Peugeot has had a proud history in this country. The company’s exploits in early Round Australia trials in the 1950s established its credentials beyond doubt. Back in the 1950s it took a special car to conquer the rough and rugged conditions a rally through the outback threw up as a matter of course, and those early Peugeots were right up there with the best in the bush.
The rally successes might be a fast fading memory for those old enough to have witnessed them, and younger Australians probably don’t know anything about them, or much less care, but those same qualities that marked the early cars have been carried through to more modern models like the 406.
Smooth, refined comfort combined with a reassuring agility; with a little French flair thrown in for good measure make the 406 an alluring proposition.
While there can be no mistaking Peugeot’s French connection it has few of the quirks that its cousins from Citroen are renowned for having. In most respects the 406 is a very conventional car.
Peugeot made a switch from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive with the 405 that preceded the 406; it was a late change, but one that had to be made if the company wanted to stay on the pace with the market.
The 406 was a little larger than its predecessor so it was roomier and more comfortable inside for those in the front and the rear.
Like at Peugeots the 406’s ride was supple and superbly comfortable, the seats generous and supportive. Peugeots are renowned for their so-called “long legs”, the ability to cruise for long distances without any fuss, and the seats are part of the package that allows the driver to emerge after hours at the wheel feeling as if they’d just driven around the corner.
Along with the roomy interior, the 406 had a generous boot capable of swallowing plenty of luggage for a lengthy trip. It also had a full-sized spare wheel.
Power was provided by a 2.0-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, which produced a relatively modest 100 kW at 5500 revs and 187 Nm at 4200 revs. With the weight of the 406 the 2.0-litre engine was made to work quite hard. There was also a double overhead camshaft 3.0-litre V6, which added some welcome zip to the 406 equation with 144 kW at 5500 revs and 267 Nm at 4000 revs. Buyers had the choice of a five-speed manual and a four-speed auto, and the drive was through the front wheels.
The model range began with the ST sedan, which came well equipped with velour trim, air-conditioning, ABS, dual airbags, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, power steering, and eight-speaker sound. An SV sedan added alloys, auto air, engine immobiliser, and auto windscreen wiper actuation. There was also an SV Wagon, which also came with cruise and a CD player, and a stylish SV Coupe.
From 1998 the range also included a diesel STDT sedan and wagon, which makes the 406 a model worth considering in this age of spiralling fuel prices. The turbo diesel was a 2.1-litre eight-valve single overhead camshaft unit putting out 82 kW at 4300 revs and 251 Nm at 2000 revs. An upgrade in 1999 saw more aggressive styling, more equipment across the range, increased performance and a new 1.9-litre HDi turbo diesel.
ON THE LOT
The 406 was generally a good value-for-money package when new and remains so as a used car. For the earlier D8 model, pay $6500-$9500 for an ST Sedan, $9800-$13,000 for an SV Sedan, or $10,500-$14,000 for an SV Wagon. An STDT diesel will cost $7000-$10,000, with Wagons costing $1000 more. The Coupe goes for $14,000-$20,000.
A later D9 ST Sedan will cost $10,000-$23,000, and SV Sedan $12,000-$32,000 with a Wagon running from $15,000-$32,500. A desirable D9 Coupe will cost $18,000-$40,000, and diesel $10,000-$25,000.
IN THE SHOP
Generally the 406 is doing a pretty good job and owners are pleased with its performance and reliability. There were question marks about Peugeot build quality in the 1980s and ’90s, which perhaps explains the electrical gremlins one owner complains about.
Mechanically the 406 seems robust and reliable, the cam timing belt needs changing around the 100,000 km mark, but check the state of the oil in the engine. Infrequent oil changes leads to the build of sludge, which can become terminal if left. A service record is important. Being front-wheel drive listen for clicking noises when turning, which might indicate worn CV joints.
IN A CRASH
Airbags were standard across the 406 range so passive safety is of an acceptable level, while the stable handling and powerful brakes provide a decent level of active safety. ABS electronics added to the active safety of the later D9.
Self-confessed Peugeot nut Doug Brockfield bought his 2.0-litre manual 406 new in 1998. It's now done 275,000 km and he says it has served him very well in all respects. There have been a few electrical problems, but by and large he says the 406 has been very reliable and a delight to drive. Tyres last for 80,000 km and fuel economy is a wonderful 7.0 L/100 km on the open road. The car has done numerous trips to the outback when the renowned Peugeot "long legs" come to the fore. He says that servicing costs and parts prices are quite reasonable. Summing up, he says the 406 is a fine car, and a second hand, well maintained one, would be a good buy.
In the last five years Ray Nicholls has owned two 406 sedans, a 1997 D8 auto ST followed by a 2001 D9 V6 SV. He’d previously owned a 405 and says the 406 was quieter, roomier, and sat better on the road. Its handling was superb, and it was reasonably economical at around 9.0 L/100 km around town. His second 406, a D9 now with 133,000 km on it, was a totally different vehicle to the first. It was more economical, the performance was improved, the brakes are sensational, the seats are more comfortable and he believes it was quieter. The V6 was quiet, smooth, and had wonderful performance. Economy on the open highway was similar to the four-cylinder ST, but suffers in city driving.
Serge Petrovich hadn’t owned a Peugeot before buying his 2003 2.0-litre auto ST new, but he’s now done about 135,000 km in it and simply loves it. He says the handling, economy and all round drivability is fantastic.
• Attractive styling
• Roomy interior and generous boot
• Supple ride
• Agile handling
• Good economy from four-cylinder
• BMW 3-Series – 1998-2004 – $13,000-$42,000
• Honda Accord – 1997-2005 – $7000-$30,000
• SAAB 9-3 – 1998-2005 – $10,000-$39,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
The 406 is a smooth, comfortable, economical mid-sized car that makes a wonderful long distance cruiser.