What might the worldwide sedan of the future be like? In answer, Peugeot offers us this, the 408, part-saloon, part-coupe SUV, part-practical hatch. The brand claims its 'a new breed of car'. It'll certainly need a new breed of buyer.
To hatch or to SUV? That is the question - or at least it is if you're looking for compact yet spacious and practical family or business conveyance. The needs to be a third way, a blank space in the market not really filled by compact saloons or coupe-SUVs. But possibly resolved by this car, Peugeot's 408. The 408 is an innovative, style-led Fastback with elements that could conceivably appeal to customers in all the categories just mentioned. Conventionality has characterised previous 4.0-series Peugeots, but this one is anything but. The three (rather than four) digit name designates the company's wish for this car to be seen as distinct from its range of SUVs, but there's plenty of crossover in the chunky aesthetics. Yet at the same time, it's a kind of futuristic take what the family hatch of the future might be like. Under the skin, it's based on (and was designed alongside) a family hatch very much of the present, Peugeot's third generation 308. Lots then, to talk about here.
The most conventional part of the 408 lies with what you'll find beneath the bonnet, all of it a duplication of what's on offer in the 308 hatch. You might still marvel at the technology in the Hybrid versions, which mate an 81kW electric motor with a 1.6-litre PureTech petrol engine that primarily contributes to total outputs of either 178 or 222bhp. The 12.4kWh battery that powers the motor should deliver about 35 miles of EV range before the engine cuts in. A full-electric e-408 model will be offered at some point, but you'll need to wait a little for that. Humbler 408 variants get the brand's usual three cylinder 1.2-litre PureTech 130 petrol unit, though Peugeot's planned replacement powerplant for this engine - which will use mild hybrid tech - will be introduced fairly early in the production cycle, so you might want to wait for that. All the engines on offer only drive through the front wheels and have to be paired with 8-speed auto transmission. Semi-autonomous drive tech is offered via a 'Drive Assist Pack' that allows stop-and-go driving in lane and semi-automatic lane changes with the indicator toggle stalk.
As this model's lengthy seven year gestation period suggests, Design Project Manager Pierre-Paul Mattei and his team had some difficulty in getting the Peugeot board to sign off on the 408 - and it's not difficult to see why. Even Mattei admits that 'giving the car dynamism without hiding its roominess' was problematical. Eventually, the project was probably green-lighted because this car shares so much with the 308 hatch it was developed alongside. Actually though, it's closer in quirky concept (and size) to another unconventional Stellantis Group Gallic model, the Citroen C5 X. The 408, according to its stylists, is a 'reinvention of the mid-sized sedan', with feline fashion touches like the radical front grille, an unusual bulbous rear diffuser and a duck tail spoiler. It's clearly been designed around the unusually styled 20-inch wheels of top variants, so with base 17-inch rims, owners might be disappointed with the finished effect. There be disappointed if they come expecting an equally 'disruptive' sense of style inside too because the dash is lifted entirely from the Peugeot 308. Many though, will see that as unusual enough, with its trademark Peugeot 'i-Cockpit' tiny steering wheel, over which (rather than through which) you view the virtual gauges on the 10-inch Digital Driver's Display. Another 10-inch screen adorns the centre of the fascia, with digital shortcut keys beneath and the brand's latest voice control system. In the rear seat, there's more head and knee room than you get in a 308 - but not much more. And out back with a conventional engine fitted, there's a decent 536-litre boot, extendable to 1,611-litres. The PHEV version's cargo area size falls to 471-litres.
As is now usual in the industry, you'll be able to buy or lease this car online, as well as at a dealer. You can expect pricing to be pitched around £3,000 over an equivalent 308 and about the level of its Stellantis Group cousin, the Citroen C5 X, which means a starting point for 408 ownership of around £31,000. That makes this car will look a tempting prospect over what is perhaps its most obvious rival from a non-Stellantis Group brand, Renault's Arkana. Expect top Plug-in Hybrid variants to be priced way beyond top Arkanas though, up towards £40,000. There are three mainstream trim options - 'Allure', 'Allure Premium' and 'GT'. And the initial 'First Edition' variant (which is a Plug-in Hybrid) costs over £43,000. Standard equipment across the range of course includes the brand's usual 'i-Cockpit' dash layout, which includes a Digital Dial Display and a 10-inch centre infotainment screen with wireless 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring and Peugeot's latest voice control system. LED headlights and tail lamps are standard and entry-level models ride on 17-inch wheels, but you'll want to trade up to the unusual 'squared-off design' 20-inch rims of top variants which are aero-styled to contribute to the 0.28Cd drag factor. Key options include thicker side glass, night vision and a 'Drive Assist Pack which offers limited semi-autonomous drive tech and Rear Traffic Alert. In the mainstream range, customers will choose between a small range of options packs.
The running costs from the PureTech and Hybrid petrol engines used by the 408 will be very little different to those of equivalent 308 hatch models. Think 48.1mpg on the combined cycle and 136g/km of CO2 for the PureTech 130 engine, figures which will doubtless be improved upon by this engine's eventual replacement mild hybrid unit. This car's chassis (an evolved version of the brand's usual EMP2 platform) can support a full-electric e-408 variant (which will have a 50kWh battery and a range of around 250 miles). From launch though, the main route to 408 electrification will lie through the two Plug-in Hybrid variants, the Hybrid 180 and the Hybrid 225. As we mentioned in our 'Driving Experience' section, around 35 miles of battery running is claimed in each case, while CO2 is rated at 26g/km. From a household plug, both PHEV variants will be replenished in just over seven hours. You'll find 3.7kW single-phase charging supported as standard, which means recharges will take three hours and 50 minutes. A 7.4kW on-board charger is available as an option and plugged into a wallbox, the battery will take one hour and 50 minutes to be topped up. The plug-in hybrid 408 variants offer a thermal pre-conditioning function too. Via the MyPeugeot smartphone app or by using the vehicle's touchscreen, owners can schedule a wake-up time for the battery. This means that the cells can be at the optimal temperature for efficiency from the time you start up, plus of course the interior can also be pre-cooled or pre-heated too.
When you boil everything right down to it, the 408 is merely a 308 hatch with trendier tailoring. Yet it feels so much more than that. Choose one and your family and friends will spend hours arguing over exactly what kind of car it is, missing the point, which is that this Peugeot doesn't want to be pigeon-holed into any particular category. It's style-led without being impractical. And futuristic, but also very much of its time. It's a pity that the budget didn't extend into allowing the design team to create a unique interior. But you could argue that it's 308-derived cabin is already unusual enough. Less of an issue is all the carry-over engineering. So will the 408 set a new trend? Or be in future remembered as an interesting curiosity? It will be fascinating to see.