Peugeot 408 Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Sunday 5th February

Driving

What is it like to drive?

As with all Peugeots, first thing is the steering and control concept. You're presented with a flat-topped steering wheel, and you look at the high-mounted instrument pod above rather than through it. Some of us like this a lot; provided you sit fairly upright and adjust the steering column downward, the dials are in clear view and you don't have to drop your sightline very far.

If you tend to sit reclined or are shortish and keep the seat base low, your eyes won't be able to peer over the wheel rim and the dials will be more or less cut off. The whole idea also depends on a small steering wheel, which makes the steering feel direct, because Peugeot hasn't installed a low-geared steering rack to compensate.

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So small movements of the rim give you a rapid turning effect. Because the 408 is relatively soft in roll, it takes on a lean easily. You need to calibrate your movements, and feed in initial lock gently, so the roll angles build gradually. Once into the corner, it's grippy and keen, and resistant to hog-squealing understeer.

And the ride?

It's not soft-riding like a Citroen but the springing and damping do let the body breathe, giving it a long-legged and relaxed feeling. Yet there's enough control on big undulations and dips. Only in really tight bends does the PHEV feel its 1,700kg mass.

The least happy part of this chassis setup is on motorways. Because the steering is light and flighty just off-centre, it takes more effort than it should to hold the centre of your lane accurately. And it's not that stable in crosswinds.

Performance?

Outright poke is perfectly OK, at least in the 225bhp hybrid, the one we tested. But it's carrying 300kg more than the 130bhp pure-petrol and experience of these two powertrains in related cars tells us the little donkey would be at a surprisingly small disadvantage in lower-speed acceleration where weight takes a toll. For higher-speed overtaking the hybrid opens out an advantage.

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If you don't mash the throttle the hybrid is a refined powertrain, but it doesn't like it if you're on and off the power. Which you will be in a series of interesting bends. Then it sticks in high gears, aiming to use turbo boost and electric assistance. Until you floor it, when it clumsily shifts down two or three ratios.

There are steering wheel paddles to control the transmission's indecision, but they're pretty much a waste of plastic. The override lasts only a couple of seconds before it defaults back to auto, so you can't successfully hold a gear through a sequence of bends.

The brakes are a proper blended system, bringing regeneration when you lightly touch the pedal. It does it without a messy stepping point between electric and frictional retardation. Good.

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