Alexei Sayle: It's the kind of car my alter ego would drive

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Indy Lifestyle Online

There is a shade of red so deep it is almost purple, nearly the colour of Uma Thurman's nails in Pulp Fiction; it is a red that is found only in France. There, it appears in moquette on the banquette seating of reasonably priced bistros and in hessian on the walls of cinemas that show only the films of Jerry Lewis. And now it appears in stitched and punched leather on the dash and seats of the new Peugeot 407 Coupé.

Many people have remarked on how pretty and harmonious the previous model, the 406 Coupé, was. This pretty car, only let down by its dull interior, was styled by Pininfarina, and the new model doesn't quite achieve that same balance and poise. Yet I feel that, in some ways, the 407 is a more valid flagship vehicle for the Peugeot Citroën Group, simply because the style and elegance of the 406, while delightful in its way, was undeniably Italian in appearance, whereas the new coupé, with its gaping mouth, slatted bumpers and long front overhang, couldn't be mistaken for anything other than a vehicle designed and built in France.

The first time I noticed this special French red-that-is-not-quite purple was in the early Seventies, when I was travelling around Europe for free on the pass I was entitled to as the son of a railwayman, being hurtled at unbelievable speed across the flat open fields of northern France towards the almost mythical city of Paris on the new TGV trains being introduced by then across the SNCF network.

Until that point, trains in France had been of a dull, uniform, wartime green, often with wooden seats, the smell of Gauloise cigarettes and peasants sitting next to their pet pig. Then suddenly there were these fantastic, futuristic sleek trains, undeniably French but modern and aerodynamic as well. To my art student sensibility, the Train Grand Vitesse was so much more elegant than British Rail's Inter-City 125 of the same period.

On the inside, these wonderfully smooth riding expresses possessed buffets called "Bar Corail", which served remarkably bad coffee and were clad in a hard-edged variety of plastics with inset fillets of brushed aluminium on the walls . Both of these - the plastics and the strips of brushed aluminium - are to be found in the doors and dashboard of the 407, and again combine to lend the car its distinctive and original Gallic flavour.

Yet the sense of being in some sleek, powerful, continent-spanning express, the feeling of being drawn along by an immensely powerful locomotive, derives most in the 407 Coupé from the marvellous power plant that lies under the long bulbous hood. It is the same V6 HDi 2.7 litre diesel unit that is shared with Jaguar and is ideally suited to a large, long-legged four-seater two-door such as the 407. This is a fabulous engine, smooth and linear in its power delivery, quiet and without diesel clatter, linked to a six-speed auto box that delivers surging acceleration.

It is also worth pointing out that the Peugeot has a decent-sized boot for a coupé and a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It is only the ride - a little on the jittery side at low speeds - that slightly belies the impression of being on an express train.

I keep reading about this thing called identity theft, and I rather wish that somebody would steal my identity so that my insurance company could provide me with a new one, on a new-for-old basis. If I could choose, I would like to be an athletic 40-year-old called Max, or possibly Marcus, who lives in a riverside loft apartment equipped with a stainless steel top-of-the-range kitchen that he actually uses to cook in and an expensive home cinema set-up on which he watches Spanish language films with his Tahitian model girlfriend Tanya.

Max/Marcus, being a free-thinking individual who considers himself to be somebody who appreciates beauty and style of a distinctive, original kind, would certainly consider driving a Peugeot 407 Coupé rather than more conventional offerings from German or Japanese automobile manufacturers. Maybe you would, too, even if you haven't stolen my identity.

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