Peugeot 407

The sensational new Peugeot 407 Coupe has emerged from the shadows - and Auto Express is first to get its hands on the daring machine which stunned all who saw it at March's Geneva Motor Show.

If you like the 407, the chances are you'll appreciate this two-door version. If you don't like the new car, you will struggle to accept its Coupe sibling. But don't write it off before you've driven it. If Peugeot can replicate some of the Silhouette's extreme nature in the final version of the road model, it will be a much sportier alternative to the saloon.

The sensational new Peugeot 407 Coupe has emerged from the shadows - and Auto Express is first to get its hands on the daring machine which stunned all who saw it at March's Geneva Motor Show.

Christened the 407 Silhouette, the car is officially a prototype, but its bold bodywork and sleek outline show us exactly what we can expect from the eagerly awaited newcomer when it goes on sale in autumn next year.

Set to fill the gap left by the departure of the 406 Coupe, the Silhouette promises to show off exactly what the French firm's design and engineering departments are made of. If appearances alone are anything to go by, Peugeot has certainly achieved its goal of making the Coupe look more like a two-door version of the standard saloon. The front is identical, with a gaping radiator grille, while dramatic headlights are cut into each corner.

To emphasise the Silhouette's performance, the coup� also features a carbon fibre lip on the deep front spoiler and the foglamps have been replaced with air vents. The detailing is spectacular, but these touches are only likely to make it on to the options list for the finished car.

Based on a chassis with roughly the same dimensions as the 406 Coupe, the 407 will have plenty of room for rear-seat passengers and a generous helping of practicality. Like the last model, it will have a boot, rather than a hatchback. Engines are to include 2.0 and 2.2-litre petrol motors and the PSA-Ford 2.7-litre twin-turbo diesel used in Jaguar's S-Type. The top-of- the-range model will feature the 3.0-litre V6 petrol unit in our test model.

But unlike the eventual road car, the Silhouette has been created as a full-blooded race machine, with extreme road manners to match its wild looks. The powerful V6 has been repositioned behind the driver's seat with vents cut into the roof to supply it with air. The six-speed sequential gearbox operates by simply pulling back on the lever to change up, or pushing forwards to change down. There's no need for the clutch, apart from on take-off.

With the engine screaming away in your ear - albeit behind a Perspex panel - it's easy to get carried away and forget this is a precious one-off concept. Then you see the nervous expression on the face of the company's Jean-Christophe Boller-eddat, who created the machine. With 320bhp on tap, the Silhouette has at least 100bhp more than the eventual top-of-the-range Coupe will offer.

However, if its performance around the tight confines of our test track was anything to go by, it is remarkably nimble for such a large car and has plenty of grip too. It suggests Peugeot will manage to combine this with the 407 saloon's excellent ride and work a decent compromise of both into the final production version.

The Silhouette, then, gives us a pretty extreme impression of what the new machine will be like when it hits our roads in autumn 2005. It also hints at a wild performance version of the car, which insiders say could be built in small numbers. If it does get the go-ahead, we'll be first in the queue!

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