New Peugeot 408 revealed: a Lion in crossover clothing

Published: 22 June 2022

► New 408 revealed
► Slots between 308 SW and 508
► Should cost around £30,000

This is the new Peugeot 408, a lengthy crossover slotting into the range between the 308 SW estate and 508 fastback, and introducing a new design direction so faceted it would feel right at home in Hatton Garden.

The European return of Peugeot’s 4-0-series numeric is on a five-door hatchback that rides a little higher than a saloon and is clad in SUV-style body protection, hence the crossover classification. 

It’s set to hit the UK in spring 2023, and will be priced between the 308 hatch and 3008 SUV: that suggests a circa £29,000 cost. Power comes from plug-in hybrid and petrol engines at launch, with a pure electric version following. 

Front three-quarters of 408

But new 408 is a seriously style-led project, which can trace its origins back to a 2015 Advanced Design manifesto pictured below. That was so long ago it predated Peugeot’s current generation which began with the 3008 and its i-Cockpit touchscreen – the 408 begins a new Peugeot era. Read on to find out more. 

New 408: is it a coupe SUV?

‘The 408 is an inventive, dynamic fastback: it blends sedan [saloon] and SUV cues such as a high driving position. And it has a strong presence on the road,’ says Peugeot product director Jerome Micheron. 

Peugeot is reluctant to pigeonhole the 408, preferring to cite the ‘active couples’ who will supposedly be drawn to it (though there’s a heap of rear space for when they have to forego basejumping for changing nappy-wearers). 

The dimensions put it in context however. It rides almost 4cm higher than a 308 hatchback, but about 1.5cm lower than BMW’s X4 coupe-SUV. The roofline is comparatively lower too: the 408 stands 1480mm high, the X4 1621mm tall.

Finding the third way between hatch and SUV

Conceptually, the closest vehicle is Citroën’s C5X, with which the 408 shares a great deal, with nigh-on identical heights and wheelbases. It looks like the two cars share sideglass too (the C5X and 308 hatch certainly have the same windows) as well as both using the front-wheel drive EMP2 chassis.  

side view of 408

And both are positioned in the same way: for people who reject a tall SUV but appreciate the extra visibility from higher seating, and see a typical saloon as too traditional. 

Compared with SUVs, there’s a big benefit from a lower riding car with a smaller frontal area. ‘The 408 offers great efficiency due to its aerodynamics and frugal powertrains,’ explains Micheron. The co-efficient of drag is a reasonably slippery 0.28 – more typical of a saloon than a crossover SUV.  

Peugeot 408 design secrets: the rear

‘Our intention is to reinvent the [midsize] sedan,’ says design director Pierre-Paul Mattei. ‘We want to create a new worldwide model, more modern, exciting and bold. 

‘It’s an empty space, and we are convinced Peugeot has something new to fill this space. New 408 is closer to a sedan than an SUV, but it’s not a typical sedan design.’

Glance at the rear three-quarter, and you’re struck by how unusual, how aggressive the design is. A bulbous black plastic diffuser juts out rearwards, and sharp lines fan out from the rear wheelarch, breaking the fender into facets. The thin rear lamps are crowned with a Porsche-style ducktail spoiler, fed air by the ‘cats ears’ either side of the tailgate.

‘The imposing black rear bumper absorb shocks when parking the car,’ says Mattei. ‘We use this to give dynamism: we cut the body colour, creating an inverted effect. It gives a very strong personality to the car. 

Big butt equals big boot 

‘The rear of the car is unusually high, higher than the front hood: that’s where we use the cut of colour to absorb this extra volume,’ continues Mattei. The high rear gives strength: it’s very muscular, nothing is neutral.’ 

The rear overhang is sizeable, intentionally to free up cargo space. The boot stores 536 litres, or 1611 with the rear seats folded. That’s slightly more than either the Peugeot 3008 or BMW X4 SUVs offer.

Mattei admits the two-tone effect is to help disguise the overhang; the 20inch alloys’ counter-intuitive squared-off design has the same effect (which suggests the base 17inch rims may be somewhat overwhelmed). When this GT model in Obsession Blue is manoeuvring at low speeds, the wheels’ square graphic really stands out – Mattei calls it ‘disruptive’.

Where Peugeot design meets Lamborghini

Isn’t it all a bit…Lamborghini? 

‘Some managers and directors said “It looks like a Lamborghini”,’ grins Mattei. ‘Put a real Lamborghini beside and you will see the difference, but the 408 is very expressive. Using the diamond faceted treatment, Lamborghini do like to do that.

‘It was not the plan to be like Lamborghini. But if some people think it looks like a Lamborghini, okay. I prefer the comparison with Lamborghini than other cars!’

Radical new grille transforms Peugeot’s face 

Peugeot 408 grille

The other obvious evolution is the new grille treatment, eliminating the frame typically bordering the headlamps and bumper. The 308’s horizontal, chrome accents are switched to body-colour and arranged in a vertical cascade for 408 too.

‘It’s a way for us to keep the grille, which is part of Peugeot’s DNA,’ explains design manager Mattei. ‘But when you discover the car from afar, it’s hard to see where the grille begins, it disappears a little bit. That’s unusual for us: it’s the way to treat the front grille for the next generation of Peugeots.’

The matrix headlamps are recessed into bodywork creased with sharp radii, and the trademark ‘fang’ LEDs are juxtaposed against black surroundings.

What’s it like inside?

The interior will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s pored over the new 308’s: they’re the same. 

‘When we asked our creative team to design the dashboard, we didn’t ask them to design the dashboard of the 308 but the 408’s,’ reveals Mattei. ‘And during development, we kept checking that what we were doing was still compatible with the 308.’   

Peugeot didn’t have the design capacity nor budget to work up divergent cockpits, so the 308 hatch, SW estate and now the 408 share the design. That may explain why some of the dashboard’s angular planes feel more at home in the crossover than the hatch.

Peugeot 408 interior

Naturally the 408 gets Peugeot’s trademark compact steering wheel, and a 10inch digital driver’s display with 3D effect on GT models. The 10inch central touchscreen has six customisable, digital shortcut keys underneath to access your most-used functions. The 408 is embedded with Peugeot’s new voice control system, and comes with optional Night Vision.

In the rear seats there’s plenty of kneeroom, but only a couple of inches of headroom for a six-footer. The front and rear screens are thickened to soften external noise, and the Allure option pack complements this with thicker sideglass.

What’s the engine line-up? 

The engine line-up is decidedly uncomplicated: the 1.2-litre turbocharged Puretech triple with 128bhp, and two plug-in hybrids which combine an 81kW electric motor with a 1.6-litre petrol engine offering two power outputs.

The Hybrid 180 delivers 178bhp, while the flagship Hybrid 225 summons 222bhp. A 12.4kWh battery powers the e-motor: it’ll take a couple of hours to charge from a 7.4kW wallbox. Peugeot’s yet to make any claims about the 408 hybrid’s electric range, but expect it to be about 35 zero emission miles. 

As with the C5X there’s no diesel, and just one transmission: an eight-speed automatic. There won’t be optional four-wheel drive. 

A simple trim line-up too

All this makes for a quite deliberately simple range, says product director Jerome Micheron: ‘We’re looking at way customers buy cars online. We want to simplify things for the customer. We don’t need an entry level which you never sell. We want to be very clear: two trim levels, some option packs.’

Allure trim cars can be coupled with packs that add premium features such as leather and a sun roof, or a Drive Assist Pack: the 408 is capable of stop-and-go driving in its lane, and semi-automatic lane changes with an indicator toggle (thank the 75m-long blindspot monitoring for protection). Rear Traffic Alert is also embedded.  

The GT pack adds items such as 20in wheels, massage seats and additional comfort features.

New 408: coming 2023, originated 2015

Peugeot took the unusual step of showing the 408’s origin design, a yellow crossover bearing the project’s codename P54 (below).

‘Every day we have exchanges with the brand, asking what will be next in the Peugeot range, how will the market change?’ explains Pierre-Paul Mattei. ‘Here we asked what could be the next worldwide sedan.

‘We worked on several different concepts. At the end we were convinced that this could be a solution for something worldwide. Then we had to convince everybody in the company that this was the way.’

And this yellow concept served as inspiration – despite it being completely unfeasible. 

‘Nothing works technically, it would be impossible to do that car,’ says Mattei. ‘Because when you make a car, you have to integrate the door stiffener, you couldn’t even open this trunk, the aerodynamics don’t work at all and this kind of shape for a [rear screen] would cost the same as all the windows of the real car. And we don’t respect the suspension. 

‘But it gives the vision. We try if we can. And that’s why there is such a difference between this car which was created in 2015 and the new 408.’

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine