BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The 406 has been one of Peugeot's enduring success stories. Following on from the much-loved 405 models, the 406 added a new level of sophistication and quality when it was launched in 1996. The early shape car was only with us for three years before Peugeot decided to facelift it. The late shape car we examine here, available in four-door saloon or five-door estate guises, has been a steady seller ever since. As a used buy it represents quite a bargain, if only because the 406 is perceived by the trade to be not quite as desirable as more modern rivals such as the Ford Mondeo, the Renault Laguna II and the Mazda6 and even Peugeot would have to admit that the 406 can't match the all round excellence of these products. What it does offer is the sort of handling that Peugeot are renowned for, a shape that's stood the test of time very well and a reputation for quality engines. Tracking down a decent used 406 shouldn't be difficult. It's just narrowing down your choice.
Models Covered: Saloon & Estate - 1.8, 2.0, 2.0 turbo, 3.0 V6, 2.1 turbo diesel, 2.0 HDi turbo diesel 90bhp, 110bhp, 136bhp [L, LX, GLX, GTX, SRi, SE, Executive]
Although the 406 first touched down in the UK in February 1996, it wasn't until May 1999 that the more commonplace late shape cars were launched. Identifiable by their more angular headlamps and tail lights, a revised centre dashboard panel with new heater controls and radio, the differences didn't stop there. Although the 1.8 and 3.0-litre V6 petrol engines and the 2.1-litre turbo diesel unit were carried over from the previous shape car, Peugeot added a new 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 90bhp HDi turbo diesel. A 2.2-litre petrol SRi version arrived for saloon buyers in Summer 2000 and a 136bhp 2.2-litre HDi diesel model was added to the range in March 2001. Borrowing technology from this engine, a 143bhp petrol powered 2.0-litre HPi was introduced in late 2001 and sold alongside the existing 137bhp 2.0-litre 16v powerplant. Peugeot revisited the 406's trim levels in late 2002, deleting the GTX model and at the same time separating the two door coupe version from the mainstream 406 range by calling it the Peugeot Coupe rather than the Peugeot 406 Coupe. Although this hardly seems a great vote of confidence in the 406's brand equity, the saloons and estates have remained a strong seller for Peugeot despite many other rivals appearing a good deal more modern.
What You Get
The 406 cabin was revamped as part of the second generation changes - successfully as it turns out, giving it more of an upmarket feel. This has been achieved by a whole series of small but significant measures: resculpting the controls, improving the dials, using better quality materials and adding classy touches like the chrome trim now used on the handbrake and air vent buttons. The seats are better too, with more adjustment, higher backs and improved support. The driver also now benefits from an armrest and steering wheel stereo controls. Where the 406 didn't need changing was in the chassis department. The original model was the most engaging family saloon you could buy and this one's little different. Detail adjustments have improved the low speed ride and added extra feel to the standard power steering. Equipment levels remain strong across the range - twin front and side airbags are standard on every model in the standard range for instance, along with front foglamps, a trip computer and electric mirrors. Customers now choose from L, LX, GLX, SRi, Executive and V6 models, along with Rapier special editions. All feel plush, with quality fixtures and fittings along with nice touches like a penholder next to the gearstick.
What You Pay
Please fill in the form here for an exact up-to-date information.
What to Look For
The level of build quality is excellent but there have been some stories of problems with the four-cylinder petrol engines. Stalling, especially in the 2.0-litre versions, is by no means uncommon, so try to ensure you start the engine from cold on your test drive. There's also the known weakness of this engine family of engines - the timing belt. Make sure it's been changed every 30,000 miles or it may snap without warning, seizing the engine - you have been warned. It costs about £100 to replace - much cheaper than a new engine.
(Based on a 1999 406 2.0) A new exhaust will set you back about £400, while a replacement headlamp should be around £155. A new clutch is about £145. As for front brake pads, expect to pay about £33 front and £33 rear. A radiator will cost you around £250, an alternator around £322, and a starter motor around £279.
On the Road
The old model's benign face gave way to more aggressive frontal aspect when the facelifted car was launched in 1999. The same could be said for some of the engines. In the case of the 2.0-litre petrol versions, that aggression comes courtesy of the 16-valve 137bhp powerplant borrowed from the potent 206 GTi shopping rocket. If that's not enough, you might want to try the 160bhp 2.2-litre petrol unit fitted to the sporting SRi model. To be honest, however, unless you really do rate your progress against the stop watch, you'll probably be just as happy at the wheel of the 110bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel. This hi-tech common rail HDi engine is little more than a second slower to sixty on the way to 119mph, yet is capable of recording consumption figures of over 50mpg during effortless long distance cruising. The second generation 406 range also offers a 90bhp version of this excellent 2.0-litre diesel engine. Don't expect it to be any ball of fire (sixty takes a leisurely 14 seconds on the way to 112mph) but for family buyers, it will probably be just right. There's also a powerful 136bhp 2.2-litre HDi engine which uses much of the new technology pioneered in the 607. Able to sprint to 60mph in just 10 seconds yet still able to return 58mpg, it's an impressive installation. For petrol people, there's an interesting 2.0-litre HPi engine that utilises high-pressure direct injection technology to spring benefits in terms of performance, economy and emissions. The figures would certainly seem to back up Peugeot's claims. The peak power output of 143bhp is up 6bhp on Peugeot's 'standard' 2.0-litre petrol unit. Similarly the sprint to 60mph is dispatched in 10.3 seconds, a clear half-second quicker and the top speed increases by a reasonably academic 1mph to 130mph. Otherwise, the engine line-up hasn't changed very much, with an entry-level 1.8-litre petrol unit at one end of the range and a 210bhp 3.0-litre V6 at the other. The estate model is - at over 4.7 metres long - one of the longest cars in its class. It's also one of the heaviest, one reason why this bodystyle lacks a little of the saloon's instant chassis reflexes. Even so, driving the estate makes you realise just how good a chassis the 406 saloon has - minimal roll, maximum grip, yet a beautifully soft ride as well. Peugeot's engineers have given the estate longer rear springs and altered the damping to accommodate the extra wheel travel. What they haven't done, however, is provide the car with automatic self-levelling, something they claim it doesn't need. Unladen, the 406 estate feels quite different to the saloon - there's a degree of body-roll that reminds you of the days when French cars were built with old cobbled roads in mind.
Although the 406 is no longer the freshest face on the block, the qualities which made it such a success have nonetheless endured. The ride quality, space and handling still have yet to be markedly eclipsed, although the interiors are starting to look a little dated. The best buy of the bunch is probably the 136bhp HDi diesel version, a car that's hugely satisfying. With some notable used bargains about, the 406 is well worth a look.