(first posted 2/4/2015)
When one thinks of a French luxury car, they probably think of the avant-garde Citroen DS or CX. They might think of the boxy-but-capable Peugeot 604. But over the years, the French automotive industry has produced many luxury cars that remain an enigma to all but the most devoted of Francophiles. The curiously styled Renault Vel Satis and Avantime come to mind, as do their more conservative 25 and Safrane predecessors, respectively; the lovely Citroen XM, too, is an overlooked albeit mercurial gem. Peugeot continued to make full-size luxury sedans after the 604’s run, though, and today we look at what is the most recent big Pug to date.
photo courtesy of Order 242
After the Peugeot 604 ended its run, it was replaced by the 605. It looks suspiciously like an Alfa Romeo 164 with Peugeot 405 front and rear fasciae, which is understandable as the 605 and 164 were both designed by Pininfarina. Underneath, though, there was no relation to the “Type 4” cars: the 605 shared its platform with the eccentric Citroen XM. Blame the familiar styling or the lack of brand cachet, but these Pugs sold in paltry numbers outside of France. Sometimes, it almost feels as though the world has completely forgotten about them; I almost did, probably because I’ve never seen one on the roads here despite their availability from 1994-96. Remarkably, they sold for ten years in Europe, and also were featured fairly prominently in the movie Ronin.
Opel Omega (top), Ford Scorpio (bottom)
Clearly, Peugeot realized they had to shake things up with the 605’s successor. However, if there was ever a sizable market for full-size French luxury sedans in Europe, it was now contracting. In fact, all mainstream brands’ “executive saloons”, as they were known in the UK, were becoming thin on the ground due to the increasing popularity of German luxury sedans as company/lease cars. Ford’s fish-faced Scorpio was dead after 1998, Mazda’s Xedos 9 (Millenia) the year after, followed by Citroen’s XM in 2000, Opel’s Omega, in 2003, and Nissan’s Maxima QX, in 2004. Those that did stick around made little impact in an increasingly image-conscious market: Witness the failures of the aforementioned Renault Vel Satis, Citroen C6, Toyota Camry and Honda Legend.
Into that shrinking segment the 607 was born. Five inches longer than its innocuous predecessor, the 607 was a sizable car; to provide a North American perspective, it had similar dimensions to a W-Body Impala but was around 7 inches shorter overall. The 607 remained front-wheel drive and on the now decade-old 605/XM platform; front suspension was a MacPherson strut design with a lower wishbone, and the rear suspension featured coil springs and double wishbones. There was the option of electronically variable damping, too, with nine different settings.
The flagship engine was Peugeot’s 3.0 V6, introduced in 1995 to replace the outdated PRV “Douvrin” V6 formerly used in the 605, and employed across a wide range of Citroens, Peugeots and Renaults. Power output was 208hp and 218 ft-lbs, and 0-60 was accomplished in a modest 9 seconds.
Lesser models’ motivation was provided by 2.0 and 2.2 petrol fours, and the 2.2 HDi diesel four. The former weren’t introduced to all of the 607’s export markets or were dropped after a short while. This was understandable due to their inability to quickly move the 607’s porky 3500 lbs+ curb weight; the 2.0, for example, had only 136 hp and 143 ft-lbs, but fortunately was available with a five-speed manual. The diesel, though, was a popular choice for taxi drivers, with 136 hp and 235 ft-lbs initially; later models received a twin-turbo version with around 40 more horsepower and ft-lbs, and there was even a 2.7 HDi V6 with 201 hp and a sizeable 325 ft-lbs.
Buyers of the 607 received a lot of kit for their money, with every model featuring standard air-conditioning, eight airbags, central locking, CD player and electric windows. Moving further up the range netted you niceties like heated seats, parking sensors, satellite navigation and an electric rear sunblind, among other features. There was plenty of cabin room and a huge trunk, and the interior had an attractive and modern design.
Handling was competent-but-neutral, and unexciting, thanks to the front-wheel drive layout. The 607 was no rocket ship, even in V6 editions, due to its hefty curb weight. What was surprising, though, was the 607’s ride quality. Bumps were keenly felt in the cabin: disappointing for a Peugeot, and even more disappointing for a full-size luxury sedan.
Overall, though, the 607 represented somewhat of a bargain. It was a lot of metal for your money, especially as a used purchase. Unsurprisingly, the 607 wasn’t the car that shifted the tide against the smaller Germans. If the 607 failed to make a splash in Europe though, it didn’t even break the water’s surface in Australia. Despite eight long years on the market (2001-09), the 607 was a complete non-entity here. It was launched in one well-equipped specification with the 3.0 V6, but MSRP was $AUD80,000!
silver 607 photos courtesy of Order 242
Critics were impressed by its feature content and space, but all remarked that $80k was far too close to dynamically superior mid-size Germans like the 5-Series and E-Class. Compounding that, the V6 sang sweetly but was no more powerful than the contemporary Holden Commodore–and if you loved the engine that much, you could get it in a Renault Laguna for $30,000 less and with one more gear in its slushbox (early 607s had just a four-speed auto). The bang-for-your-buck quotient simply wasn’t applicable in Australia as it was in Europe, and the lofty pricing highlighted the 607’s dynamic deficiencies.
Citroen C5 (top) and Renault Laguna (bottom)
Australian critics were particularly brutal in their assessment of the 607’s dynamics, given the price, with scorn leveled at the trick electronic damping system that either transmitted either too much impact harshness or a glut of body roll, and just an overall lack of ride quality. In fact, Drive’s Bill McKinnon called the 607 dynamically inferior to the $20k cheaper Citroen C5 V6 and even the Nissan Maxima and Mitsubishi Verada (Diamante), although he praised the stylish interior. Sales were virtually non-existent, as were any meaningful marketing efforts, and the 607 gathered dust in Peugeot showrooms before being axed, mercifully, in 2009.
Back in Europe, although the 607 may not have been a raging success, it offered a lot of metal for the money. Dynamically, it was absolutely no match for the smaller Germans in its price bracket, but perhaps a thrifty buyer may have found merit in a diesel model, particularly if someone else had worn the savage initial depreciation. You may have seen dozens of exactly this kind of thrifty buyer, eagerly waiting to pick you up from the rank at Charles de Gaulle Airport.