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
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.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

    £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory