TEST DRIVE: The art of the estate

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You don’t have to be a dad with three kids and the weekly shopping to appreciate this beauty from Peugeot

How many young businessmen would consider a station wagon as their everyday car? Station wagons, also called estates, are the kind of car you mostly associate with your uncle who comes along with his three kids and the luggage area packed with so much stuff that the front tyres are almost lifting off the ground.

Well, all that has changed, if you consider the new Peugeot 407 SW. While stylish German cars like BMW and Mercedes-Benz come up with mundane estate designs that look simply as if the rear end was cut off the sedan and a bigger box tacked on instead, Peugeot’s version has a sleek, sophisticated design.

In fact, the 407 SW could easily be mistaken for a 5-door hatchback. It’s only when you open up the rear door that you realise the amount of extra luggage space. The rear windshield also winds electronically for easy access to the luggage area.

But before getting round to the back you’ll most probably be overwhelmed by the large front-end first. The stretched-back headlights and wide stance give the car a very sinister and sleek look; not to mention the huge Peugeot logo in the centre and gaping front bumper.

From the side the front end might seem a little too long compared to the rear, but I for one am not complaining. Not only does the 407 SW look sporty, its interior is on par with the exterior and packed with sophisticated technology. Even towards the end of my four-day acquaintance with the 407 SW there were still functions I was not able to use properly.

So, it’s a car that takes time to get used to, especially when it come to features like the voice recognition system, which managed to interpret my command as a “no” the first few times I tried to put on the radio. Must have been my accent.

Still, mastering the voice recognition is almost mandatory because reaching out to change a setting on the button-freckled dashboard while driving is not the easier option.

The electronic extravagance of the 407 includes an onboard GPS system – which unfortunately cannot operate in Thailand due to lack of software, an onboard trip computer and, finally, a mobile phone system. At least, that’s all I managed to become familiar with.

The phone system, similar to Volvo’s, allows you to insert your SIM card and make and receive calls via the car. It even reads out your messages to you in a French accent – and if you don’t fancy the female voice because it reminds you of your French teacher, there’s the option of a male voice. The audio system comes with a 6-CD changer but unfortunately no MP3 capability, a disappointment in a car with so many options.

The steering is surrounded by knobs and levers that makes the driver’s life a lot easier when he is alone but, just like all the other technology, it takes getting used to – like adapting to a new mobile phone. As for driving aids, there is a cruise control system and parking assist.

My test car had sporty, fantastic looking black leather seats and an interior that showed up every speck of dandruff I dropped.

The black trim added to the feeling of snugness experienced by the driver in the 407 SW. The seating position gives the impression that the whole body shell is wrapped around the driver and at the same time the elongated windshield makes the front-end seem like it goes on forever and takes care of any claustrophobic feelings. The seats provide fine support for long drives and cornering, but rear passengers complained about discomfort on long drives.

All complaints stopped when I flicked the sunroof switch as everyone stared in awe at the mechanical masterpiece. The whole roof, starting from the driver all the way to above the rear passenger, becomes a window that permits an unhindered view of the sky – an absolute pleasure when cruising at dusk. This option is actually preferable to a convertible in Thailand as none of the hot weather gets in but the view is almost similar.

The 407 SW’s normal driving is set for economy, with fewer downshifts and slower acceleration unless you floor the gas pedal. I drove for a while in this mode, unaware of an evil little “S” below the gear level because I was still distracted by all the electronic wonders.

Engage this S button and you realise that “SW” could also stand for “Sport Wagon”. A little push brings out the lion’s fangs and claws, as the 407 shifts down and the throttle gets more responsive. The 2.2-litre engine snarls hard to above 6,000 rpm and gears are held longer before shifting down. All is good until a speed of 130kph is reached, after which acceleration tapers off until the maximum of about 180kph. Low-speed acceleration is merely adequate – you need to get to mid-range speed to get the engine going. It’s a pity the 407 is handicapped with a 4-speed gearbox.

It’s also heartbreaking that the steering, like the brakes, lacks any feel whatsoever. Although the suspension is well set and provides a sporty and well-handled ride, there is just not enough feedback from the steering for very agile movement at high speed. The soft steering also causes the 407 SW to be twitchy at three-figure speeds and fails to instil any confidence.

Body roll, although well controlled, still exists to a certain degree. But the ride quality is impressive, low-speed comfort being definitely superior to high-speed comfort.

I managed fuel economy of 8-9km to the litre on a drive to Rayong, commendable considering I wasn’t driving very economically.

All in all the 407 SW is a very worthy car, even with a price tag of Bt2.79 million. While BMW and Mercedes cars have become such common sights that they barely get a second glance, I had people come up to me in the 407 SW and say “Beautiful car, I didn’t know Peugeot made this”. And that’s besides all the gadgetry that comes with the car.

Not only that, the 407 SW also has the option of a 2-litre diesel engine at no extra cost – all the more reason to give it serious consideration.

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Specifications

Peugeot 407 SW

Engine: 2.2-litre 16-valve

Displacement: 2,230 cc

Bore and stroke: 86 x 96mm

Compression ratio: 10.5:1

Maximum power: 160hp/5,650rpm

Maximum torque: 217Nm/3,900rpm

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Suspension (front/rear): Double wishbone /Multi arm with inclined shock absorbers

Steering: Powered rack-and-pinion

Brakes (front/rear): Vented discs/discs

Dimensions (mm)

Length: 4,763mm

Width: 1,811mm

Height: 1,471mm

Wheelbase: 2,725mm

Track (front/rear): 1,560/1,526

Wheels: 17-inch alloys

Tyres: 215/55 R17

Fuel-tank capacity: 66 litres

Price: Bt2.79 million

Distributor: Yontrakit Automotive,

Tel: (02) 214 2526

Vijo Varghese

The Nation

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