"Peugeot 406 1.8 Saloon" doesn't sound to exciting does it? Well, no it's just a middle of the range medium-sized mainstream saloon.
But it is a sharp looking one. The metamorphosis of Peugeot's mid-ranger into the 406 has resulted in a car that manages to retain that distinctive Peugeot look, whilst gaining much sharper looks that aren't quite so "French" as previous models. Recently it's been face lifted, but it's debatable whether it's an improvement.
Inside it's pretty much the corporate PSA look that you would expect, relatively conservative and unremarkable, but with nothing objectionable either. The seats feel firmer than those you'll find in its Xantia cousin, and Peugeot use their own (not any improvement) radio remote controls.
The engine is the PSA group's 16 valve 1.8 litre. In this car, this does seem a quiet and sweet revving, if slightly under powered unit. This is connected to a light, accurate 5 speed manual box which is only slightly notchy across the gate.
Strangely the only two occasions I've driven Pugs, their motors and gearboxes always seemed nicer than the same units when fitted into equivalent Citroens, the reason for this I am at a loss to explain but I am not the only one to think this.
The engine-gearbox combination give adequate, if not startling performance, but there are plenty more engine options for those who need more get up and go.
Part of the reason it feels so staid is that the chassis is so superb. This car has the best handling/ride balance of any car in this class that I've driven. Somehow Peugeot has managed to get the ride of a Xantia into a car, which turns and steers better than a Mondeo. This chassis encourages you to really chuck the car about, and only in the tightest turns with full lock applied does the front wheel drive configuration cause any unwanted steering feedback The only slight gripe is the slowness of the steering which could be just a little quicker. Of course the 406 Coupe is available for those who want a sports car. But for a hack-around family saloon this really is terrific.
Interior space is good, although it doesn't feel quite as wide and spacious as the Xantia or Mondeo. The boot is adequate for most people who would choose a saloon over a hatchback.
Many would consider it a brave move to produce a car in this class without a hatchback in the range, but at least the one they have produced is a real stunner.
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