Road Impressions

The Peugeot 604Ti

Unassumingly swift and comfortable

Having admired the restrained, elegant styling of the Peugeot 604 range for some years, I thought it was about time I filled a gap in my education and actually drove one. Peugeot’s Nicholas Hopkins kindly obliged with a most attractive, spanking new example in pale metallic green, the top of the range, fuel-injection Ti version, first introduced in the UK in March last year. Some fool promptly modified it by dropping a filing cabinet on to its front wing; there are some things you can’t expect an insurance company to believe. . . .

W.B.’s impressions of the carburetter 604SL were only mild in their praise in Motor Sport, April 1976. Since then there have been numerous detail improvements, even down to correcting the wiper positions for r.h.d. And, of course, the optional Ti version has more “oomph” and, more important, better smoothness and flexibility. I was very favourably impressed by this big French saloon, one of the most expensive French cars, headed on UK price lists only by the fuel-injected Pallas versions of the Citroen CX, yet at £9,258 in the five-speed manual form tested, or £9,669 with an automatic gearbox, representing excellent value for money in this sector of the luxury saloon market. The test car’s finish was superb and its standard list of appointments without parallel at the price, including such expensive items as electric sunroof, tinted glass, electric windows, pneumatic central locking and headlamp beams adjustable from the driver’s seat. It has power steering, disc brakes all round, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and transistorised ignition on its all-aluminium, o.h.c. 2,664 c.c. (88 mm. x 73 mm.), 144 b.h.p. V6 engine and will do close on 120 m.p.h. in extraordinarily lazy and relaxed fashion, should you be dashing down to Munich or thereabouts.

How does it compare in price with “three-box” competitors? Volvo sell the same Douvrin-built PSA V6 engine in the 264 GLE at £9,706 in manual form, £9,995 as an automatic, Mr. Ford offers his 2.8i Granada Ghia, with cast-iron, push-rod V6, for £9,333 (an extra £395 for automatic), while Opel’s super Senator is a whacking £11,364. You could buy a Mercedes Benz for around £9,000 either, but it would disappoint in performance (the 230 with 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine is £8,965, the lethargic 240D, 2.4-litre, four-cylinder diesel, is £8,981) and in its standard of appointment compared with the Peugeot.

The angular design is not so idiosyncratically French as Renault and Citroen, yet there is no mistaking its heritage once ensconced in its very roomy interior. The cloth-upholstered seats are big and as soft and comfortable as feather beds — some would say too soft — there is that indefinable Gallic scent in the air, the steering wheel is angled in a way that any lorry driver would find familiar, yet one soon becomes accustomed to the driving position, and the ride is outstanding. Indeed, the excellence of the ride and handling combination is close to that of the Jaguar XJ-series, better on ride in some respects because of greater wheel travel, not quite so good on handling. The big Opels have superior handling, perhaps, but favour a firmer ride. This Peugeot can be driven in a much sportier fashion that its slightly staid and conservative appearance projects, while cosseting the occupants in an overall standard of comfort unrivalled it its class. There is mild understeer most of the time, but the sporting driver would find no problem in encouraging oversteer to add a bit of zest to his progress. Roadholding on its 175 HR 14 Michelin XVSs is exemplary. Michelin TRXs on alloy wheels are a newly-announced option. The suspension responsible for this splendid behaviour is independent all round, by McPherson struts at the front and long, coil-sprung semi-trailing arms at the rear. Anti-roll bars are incorporated at both ends. Peugeot make their own, highly efficient, double acting shock-absorbers.

The servo-assisted rack and pinion power steering is good and not overlight, though not among the best for sensitivity and the big steering wheel makes it feel a little bit low-geared, though only 3.5 turns is required from lock to lock to achieve a 37 ft. 9 in. turning circle. If the brakes are not up to Mercedes standard (what are?), they certainly have the edge on the Granada’s for consistent performance.

Not having driven a carburetter SL model, which is identical in all respects other than the engine breathing and the use of a four-speed gearbox in manual form, I cannot draw an accurate performance comparison between these top rank Peugeots. There is little to choose between engine specifications on paper. The 90 deg., oversquare V6 gives 136 b.h.p. at 5,750 r.p.m. and 152.6 ft. lb. of torque at 3,500 r.p.m. in carburetter guise and 144 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. at 159.8 ft. lb. at 3,000 r.p.m. with Bosch injection. Both run an 8.65:1 compression ratio. The manual SL has a 3.58:1 final drive ratio, the Ti, with overdrive fifth gear, adopts a 3.7:1 ratio. One thing for certain, W.B.’s criticism of the manual SL that “The engine vibrates if run below 25 m.p.h. in top gear and careless throttle action or a quick gearchange induces transmission snatch and rattle, present even in top gear,” is certainly not true of the Ti, which is creditably smooth and flexible to the extent that the slick-action, nicely ratioed gearbox rarely needs using to the full. For most gentle motoring purposes this is a three gear car and the need for gearchanging is kept to a minimum. The engine would seem to be a perfect partner for automatic transmission (Peugeot use the GM ‘box). If the ratios of the manual ‘box are taken advantage of this Peugeot becomes a very swift performer, however, with a 0-60 time of not much more than 9 sec. (the makers claim a modest 10.4 sec. to 100 k.p.h.). There is that typically gruff and imbalanced V6 engine roar when accelerating, but otherwise this is a very quiet car, especially when in its element, cruising at high speed. In these conditions it is one of the most relaxed saloons at any price, a very fine long-distance express.

The interior details have changed little since W.B.’s test of the SL. Acres of seating, lots of headroom, the usual French soft and crinkly plastic on the facia and door trims, a central handbrake lever which feels to be about to come out by its roots, clear instrumentation (a tachometer is included) except for ludicrously confusing markings on the clock, big pedals and that infuriating “round-the-gate” lever on the left of the column, controlling lights, wipers, washers et al, often at the wrong time in the wrong order! A remote control door mirror is fitted. Lowrey-like symbols for the heater controls are easy enough to follow, but temperature control is lacking in finesse. Thin pillars and a deep window area ensure very good visibility. The boot is huge and sensibly clean in shape. Night time vision is afforded by four powerful Marchal headlamps.

The Peugeot 604Ti impressed as a thoroughly honest and sensible car, sophisticated yet free from frills, an outstandingly comfortable and deceptively fast performer. It averaged a commendable 22 3/4 m.p.g. in my hands compared with the manual SL’s 19.2 m.p.g. when tested by the more economy-minded Editor. So this more expensive fuel-injection 604 is appreciably more frugal and has a useful range from its 15.2 gallon tank. This Peugeot is a worthy bearer of the proud Lion of Belfort. — C.R.