The car that jumped a class

Road test: Peugeot 406 V6

This car looks like a regular Peugeot 406 to you, I expect, so you may put it in the same category as a Ford Mondeo or a Vauxhall Vectra. After all, the 406 has been a huge success in Britain; its French maker says it has sold faster here than any Peugeot before it. So it fits in perfectly as a mainstream family car, its attractions over its rivals being a better combination of ride comfort and handling, and svelte looks created mainly by Italy's Pininfarina design studio.

But there is, of course, another zone of the motorscape, inhabited by cars of prestigious aura and German identity. Buy a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes-Benz and you are seeking an expression of tastes and values and, dare it be said, status. Yet are these cars really better? Drive this 406, and you may well wonder.

Under this 406's bonnet lies a new engine that makes it harder than ever to sustain a rational case for class distinction. It's a V6 engine, nearly three litres big, with 24 valves, all-aluminium construction, an output of 194bhp and impeccable design credentials. As with the earlier Peugeot V6 engine, which never found its way into the 406, the new one is a joint venture with Renault. Its next appearance, however, will be in the Citroen Xantia, another product of the Peugeot group.

For now, though, it's a 406 exclusive. If you have driven a regular four-cylinder 406, you will know that the engine is not its strongest point. It's smooth and quiet, but even the 2.0-litre version feels as flat as a pancake. The gear change is loose and clonky, too, albeit speedy of shift. All this has been remedied to dramatic effect in the V6 version.

Instead of being a mere mechanical device to pull the car along, the V6 engine has a voice. It sounds creamy and powerful, emitting a sophisticated snarl as you accelerate. Peugeot claims that the 406 V6 will smooth its way from a standstill to 60mph in 8.0 seconds, but I have measured its abilities at a test track and it will do it in 7.3. That's quick; less usefully, so is the 143mph top speed.

Because this engine pulls so effortlessly, as indeed a 2.9-litre engine should in a car that is not especially large, you don't need to use the gear change much. But when you do, you'll find it precise, smooth and pleasingly substantial. The 406 V6 is so easy and pleasing to drive smoothly that only the laziest, most ham-footed driver would favour an automatic transmission. It's not available yet, but will be soon.

Add the 406's usual prowess at stringing together a series of demanding bends and soaking up the bumps, and you have a highly appealing car, apart from one flaw: this 406's steering uses a so-called Servotronic system of power assistance, which makes it feel disconnectedly light at low speeds. Peugeot's regular arrangement feels much more natural, although at higher speeds the "meat" returns.

The 406 V6's capabilities confirmed, we can now ask the question hinted at earlier. Is there any point in buying something German and status- enhancing, when the 406 is this good? Leaving image and brand values aside, we find a car whose doors shut as solidly, whose paintwork is as lustrous, whose body panels fit as snugly, whose interior fittings feel as substantial. My experience of well-used 406s to date suggests it will stay this way, too. The 406 is Peugeot's most meticulously honed car to date. Now that it has the engine to match the ambience elsewhere, it moves into a new league.

This league, mid-sized saloons costing upwards of pounds 20,000, is inhabited by cars such as the pounds 21,030 BMW 323i (a 2.5-litre straight-six), the pounds 25,234 Audi A4 2.8 (a V6, like the Peugeot), and the pounds 27,840 Mercedes-Benz C280 (a straight-six, but soon to gain a new V6 engine). All those prices are for the cheapest versions, but you can get a 406 V6 for pounds 20,000 (unfortunately designated GLX, which cheapens its aura). That's more than you'd pay for a Mondeo or Vectra V6, but it's also a much more complete car. Alternatively, pounds 23,000 buys you a plusher 406 V6, this time with no extra designation, containing leather trim, air-conditioning, a CD player, electric seat adjustment and many other non-essentials but desirables.

This pricing lifts the Peugeot beyond the riff-raff but undercuts the Germans - especially when you take equipment into account. And you end up with a car roomier than an Audi, BMW or Mercedes, more comfortable on bumpy roads, right on the pace for speed and quietness, and more enjoyable to drive thanks to that terrific suspension. Don't bother with the optional electronic suspension pack, by the way, unless you're a very sporty driver.

In my view, the 406 V6 is a rock-solid rival for the iconographic Germans. Volkswagen's Passat, effectively an Audi A4 with more space and a lower price, has already bridged the quality gap and upset the established order. Now Peugeot's 406 V6 makes badge snobbery seem more pointless than ever. PEUGEOT 406 V6

Prices: pounds 20,000 (406 GLX V6) and pounds 23,000 (406 V6).

Engine: 2,946cc, V6, 24 valves, 194bhp at 5,500rpm; five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Performance: top speed, 143mph;

0-60 in 7.3sec.

Fuel consumption: 21-26mpg.

Suggested Topics
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

    Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition