Curbside Classic: Peugeot 405 Wagon – We Don’t *Have* to Conquer Africa

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It’s not a secret that Paul N. likes himself a Peugeot wagon. In fact, if this is the first time you hear of such a thing I’d just like to say welcome to CC, I hope that you like it here. He likes them so much he wrote an illustrated history of them. However, when asked about the 405, he didn’t particularly care for it. Well, I actually do like the direction they took (for a while) and this wagon is a prime example of why Peugeot would fail miserably later on.

I think it’s mostly a case of generation gap really. I didn’t grow up with the sturdy and rugged Peugeots that could conquer whatever their drivers set out to conquer. In fact, the first time I ever saw a Peugeot that wasn’t designed and developed in the 1980s was when I visited a nearby church and in front of it stood a very battered 404 sedan. And the numbers haven’t gotten any bigger as they grow older and harder to keep running.

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That’s probably the reason that when I think Peugeot I think of a 205 GTI driving through narrow country lanes, or a 405 Mi16 terrorizing the fast lane of the Autoroutes. Or the gorgeous look of the 406 coupe, which is still one of the most beautiful designs ever to wear the Peugeot lion.

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Unfortunately, I also think of things like the hideous 3008, the fish-faced 407 and worst of all, the 207 compact that was sold in Latin America that was nothing more than a 206 with a rather unfortunate nose and mouth job done.

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I’ve no qualms about the 405’s looks though. Pininfarina was making some very striking designs at the time. I’d say they were on a roll but they weren’t. Round was yesterday’s news. Sharp angles were in and the 405 carried them very well. Yes, the Alfa 164 carried them better, but that hardly makes our featured car uninspired or bad looking. The stylish angular lines also meant that it could be turned into a very practical wagon without having to sacrifice style.

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Of course the most controversial aspect of the 405 wagon, at least for the classic Peugeot fans, was the change in approach. Instead of a rear-wheel- drive, reinforced estate with a longer wheelbase and a taller roof, you got a completely normal front-wheel drive 405 with an estate body. And the only reason that I can come up with for that is that the balance between the cost of developing an entirely new platform versus the take rate for wagons wasn’t favorable. Vehicles like the Renault Espace were eating the longroofs’ market share in Europe and in developing countries the Toyota Land Cruiser quickly became the vehicle of choice for people who would’ve previously used a lifted 504. As far as America is concerned, it was never really a volume market for Peugeot anyway but even here it was facing competition from Chrysler’s new minivans. There was still a market for wagons – that one would take a bit longer to collapse into itself – but now it didn’t make sense to spend the development cash on it.

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But the simple fact of the matter is that it was still a very nice wagon. Sure, it couldn’t off-road like the ones of old but nobody who was buying it at this stage cared. The fact that it wasn’t stretched meant it was easier to park in the trendy city centers where it’d be more commonly found. To get it there, you had a choice of engines starting with a 70 horsepower 1.4-liter engine. While the sedan could be had with 160 or 220 horsepower engines in the hot Mi16 and T16 versions, estates have had to make due with a lesser 8-valve versions with 125 chevauxs.

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The interior itself was very ‘90s, nothing particularly remarkable here. That was Citroen’s job after all.

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I shot this example in the outside parking lot of a local university under the watchful eyes of the security guard there. It suddenly dawned on me that despite the broken mirror it was the most well-kept 405 I had seen in a long tine. I think my photography skills have become (marginally) better as well and I didn’t do a disservice shooting it. My phone cam could use an upgrade however.

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The 405 continued in production until 1995 and it was the last Peugeot to be sold in the United States when they decided to cease their operations there in 1991. It was replaced by the 406, which didn’t stray too far from the design guidelines left by its predecessor, instead choosing to merely refine their design language. Unfortunately, this would be the last refinement that it would get. In 1998 the 206 brought out a new, more aggressive corporate image. It worked very well at first but as they went on giving it nips and tucks it evolved into something less… good-looking. It’s a good thing that they’ve gone through yet another cycle and now their cars look elegant instead of looking as they though have inflamed mouths. Now if they just made them rugged again, that would be interesting.