Peugeot 407 Coupé

Specially developed in a Peugeot-Ford joint-venture, this powerful diesel V6 is quiet and will have petrol engines gasping in its wake. Don't be a fool; try one, says John Simister

There's a heartwarming tradition being played out here. Many years ago it was usual for certain carmakers, purveyors of solid, stylish, middle-class machinery, to have a swish coupé in the range. It would likely be designed by Pininfarina or Bertone, and would add some glamour to a worthy line-up.

In that world, Peugeot's new 407 Coupé would have been welcomed just as the old and lovely 404 and 504 Coupés were. And so should the outgoing 406 Coupé have been, an utterly gorgeous looking creation which sold poorly here because it wasn't German and it topped a range tailed by low-cost superminis.

Peugeot's 407 Coupé is, naturally enough, based on the 407 saloon. That links it in buyers' minds to the mainstream world of middle-management company cars, but Peugeot prefers to take this risk of killing the Coupé's kudos for the benefit of giving the whole 407 range a glamour lift. Yet, like Peugeot coupés of old, it is built in a special way to be a more special car.

That said, this is the first Peugeot coupé in decades not to have a Pininfarina connection, in design or in manufacturing. The result shares no external panels at all with the 407 saloon, not least because the Coupé is nearly two inches wider.

It lacks the beauty and delicacy of Pininfarina's Ferrari-esque 406 Coupé, but there's another hint of Ferrari in those three angled air slots ahead of the front wheels. They disguise the enormous front overhang and call up images of a delicious 1964 275 GTB (another Pininfarina design).

There's another visual trick on the rear quarters. Ignore the red tail lights, and you'll see how the various ridges meet to create the folded corner of a box. It's as if the light has been painted around the corner, creating the effect of two different designs superimposed on each other.

Peugeot makes the Coupé at its factory in Rennes, where other 407s and Citroën C5s roll off the lines in quantity. But over to one side is a separate, slower moving line where there's time to expend more car and skill on the Coupé and the forthcoming Citroën C6.

Satin-silver trims on the doors and the dashboard are real aluminium, the SE and GT models have smooth leather trim and that top GT adds leather to the dashboard and instrument cowl. The whole ambience is one of care and quality, with subtle, bright metal accents and opulent textures. It's a match for anything German. The rear seats are unusually roomy for a coupé, too - two adults have plenty of space.

Now we need to drive the Coupé, mindful that it's meant to be a swish, feel-good cruiser and not a hard-edged sports car. One of the three engines on offer is a 3.0-litre V6 with 211bhp, an 8.3-second 0-60mph time and the ability to whoosh up to 151mph should the opportunity arise. It comes with manual or automatic transmission; we'll try the manual. The Coupé and I don't flow together at first.

The engine needs to be worked surprisingly hard, because this is a very heavy car partly because of the weight of the wide, extremely stiff body. Also, the accelerator response is mushy in the first part of the pedal's movement, so accurate matching of engine revs to road speed during a gear change is not always easy. But if I stop trying to get the most from the engine, and let the Peugeot waft along at its own rate, an inner calm does descend.

This is a very quiet car. The seats are sumptuous, the steering is accurate, the tyres grip harder than you would ever expect them to. This is hardly a flickable, inertia-free car but it points keenly despite its mass and never feels stodgy.

It also soaks up the trauma of troubled road surfaces very well, except when a pothole or sharp ridge crashes through the insulation barrier. Active dampers, with nine automatically selected degrees of stiffness help, along with that strong body. There's also a Sport mode which keeps the dampers permanently firm, but the ride can then turn turbulent.

So far, so quite good. But the engine is frustrating, a barrier to the car-driver interface that you wouldn't find in a BMW. It needs more oomph. And how will the entry-level engine, a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder unit with 163bhp, cope? Torpidly, I suspect, but so far there has been no chance to find out.

But there's another engine to try. It's a diesel (what? In a luxury coupé?) but it's no ordinary diesel. This is the Peugeot-Ford joint-venture V6, and the Jaguar XJ6 with this engine is the smoothest, quietest diesel car there has ever been. One reason for this is its "active" engine mounts, which oscillate in concert with the engine but out of phase with it.

The Peugeot is similarly equipped and almost as quiet, but enough engine sound remains to remind you you're driving a powerful V6. And that's the point: apart from a more metallic note at idle, this sounds as you expect a V6 to sound, not like a diesel.

And with 205 bhp (scarcely less than the petrol V6) from its 2.7 litres and twin turbochargers, plus an enormous amount of torque, this is the engine of choice for the 407 Coupé.

Its ultimate pace is less than the petrol engines but on real roads it's much faster. On a hill it leaves the petrol car far behind, and overtaking is just a matter of squeezing the accelerator. It comes only with automatic transmission and runs out of steam at 4,500rpm, but the muscle power makes up for any lack of hands-on driver input.

Is there any downside to the diesel? It's heavier, so a little less alert in corners. It costs more, busting the £30k barrier in GT trim. But it's the 407 Coupé that feels comfortable with itself. Peugeot isn't expecting to sell many in the UK, and will restrict numbers to protect residual values, but the fact is most people in the market for such a car won't consider the 407 because it wears the wrong badge.

"The problem is going to be getting people to try one," says the UK marketing manager Andy Sutton. More fool them, for this is a charming and special car.

The rivals

ALFA GT 3.2 V6
£27,300
Based on the outgoing 156, the GT has a sonorous V6 engine, discreetly elegant looks and generous space. Rapid and refined, but stymied by indifferent dealers. Change is coming.

MAZDA RX-8 23
£22,300
Fabulously different coupé with a super-smooth rotary engine, plenty of pace, vestigial rear doors and long-bonnet looks. Buy this one rather than the cheaper, lower-power model.

MERCEDES-BENZ CLK 320 CDI ELEGANCE or AVANTGARDE
£34,105
Mercedes-Benz does a V6 diesel coupé, too, with a powerful 221bhp engine. It is certainly expensive but well made and fun to drive, unlike the last CLK.

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