Peugeot 408 review: genre-defying hybrid puts the cat among the pigeons

Stylish fastback/crossover mash-up offers an interesting alternative to the sea of SUVs

The Peugeot 408 is a little bit of an oddity in the new car market. Not only is it not just another SUV but it’s also not just the latest generation of an existing car. It’s all-new and very much its own thing, theoretically sitting between the 308 and 508 in size but also straddling a gap between them and the 3008 and 5008 SUVs.

Peugeot claims the new 408 is unique at the top end of the C-segment, which is a bit cheeky given that it shares an awful lot of its origins with the quirky and only slightly larger Citroen C5 X. The two cars are essentially direct competitors and sit in a peculiar space where they’re conceivably competing with everything from the Skoda Octavia to the Kia Sportage.

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While Citroen insists the C5 X is a blend of SUV, estate and saloon, Peugeot is adamant that the 408 is a saloon. It just happens to have a raised ride height and some SUV-style cladding. It all sounds very familiar but the two cars are, on the surface at least, very different, which works in the Peugeot’s favour.

Continuing Peugeot’s trend for stamping out striking and handsome machines, the 408 is a riot of sharp angles, neat details and Peugeot trademarks such as the “fang” running lights and triple tail lights. The sharp creases and sharply raked rear screen give it a dynamic stance and counteract the SUV-inspired taller suspension and plastic wheel arch cladding. Unlike some cars, the 408’s visual appeal isn’t particularly colour-dependent, although it does look particularly good in the launch Obsession Blue and Elixir Red. Also particularly eye-catching are the wild asymmetrical 20-inch alloys reserved exclusively for the GT hybrid models.

If the exterior look is similar to other Peugeots, the interior is a virtual copy/paste job from the impressive new 308. Like the 308, the 408’s cabin is built around Peugeot’s i-Cockpit with a small low-set steering wheel mounted beneath a slimline 10-inch digital instrument display. That display features 3D graphics which sound gimmicky but actually work well at pushing to the front key information such as navigation prompts. Alongside the instruments is a second 10-inch central touchscreen tilted towards the driver and with an additional row of customisable touch-sensitive shortcut panels beneath it. These include a new ADAS shortcut that allows you to deactivate certain settings with a single press  (I’m looking at you lane keep assist) - most welcome. It’s all very neat and logical with a focus on simple modern design and commendable material quality.

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Thanks to the 408’s packaging, there’s no transmission tunnel in there rear so there’s footroom for five but it’s clearly intended as a four-seater. There’s generous rear legroom and the dipping roofline will only be an issue for particularly tall passengers, but shoulder room isn’t generous enough for a third row passenger. Behind the passenger compartment petrol versions offer a 536-litre boot, which is cut to 471 litres in hybrid models.

So from inside it feels like a slightly larger 308, with the biggest difference being an upgrade in noise insulation, in part thanks to thicker acoustic glass designed to deaden outside intrusion. There’s a little bit of tyre roar at high speeds but overall the sound isolation is pretty good. Combined with a well composed ride which strikes a decent balance between comfortable and controlled, it makes the 408 a great motorway cruiser but one which doesn’t fall apart on trickier A roads thanks to fairly quick steering and decent body control. In the 408, sport mode also makes a difference. It’s not transformative but the sharper throttle and extra weight to the steering do bring an added touch of dynamism that’s missing from the C5, although at nearly 1,800kg the hybrid is no lithe lightweight.

The 408’s engine line-up follows a now-familiar pattern. There’s no diesel but a single 1.2-litre petrol or a choice of two plug-in hybrid powertrains. The entry level petrol is the tried and tested 128bhp PureTech. While we haven’t tested it in the 408, our experience of the same setup in the Citroen C5 X revealed a willing engine at the limits of its abilities. The hybrids offer more power - 178bhp or 222bhp - and up to 40 miles of all-electric motoring on a single charge.

Both hybrids use a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine and 81kW electric motor, with the Hybrid 225’s extra power courtesy of a different engine map. That gives it the quickest 0-62mph time (7.8 seconds) but the Peugeot is at its best when you’re not wringing its neck. Constantly mash the throttle and you’ll prompt indecision from the hybrid setup and eight-speed auto but drive with a little more reserve and it’s a smooth and refined drivetrain that will slip largely unnoticed between its electric and petrol modes. Forget about the nonsense 270mpg claims but use the PHEV properly and 50+mpg should be perfectly attainable.

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As standard the hybrids come with 3.4kW charging but you can upgrade to a 7.4kW on-board unit that will recharge the 12.4kWh battery to full in just under two hours. Next year we’ll see an all-electric version arrive which, with its instant responsiveness, might address the occasional hesitancy of the PHEV.

There’s no word on how much that will cost but the current range starts at £31,050 - pricing it slightly higher than its Citroen sibling. That money gets you 1.2-litre Allure trim, with Allure Premium and GT above starting at £32,715 and £34,650 The hybrid adds £7,150 to those prices. That’s a hefty price tag but comes with a hefty equipment list as standard ranging from the twin 10-inch screens with nav and wireless Android Auto and Apple Carplay to auto dipping LED headlights and a 180-degree parking camera. Splurge on the top-spec GT, which we tested, and you’ll get adaptive matrix lights, hands-free powered tailgate, heated steering wheel and a host of styling and material upgrades, along with more advanced driver assist systems.

The Peugeot 408 is an unusual proposition in a world dominated by identikit hatchbacks and crossovers. That could spell disaster but it’s to Peugeot’s credit that the 408 stands out for all the right reasons. It’s a stylish and spacious leftfield choice that balances decent driving dynamics with comfort and refinement.

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Peugeot 408 GT Hybrid 225

Price: £43,200; Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol with 81kW electric motor; Power: 222bhp; Torque: 226lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic; Top speed: 145mph; 0-62mph: 7.8 seconds; Economy: 211.3-269.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 28g/km; EV range: 40 miles