Peugeot 405 X 4

When you've driven a past master of four-wheel drives there's no modern comparison, writes David Wilkins
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Nobody knows quite what constitutes a classic car but most people would agree that a standard Peugeot 405 does not yet qualify. Well enough regarded when introduced, the 405 had more dash than contemporary Cavaliers but gave way to the 406 less than a decade ago.

Nobody knows quite what constitutes a classic car but most people would agree that a standard Peugeot 405 does not yet qualify. Well enough regarded when introduced, the 405 had more dash than contemporary Cavaliers but gave way to the 406 less than a decade ago.

But two essential qualities of a classic are rarity and pedigree. On these criteria, there is one version of Peugeot's old mid-ranger that qualifies - the all-wheel drive variant. Strictly speaking, there were three - the basic GLx4 (which I ran) and the sportier Mi16x4 and a late model turbo-charged T16x4.

With regards to rarity, the 1990 405x4 was one of several 4x4 versions of mainstream cars that suddenly appeared in response to Audi's Quattros - and equally suddenly disappeared. Who remembers the 4x4 Cavaliers, Sierras, BXs and 405s now? They were rare at the time and are rarer today. My guess is that it was just too difficult to communicate the benefits of all-wheel-drive for road cars to the average buyer.

What about pedigree? As motor industry consolidation continues apace, more and more brands are concentrated in the hands of a few giant players. This usually leads to component sharing and the dilution of previously distinctive brands. But occasionally, mergers can produce cars that bring together some of the best qualities and components of the merged marques in a mutually reinforcing, rather than dilutive manner. The 405x4 was such a car, combining characteristics from three distinct Peugeot and Citroen model families.

First, the 405 on which it was based was the latest in a line of front-wheel-drive Peugeots that started with the 204 in 1965 and continued with successes like the 305 and 205. Second, with its driven rear wheels, the 405x4 tapped the tradition of Peugeot's respected rear-wheel-drive models - the 403, 404, 504, 604 and the 505, then fading from the scene. And third, in the interests of commonality with the BX 4WD, the 405x4 had Citroen-style oleo-pneumatic suspension (if only at the rear), like the well-regarded DS, SM and GS.

So did the car live up to the promise? Broadly speaking, yes. Testers often remarked that non-sporty 4x4 road cars such as the 405x4 had a rather inert feel. Although I would disagree, it is true that the weight penalty of all-wheel-drive did tend to take the edge off these cars' already unexciting performance, while their great traction and sure cornering made them feel almost too safe for some.

In the Peugeot's case this tendency was exaggerated by the self-levelling effect of the Citroen's rear suspension, which helped the car keep its composure even under heavy acceleration and braking. This feeling of serenity was, however, undermined by a certain restlessness in the engine department; in order to pep up the 405x4's performance, Peugeot shortened its gearing, making it a noisy motorway cruiser. But the 4x4 system gave a terrific sense of security as well. I can think of no better car for pulling out into a tight gap on a wet, busy road - under these conditions, you don't want wheelspin.

And the car was full of little details to delight the motoring anorak. Just one example - the tyres were specially developed by Pirelli for this model. Asymmetric tread patterns using hard and soft compounds were designed to give grippy, dry road cornering as well as good traction in wet or muddy conditions.

Now, the choice of mainstream models with four driven wheels is limited - apart from Jaguar X-Types and Audis, only Subaru keeps the flame burning now. If it was difficult to sell four-wheel-drive for everyday cars in 1990, it is harder today; traction control systems provide many of the advantages without the expense and weight.

So instead of enjoying four-wheel-drive in a car again, I will probably just be left with my fond memories of the classic 405x4.

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