Peugeot's new coupé

 

Price £26,700 (as tested)
Maximum speed 151mph, 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds
Combined fuel economy 27.6mpg
Further information 0845 200 1234

Given all the majestic, noble creatures to choose from in the animal kingdom, who would base their corporate image on the face of a basking shark? Peugeot, that's who, and this is the latest car to carry this fearful, gaping visage: the new 407 coupé.

Basking sharks are one thing, but of all the animal species the human race must be the most peculiar. We eat rabbits, but not cats; millions find Adam Sandler amusing; odder still, we seem prepared to pay more for cars with two doors than with four.

The 407 coupé, which is, of course, based on the 407 saloon, costs several thousand pounds more than an equivalent-engined four-door, yet it does nothing that the saloon can't do, and actually falls short in several other areas - most notably, number of doors. Because it has only two doors, yet still has an (actually very spacious) rear seat, the doors need to be absurdly long, which means they are also very heavy. Worse, they need to be opened to an impractically wide degree to allow access to the front seats, which means you can forget all about the narrow bays of modern multi-storey car parks.

Usually, the saving grace of this kind of car is its looks. The last Peugeot coupé, the 406, was notably gorgeous, but even here the 407 coupé blunders. It is tidy enough from the rear (and so was the Ferrari 355 it blatantly apes), but from the front it is really quite frightening, with a gigantic front overhang and, of course, that gaping gob. This car has a bigger underbite than Keira Knightly. Side-on, there are strong echoes of the Ford Cougar (most famous owner: William Hague). And look where they've put the wing mirrors! It's as if they've been stuck on during some drunken version of pin the tail on the donkey.

You may have read in my review of the 1007 the other week that I've been having problems getting hold of Peugeots. It seems that the company is a little fed up with all the nasty things I keep saying about its cars, to the extent that there were strong hints that I was about to be banned from testing them altogether. In fact, before I drove the 407 coupé, I was quite ready to enforce my own unilateral ban. I'd had it with Peugeots - doing all these wretched write-ups was tarnishing my soul and I wanted no more of it.

Then I drove the coupé and, well, I still wasn't very impressed. This is not a wieldy car by any means; not only is it longer than a narrowboat, but it steers like one too, and - as with the execrable 407 saloon I tried last year - the manual gear-change is one of the worst of any car on sale today. It's quiet and refined, I'll give it that. Cabin noise was limited to a little tyre rumble and my own intermittent tutting. Superficially, it feels like a £30,000 car, but then the passenger door refused to close a few times, the petrol flap release wouldn't open, and I began to suspect that the 407 coupé will soon be sinking to the lower ranges of customer satisfaction surveys, along with the rest of Peugeot's range.

Similarly bottom-bound are residual values as, astonishingly, if you specify a 407 coupé with the best engine in the range, the V6 diesel, it does cost over £30,000. I imagine anyone thinking about a BMW 3-Series coupé or even a Mazda RX-8 who hears this will be left gasping like a basking shark in disbelief. s

It's a classic: Peugeot 402

Prior to the 407, Peugeot didn't exactly have a track record of challenging leaps in design, but the radical, streamlined 402 of 1939 was an exception.

Launched into a pre-war Europe more used to boxy, basic saloons, it caused quite a stir, with innovative features that included headlights hidden behind the grill and rear wheel spats. Even the front bumper curved at the ends like the twirly moustache of a silent movie villain.

This wind-cheating styling allowed its rather basic engine (two-litre, four-cylinder) to propel the 402 to a quite respectable (for its time) 80mph.

Peugeot sold 79,000 402s in the first year of production; but this turned out to be its last as the Second World War changed France's manufacturing priorities overnight. Happily, before production ended, Peugeot built several examples of its beautiful, quick-racing 402, the DC Coupé, capable of 95mph. Today it is one of the most desirable Peugeot models ever made.

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