Road impressions of the Peugeot 604 V6 SL

Having been a Peugeot advocate from the days of the 203, I was distressed at the long gap in our testing of cars from this exclusive, top-grade French manufacturer. However, in February I was permitted a week with the latest V6 604, and although that is insufficient time in which to fully assess such a complex car, about which two weeklies, neither from Standard House, expressed varying opinions and performance data (even to mileometer excess) after driving precisely the same car, some impressions are possible.

This new big Mercedes-class Peugeot saloon uses the light-alloy V6 engine it shares with the f.w.d. Renault 30TS (test report last month) and the Volvo 264. It is a smooth but thirsty power-producer. Peugeot, with Renault, have novel triple-choke Solex carburation that works cleanly and offers deceptively good acceleration if all three chokes are permitted to open together. This big saloon, with a notably spacious rear compartment, will better 10 sec. from rest to 60 m.p.h., indeed, will crack this by nearly a second, under a leaden foot. 4,000 r.p.m. equals an indicated 80 m.p.h. So there is space, pace and a great deal of refinement about the 604.

In addition, it has the splendid Peugeot ride, derived from effective trailing-arm i.r.s. and Peugeot’s own precision damping. It has been the fine stability and comfort of many Peugeot models that has, I suspect, reduced Citroen’s sales of cars that have even better, hut more complex, suspension.

At fast cornering the 604 is also extremely good, quick enough, indeed, not to trouble a Princess who might be following. It has almost the high-speed limit associated with a B.L. front-drive “Wedge,” slight understeer turning into roll oversteer. Yet this Peugeot is no more front-drive than the Renault 30TS is a 4WD. The power-steering is good without being outstanding; it is geared only 3.3-turns lock-to-lock yet feels too low-geared on account of a very good lock. It transmits sharp rather than quick bark and although not over-light, it is too vague for my liking. The gear lever is short and angled towards the driver. Very strongly spring-loaded towards top and third, it can he slightly notchy. The all-disc brakes, light to use, did not give the expected reassurance from high speeds and the central handbrake lever rises to a ludicrous extent when applied, perhaps because it operates on the tear discs.

The heater requires an experienced operator to get any warmth out of it, so I had a miserably cold journey away from Peugeots Western Avenue premises, and consultation of the instruction hook did not at first get things warm. The screen-wipers work together from the n/s of the screen, with an action that may endear them to ballet-lovers but which leaves an area of the 0./5 of the glass unswet-it. The fuel gauge indicated f-full as I drove away but I was told the 14-gallon tank had been filled. It ran dry after 277 miles, after which m.p.g. of 4-star was checked as 19.2 No oil was needed in 650 miles The rear-hinged. self-propping bonnet is released by a horrid metal lever on the wrong side which needs the n/s front door open to operate it.

There are three Main dials under a dearto-read BMW-like panel beiore the driver— a clock, with apt-to-be-contlicting seconds hand, 130 m.p.h. speedometer, 4nd 8,000 r.p.m. tachometer. The last-named has no limits marked, yet the engine must not normally be extended beyond 5,750 r.p.m and there is a positive limit of 6,000 r.p.m., whik the modest maximum of 4,500 r.p.m. is . recommended. At present 136 DIN b.h.p. art. claimed at the former r.p.m., from this 90-deg. V6 with its chain-driven o.h.c. and a cr. quoted with Peugeotian accuracy, as 8.65 to 1, in 88 x 73 mm. cylinders. Perhaps they are thinking of dropping in a higherrevving injection unit?

A I.h. stalk brings in the lighting and has the “round-the-gate” action beloved by the French, but with a quick-action for flashing the lamps. Pressing the knob to wash the screen can alter the lamps’ setting; the knob is rotated to operate the two-speed wipers, and there is short-term wash/wiper action by pressing this. All a bit of a finger-tip full! The r.h. stalk is for turn-indicators, and it sounds the horn when pulled inwards. Small oblong fuel and heat gauges are provided to the left of the dials and there are eight warning lights, set as neat “buttons” about the panel. All controls, instruments and lights have sensible symbols but as a warning button lights up its symbol cannot be read. Reverse on the gear-lever knob is called “AR’. and engagement was apt to be slightly harsh. Down on the console ahead of the gear-lever and below the Blaupunkt radio, are little switches for the electric window-lifts–and full marks to Peugeot for providing such windows on a big car such as the 604—with an over-ride switch to defeat troublesome children. and for the rear window heater. Again, all are “symbolled” but they seem to have been repositioned Since the British handbook supplement was prepared. Apart from the central adjustable vents that. mysteriously, are part of the main heating system, adjustable vents are provided at the facia extremities. On. the sill below the former are a recesSed knurled-knob controlling facia lighting intensity and five switches, one for hazardwarning, the others spare. on the test car.

The seats are very big and posh, but were too spongy and velvety for my liking, while the clash of contrasting interior colour-decor was unfortunate. From cold the auto-choke makes the engine idle noisily at 2,000 r.p.m. for some distance. It then settles to around 900 r.p.m. idle, but the tachometer did not zero fully. Two small keys, look after the ignition and doors. The enormous boot has an awkward button, nor does the lid begin to rise after you have managed the key, so for shopping you need a BMW… In appearance, while the 604 is obviously a Peugeot, it is distinctive rather than attractive, with hat “pancake” styling; the outline of the “Lion of Belfort” still graces the nose.

I soon found that this is a very restful car to drive. It is also very “long-legged”, and the sort of car in which you always seem to be beyond the prevailing speed-limits, which of course we all want to observe, don’t we? Clearly I should have had an errand that would have taken me from Paris to Nice; rather than from VASCAR-infested Acton to Powys! I enjoyed the hush, with road-noise from the Michelin XAS the most obtrusive sound, although there is some engine roar, the ability to unleash high-performance (top speed is around 112 m.p.h., with the “ton” reached in about half-a-minute) and the space and the comfort. But I missed the BMW front the viewpoint of accurate steering and firm braking and I felt that this once-individualistic make lacked driving character. Even that Gallic smell once found in Peugeots was very faint! The four Marchal halogen lamps are very powerful, and the dipped light is very well spread. Moreover, I do not think I would want to grease six points on a £4,644 car after only eight runs to the office and back…

However, in details the traditional engineering “character” is still evident and One hopes 604 will enjoy the fabled Peugeot longevity, Ali the family will be comfortable in the 604. for the rear-seat space is particularly generous. Stowages are confined to an illuminated facia-well with awkward drop door shallow wells in the front doors and a driver’s map-pocket. There are no facia shelves or console-well. The “Lion” motif is on the steering wheel, which has three thick spokes and thick spongy rim. Visibility is enhanced by slim door pillars. The spare wheel under a cover, is vertical on the o/s of the spacious boot, retained by a crude strap: the boot door has a ribbed rubber mat.

The engine vibrates if run below 25 M.p.h. in top gear and careless throttle action, or a quick gear-change, induces transmission snatch and rattle, present ever, in top gear. The brakes have a very brief “fail-safe” when used without the engine, as with other modern cars. Reverting to the Suspension, it ranges from slightly harsh to faintly “floaty” and isn’t as quiet as that of former Peugeots, which set a very high standard in this respect. Sc the 604 is a notable addition to the ranks of big, spacious saloons.—W.B.

Economical Polo

To mark the release in this country of the r.h.d.-version of the Volkswagen Polo, Philip Stein thought-up an effective exercise for motoring writers. We were each asked to drive a Polo from the RAC country Club at Epsom to Goodwood circuit, to discover what sort of petrol economy these excellent three-door 895 c.c. saloons will deliver. The 50-mile road section had to be done at an average of 32.5 m.p.h., with lateness penalties, among quite heavy traffic and some adverse traffic lights. At the circuit the cars were allowed to be driven at any speed the driver chose, until the tanks ran dry. A single gallon of 2-star Shell was provided for each VW. On the first day 16 journalists had a go. Freelance Leonard Setright (in car no. 13) did 69.4. m.p.g., Bryan Cambray of Motor Trader recorded 67.7 M.p.g., and Richard Hudson-Evans of Drive-In and Mike Cunningham of Motor Transport tied for third place, with 66,8 M.p.g.

On the Tuesday this convincing exercise was undertaken by 17 drivers. The winner was Graham MacBeth of the Brighton Evening Argus, with an astonishing 92.05 m.p.g.,with a one-mile lateness penalty. Chris Drake of Popular Motoring came second, with 81.45 m.p.g. I managed third place, with 78.6 m.p.g. It was thought that damp atmospheric conditions may have improved matters on this second day, but it was satisfactory that it was different Polos that achieved these top economy figures. The road section was a pretty common denominator; indeed I got lost, and having to reverse to turn round is hardly consistent with thrifty driving, and there were also a number of traffic halts. On the track it was different and those who began by cruising at 20 m.p.h. or less soon reduced this to motoring on the idling-jet, at around 15 m.p.h. MacBeth, however, swept past, at a furious 27 M.p.h.

The significance this demonstration was out so much that a VW Polo on add over 92 m.p.g of inexpensive fuel to its other attractive qualities, when driven by an expert, but that VW had sufficient faith in the Polo’s economy to set us off on a 50-mile road run on just one gallon of petrol. The average m.p.g., incidentally was 62.24 the first day, 69.4 the second day, and it does seem that the Polo, with its 5-bearing crossflow alloy-head o.h.c. engine, weighing 143 lb, less than a two-door Golf, is getting close to nay 60 m.p.h./60 m.p.g. ideal. The official claim is 54:3 m.p.g. at a steady’ 50 m.p.h., and a top speed of 82 m.p.h. The cars used were the first production-line Polos to arrive in England, each having run about 600 miles. They were on normal full-load tyre-pressures and their air-intakes were set for summer conditions. This jolly occasion was extremely well organised. Although some of the drivers were very late for lunch at Goodwood House because they were crawling round the circuit, results; were issued with the coffee and photographs were in our hands the next morning, proof that Philip Stein and his staff are as expert at PR as the scribes are at frugal motoring.—W.B.