In “developing countries”, some automakers resort to old platforms in order to offer cheaper cars. Or to maximize profits. A good example of that strategy is the Peugeot 408. If you have never heard of it, this is the sedan version of the first generation Peugeot 308, the T7. It is built over the PF2 platform, which has debuted in 2001 with the Peugeot 307. So we are talking about a basis that is 15 years old. If you search for PF2 in Wikipedia, they say the platform has been phased out in favor of the EMP2. In Europe it has, but not in the rest of the world. And the Peugeot 408 Griffe we have driven clearly shows this sort of strategy may be very risky. It can save money to the automaker, but it makes it much less competitive.
The 408 is a roomy saloon, with a 2.71 m wheelbase. Speaking of dimensions, it is 4.69 m long, 1.82 m wide and 1.52 m high. It’s trunk can carry up to 526 l of luggage, what makes it one of the largest among C segment sedans in markets where it is put for sale. It is also equipped with a superb engine, the 1.6 THP. In Brazil, it runs on 100% ethanol, what rises its total power to 127 kW, instead of the 121 kW of the petrol only version. But that is far from enough. Even when you consider family competition, or the Citroën C4 Lounge, a car with which it shares the same old platform.
Some problems solved, some other still there
The 408 had a huge suspension problem. In speeds above 100 km/h, it gave the driver a fluctuation feeling that was scary. That problem no longer happens, but all other problems are still there. The 408 feels massive. Not only due to its weight (1,527 kg, or 206 kg more than a Chevrolet Cruze), but to the way it drives. The steering wheel feels numb, what reduces the advantage of having such a powerful little engine.
If the suspension works fine, protecting passengers from the multiple potholes and uneven tarmac that Brazilian streets offer, it cannot prevent the cabin from making a lot of noise. The plastic components squeak rubbing against each other and the seat belt buckles keep on hitting the plastic covers of the B columns. It is of little help if the seats are covered with leather and leather-like materials. Or if there are chromed details in the interior and a nice touchscreen to control the good sound system of the car. The 408 is not very far from Chinese cars sold in the Brazilian market. They are comparable in the lack of refinement they present. The 408 may be even worse in some aspects.
A Chinese Peugeot
Driving the car immediately after starting it, as most automakers recommend with modern vehicles, the 408 gave us the impression it had start-stop. But it only stopped. The engine died and did not get back. Even being equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission, something that only made things worse. The car only starts with the gear shifter in P. And we were in the middle of traffic. People had to be patient waiting for us to put the selector in P, start the car and put it in motion again. And they were: we heard no honking whatsoever.
We have gone through that awkward situation only twice with automatic cars, including this one. And the last time it happened was with a Chevrolet Vectra back in the year 2000. According to GM, it was a defect in that particular Vectra. We have no idea what has caused this in the 408, but we suspect it has to do with the use of ethanol. Peugeot has dared to extract more power from the engine with the renewable fuel, what must be praised. It is a pity it has not taken the necessary measures to prevent the engine from dying when cold.
If it was the only problem we had with the car, that would already be worrying. But it also presented a strange noise on the front left wheel when braking. We have not tried any emergency stops with it, but perhaps we should have. We normally do that with the Chinese cars we test in order to see if they keep their trajectory under such circumstances.
The real Chinese Peugeot sedans
China, by the way, has a much better version of the 408. The sedan there is based on the EMP2 platform. It is larger and roomier: 4.75 m long, 1.82 m wide, 1.49 m high and has a 2.73 m wheelbase. And it is lighter: 1,415 kg with the same 1.6 THP engine.
Besides the 408, the Chinese Peugeot has also presented the 308 Sedan at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show. It will be put for sale in September.
It is also based on the EMP2, but it is shorter than the 408: 4.59 m long, 1.82 m wide, 1.49 m high and a 2.68 m wheelbase. Unlike what some have published, it will not kill the 408. Just like the new Chevrolet Cruze will not kill the China only version. And why does China allow that to happen? Because it sells millions of cars every year. It is the biggest car market in the world nowadays. And Chinese drivers love sedans.
Je t’aime, Latin America…
Latin America and Brazil, on the other hand, are facing economic crisis. The “developing” markets have given up on development and are retreating. And that is the typical scenario in which investments are halted. But PSA itself has faced a recent crisis, which was only solved with the help of its new CEO, Carlos Tavares. And investments from a Chinese partner, Dongfeng.
The 408 sold in Latin America is the result of these 2 bad environments put together, but that does not explain why it gets so much behind its competitors. Even behind the C4 Lounge, which offers a better ride. The fact is that Peugeot has given up on competing among C segment sedans. It has only kept the product it already had to keep on selling what it already did. Even that goal is being missed.
The 408 Griffe is one of the cheapest C segment sedans with that sort of power and equipments. It costs R$ 90,590, or US$ 27,252. The new Chevrolet Cruze is sold for R$ 107,450, or US$ 32,324. In 2012, its first full year of sales in Brazil, the 408 sold 7,712 units, or 13.7% of what the Toyota Corolla, the C segment leader, achieved (56,364 units). In 2015, it sold 1,435 units, or 2.1% of what the same leader, Toyota Corolla, sold (67,339 units). Even being the bargain in the segment. It is a strong evidence that lack of investments, even if it saves money, prevents from earning more.