourages a quick driving style that calls for plenty of gear changing, in part because the tall gear ratios don’t really support lugging. It certainly feels a lot quicker than Peugeot’s claimed 11sec to 62mph. The gearchange is a little notchy, but you quickly adapt and end up enjoying the shift process.
It’s best to limit the tall sixth gear – 33.3mph per 1000rpm – to motorways, where, mild wind rustle aside, the 407 is a thoroughly relaxed cruiser. Not that its dynamic talents are confined to the motorways.
Ever since the 404, Peugeots have been renowned for quiet suspension and the 407’s all-new double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions conform to the historic precedent. The lack of tyre (215/55 R17 Pirelli P7s on the test car) and road noise establish the blueprint for what is a brilliant chassis. The 407 points – really points – and this despite carrying a potentially worrying 64 per cent of its mass over the front wheels.