From £34,7108
Pure-petrol version of this fastback-topped SUV rises above the PHEV variant

Ancient mythology often combined the features of various creatures to create new ones. Think of the centaur, the minotaur and the sphinx. No longer content with simple hatchbacks, coupés and SUVs, Peugeot is doing the same with the Peugeot 408, which it described in the press presentation as the bottom half of an SUV with the top half of a fastback.

Unlike most sphinxes, the 408 also has the ears of a cat. Really – just look at the rear spoiler. But, according to the literature, it also has a ‘feline stance’. And like the man-lion-eagle hybrid, the 408 presents a bit of a riddle: what, and who, is it really for?

Here is a car that looks like an SUV and has the higher centre of gravity, but not the tall driving position or generous glasshouse. Then again, those same ingredients haven’t stopped the Cupra Formentor from becoming a success. Peugeot hopes that the 408’s unusual shape will be a catalyst for people who wouldn’t ordinarily consider the brand to take another look at it.

02 Peugeot 408 puretech 130 fd 2023 rear driving

While the 408’s form may be something new, its mechanical package certainly isn’t. It’s all very familiar stuff from other Stellantis products. That means it’s underpinned by the latest V3 version of the EMP2 platform and is powered by either the 129bhp 1.2-litre Puretech three-pot, or the 1.6-litre plug-in hybrid powertrain. As with the Peugeot 308, the latter comes in 177bhp and 221bhp form. Manuals are fast becoming a thing of the past at Peugeot, so the eight-speed torque-converter auto is the only gearbox choice. An all-electric e-408 is on the way as well.

There are very few surprises inside. Up front, it’s all 308, really. The dashboard is the same, the centre console is the same and the i-Cockpit digital gauge cluster is the same. As with all other Peugeots, looking out over the small steering wheel at the high-set gauges works for some drivers, but not others. Same with the 3D effect on the gauges that comes on GT trim: it’s a really neat effect and I like it, but it gives some people a headache. At least you can turn it off.

The latest version of Peugeot’s infotainment works quickly and logically and you can configure the home screen to display the functions you need most often. It’s just frustrating that the only way to have the temperature control available all the time is for it to take over about half the screen.

Apart from a slightly different pattern for the upholstery, the front seats are 308 as well, which is no bad thing because they’re broadly comfortable and supportive. Taller drivers would be wise to spec the electric seats, though, as the manual ones don’t let you tilt the cushion.

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Peugeot 408 review 2023 07 driving

The bigger differences come in the back. Thanks to a 107mm-longer wheelbase, there is generous rear leg room – more than in a Peugeot 508 even. Because the roofline only drops down behind the rear seats and has those cat’s ears in it, there’s more head room than the car’s swoopy shape would suggest, too. The 536 litres of boot space (471 litres in the PHEV) is not to be sniffed at, either.

When we went on the car’s original press launch in Spain earlier this year, we drove mainly the plug-in hybrid, but having now sampled both that model and the pure-petrol version back to back on UK roads, it’s clear that the latter is the one to go for if you’re in a position to resist the siren song of the hybrid’s low company car tax.

The petrol car’s 129bhp pulls 1392kg, which results in a 10.4sec 0-62mph time. That might sound underpowered, but during normal driving, the three-cylinder is pretty smooth and has a decent spread of torque, so as long as you take it easy, you won't feel too hard done by.

There is no doubt the 408 could do with more grunt, though. The Puretech is happy to rev and emits a moderately sporting noise. That's a good thing, because if you want to make swift progress or merge on to a motorway, you'll need all it's got to give.

With eight ratios in the automatic gearbox, there's one for every occasion, but it can sometimes take the software a bit too long to find it. Sport mode helps with that, but also makes the throttle response annoyingly jumpy.

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During gentle motorway cruising, the petrol 408 can return economy in the high 40s. Enthusiastic use of the throttle and revs will make it tumble down into the low 30s, though. A week of mixed use yielded 41mpg.

Another, perhaps less obvious benefit of the petrol over the hybrid is in the ride and handling. Swapping between the two, it is quite obvious how the loss of 300kg lets the lighter car flow along a road with noticeably less pitching and heaving than the hybrid. Turn-in feels more incisive, too, and the ride feels a touch more compliant.

Then there’s the price. At £34,650, a Puretech 130 in GT trim is £10,500 cheaper than a Hybrid 225 in GT trim. Put some options on the hybrid, and you could end up with a £50,000 Peugeot 408. The Puretech is still more expensive than a comparable Cupra Formentor or Citroën C5 X, but is actually quite competitive on finance.

07 Peugeot 408 puretech 130 fd 2023 front corner

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Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

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xxxx 10 February 2023

It's got a GT and fastback name tag, looks like a big expensive car but the first time you want to up the pace you're reminded it's a 1.2 3 pot, one that cost 35k to boot.