Peugeot 407

High style has never enjoyed an easy relationship with estate cars. Designing elegant roofs and steeply raked tailgates may well turn heads, but the formula often ruins load-lugging volume.

The 407 SW is well priced and has one of the most refined diesel engines available. But it's still a compromised estate, with a disappointing boot volume and folding seats that lack innovation. It seems Peugeot has concentrated too much on the styling, and not enough on the practicalities.

High style has never enjoyed an easy relationship with estate cars. Designing elegant roofs and steeply raked tailgates may well turn heads, but the formula often ruins load-lugging volume.

It's a problem that's seen the most recent wave of family estates return to the days of squared-off back ends and massive cargo areas - a trend which is being led by the vast Ford Mondeo.

Peugeot's new 407 SW is the exception to the rule, however - so Auto Express had to drive it first. The sharply angled tailgate and short rear overhang mean the newcomer loses nearly all of the classic estate car look.

Not that this is a bad thing, because the French offering is certainly more distinctive than its blue oval rival, and this is helped by the controversial nose and grille. However, all the style hampers the newcomer's boot space - at 1,365 litres with the rear seats folded, the Peugeot's load capacity falls some way behind its competitors'. With the chairs in position, the difference isn't quite so stark, but the 407 SW is still left bringing up the rear.

And the bad news doesn't end there - even the process of lowering the back chairs isn't as easy as it could be. You have to pull the seatbase up (which requires a lot of brute force), before folding down the back separately.

This is painfully long-winded compared to simple mechanisms, such as the Honda Accord's, where the whole rear bench is lowered with a tug on a single lever. The rest of the interior is carried over from the saloon, so build quality is good, even if the centre console's mass of switches appears confusing. The wheelbase is the same as well, so rear legroom is still tight, especially for passengers standing more than six foot tall - although the large glass sunroof does give the cabin an airy feel.

Where the Peugeot starts to make a lot more sense is under the bonnet. This SW's 2.0-litre HDi diesel powerplant is incredibly refined and whisper-quiet, both at idle and when cruising, yet also reasonably responsive.

The unit is mated to a six-ratio gearbox, which makes motorway work effortless. At the top end of the rev range, the oil-burner starts to get a little coarse, but with 325Nm of torque available from quite low down, there's very little need to push the engine that hard.

The turbo helps, and it fits in with the character of the diesel engine, because the point at which it spools up is very smooth. There's no surge felt - all you notice is the unit becoming more responsive as it passes 2,000rpm. The chassis blends in really well with this, as the SW is relaxed and easy to drive.

There's little body roll when cornering, yet the Peugeot's ride is comfortable. The car is suited to motorways, as the steering is a bit vague around the dead ahead, although the levels of grip are impressive for an estate.

Our model comes in at £18,550, which compares well with its competitors - if only the same could be said about the size of the 407 SW's boot.

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