Pretty styling, ride comfort and eager handling are still part of the Peugeot 406. After a facelift, it is still a fine car. It just needs a better gearbox
Pat Boone fans need not apply Peugeot 406

WHAT can a new face do for a car? Hopefully, plenty.

The last Peugeot 406 never really made its mark on Singapore, and its failure has always been a huge puzzle. After all, it offered pretty styling, ride comfort and eager handling.

Thankfully for Peugeot, and for new distributor AutoFrance, all three qualities are still part of the 406.

Perhaps, the latest model's facelifted styling will serve as a handy reminder that even though the Peugeot is getting on a bit, it is still a fine car.

Apart from minor changes to the nose and tail, some minor tweaks have found their way into the 406.

The interior gets new digital air-con controls, and the car no longer comes with a needless rear screen wiper.

Careful fiddling with the suspension has also wrought improvements to the low-speed ride, and the engine sounds quieter than before.

But so much for the good news.

On the downside, the 406 retains its terrible four-speed automatic gearbox. The autobox tends to ignore driver inputs cheerfully, or keeps the car running around in the wrong gear too much of the time.

Japanese and German cars offer far more responsive gearboxes than the Peugeot's clunky item.

The 406's autobox also makes the car feel slower than it is occasionally. Around town, the Peugeot can feel pretty sleepy.

The engine is lazy at low revs, so sometimes the 406 jogs rather than sprints.

Once the Pug has a chance to stretch its legs on the highway, however, it livens up considerably.

To shake off a pesky tailgater, simply stomp on the accelerator pedal, then sit back and wait. Until the cops nab you.

Then point out the tailgater, who is more dangerous than the average speeder, to them.

Engine performance aside, the 406 can be a real cracker to drive.

It has the ability to match its personality to yours. Drive it like an old man, and it will wheeze around town in the appropriate fashion.

Up the pace, however, and the 406 tries hard to please.

On a number of counts, it succeeds, too.

The steering feels splendid when you corner hard, transmitting a satisfying amount of feedback through the wheel, and the front wheels grip hard, inspiring plenty of confidence.

With a better engine and gearbox, the 406 could rival BMW's 3 Series.

As it is, however, it sits in more sedate territory. Nevertheless, the 406 is anything but an old man's car.

The family man who opts for one of these is someone who has yet to ease into a life of Pat Boone albums, snoring in front of the telly, tucked-in polo T-shirts and G-rated movies.

Personality-wise, the 406 is closer to the extroverted Alfa 156 than, say, the bland Nissan Cefiro. It still looks pretty, still has great handling and still rides comfortably.

It still has an awful gearbox, too, but for $128,800, you would have to search hard to find a more desirable family saloon.

Give the 406 some consideration if you are in the market for a family car. But if you have a Pat Boone CD in your collection, forget it.

FAST FACTS

Peugeot 406 ST 2.0

Price: $128,800 with COE

Engine: 1,998 cc, 16-valve in-line four

Power: 135 bhp at 5,500 rpm

Torque: 180 Nm at 4,200 rpm

Top speed: 197 kmh

0 - 100 kmh: 13.8 seconds

For enquires: Contact AutoFrance on 473-7727