Bangernomics: Why a Peugeot 605 is worth its weight in gold

Unloved when new and mostly ignored today, the Peugeot 605 is a criminally under-appreciated executive car – but is seeking one out now worthwhile?

Launched in 1986, Peugeot’s 605 came at a time when the executive segment was becoming increasingly badge and image conscious. Most buyers and fleet consumers walked straight past the French manufacturer’s showrooms, and into the nearest BMW dealership.

‘Peugeot? Isn’t that something the wife drives the kids to school in?’ If you turned up to a breakfast meeting in the late 1980s or ’90s in a lowly Peugeot while everyone else was rolling up in chrome-laden Jags, prestige Germans, flashy Rover Sterlings and even in-your-face high-end Ford Granadas, you were going to look like a loser. So guess who got bullied into buying the first round of coffees?

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They say fortune favours the brave, but many who were brave enough to buy a new 605 were probably left feeling anything but fortunate. Early cars were blighted by eccentric electrics and iffy build quality. Word got out, and the damage was done.

Despite the brand’s Lioncare centres making the best efforts to put things right, residuals sunk like a Rover 800 with a Gary Glitter cassette stuck in the stereo. The all-important fleet market ran for cover. In fact, one former travelling salesman told me that he asked his fleet manager for a 605 – and the request was point blank refused. These models are rare for a reason.

That was then, and this is now. A surviving 605 will probably have had the worst of its electrical issues ironed out long ago, and the later cars had better-behaved electrics and more convincing build quality.

But why are we bothering with PSA’s executive oddity? It would be easy to write off the 605 as an unimaginatively styled also-ran. Yet if you see it from the right angle, or in the right lighting, you’ll find yourself going ‘Oooh’.

Those Pininfarina lines are up there with the best of the stylist’s work. Sharp, subtle and handsome, it’s the kind of svelte body that could easily wear a Lancia or Alfa Romeo badge. The inside is just as understated and smart as the outside. Before Peugeot made all its cabins look like a mass of recycled cheap DVD players and monochrome Tamagotchis, there was a time when the company designed some of the sharpest interiors around.

The pleasingly angular and chunky 605 means business – both figuratively and literally. Inside, it’s just as smart and sensible as anything BMW or Mercedes would come up with towards the end of the 20th century, with none of the wilful weirdness of the Citroen XM with which the Peugeot shared a platform.

The seats are among the most comfortable you’ll ever sit in: as supportive as your boss’s Herman Miller office chair, yet luxuriously squidgy for your derrière. You’ll start to understand this car’s appeal if you imagine taking it for a long blast from Paris to your business meeting in Montpellier – perhaps wearing your achingly ’90s double-breasted suit, while the limousine-like space in the back provides ample room for an illicit office love affair.

In our own top-of-the-range SVE example we’re treated to heated leather seats, a Clarion stereo with a display that’s both grotesquely ’90s and strangely gorgeous, and cruise control, too. This car is about unabashed company-car flash, without being tasteless as well.

Two decades on, the interior has survived surprisingly well. Ours is a very late facelift car from 1997, and it’s evident that Peugeot had learned quality lessons from the earlier 605s – and learned them well. Nothing squeaks or rattles, the panel gaps are surprisingly tight and even the leather is crack free.

The PRV V6 powering our car (as used by Volvo and DeLorean), has a reputation for harshness and all-round horribleness. In reality, it’s a mediocre but inoffensive engine. After a short burst from the starter motor, the V6 jumps into life, whirring loudly at first but quickly settling down to a hum that’s not at all intrusive on tickover.

When you start to move down the road, you’ll realise the 605 is not quite as well mannered as it should be for a car of this class. Growling and burbling away in the background, it won’t let you forget that there’s a 3.0 V6 at your disposal. The PRV might not have the nicest soundtrack, but it makes a pleasing wuffle below 3500rpm.

The performance isn’t tarmac scorching, but it’s punchy enough for stress-free overtaking and will raise a smile should the red mist descend.

Straight-line performance isn’t why you want one of these Peugeots, though. The area where the 605 always shone was ride and handling. The steering is like nothing else; it’s spookily light to the point of being disconcerting, but for such big car the speed with which this model turns in is outstanding. It feels keen and ready for action, yet solid.

Peugeot in this era had a knack for chassis and suspension set-up, and its 605 is no exception. Learn to work with and trust the light steering, and act smoothly and in plenty of time, gently turning into corners rather than driving the car by the scruff of its neck. Do this and you’ll find it feels more like a big GT than a big exec.

Get familiar with it, pick up the pace, and you’ll feel a hint of passive rear steer. The car remains poised and composed at all times, ready to be pointed at the next corner, and it’s all done with minimal body roll. The 605 is far more chuckable than it has any right to be, which is why it became the Cobra car in Taxi 2.

But to throw this machine about and charge around everywhere in it would be to completely miss the point. The 605 isn’t a car for the outside-lane warriors. It inspires confidence, but not moronic or obnoxious driving. If you’re the kind of driver who’d rather flick the cruise on at 70mph, select Radio 4 and arrive at your destination serene and unflustered, you’ll be just as well catered for.

‘Relax as the world flies by,’ was the marketing slogan for this car, and it still holds true today. The ride is well cushioned, shrugging off roadwork scars and bumps in our crumbling road network without any thudding or tram-lining. This car is about minimal effort and maximum relaxation.

Spend a couple of hours tackling a boring, arduous drive in one of these, and you’ll start to love it. It cossets and de-stresses in a way many modern executives just can’t manage. There are no garish touchscreens or multitude of buttons to distract you, no fancy brushed aluminium – just a really good chassis, sumptuous seats, an indecently good ride and a business-like exterior… What more could any white-collar motorist ask for?

It won’t make you feel like a red-brace-twanging yuppie (that’s a job for the Germans), and it won’t make you feel like you own the place (that’s a job for Jaguar). What it will do is make you feel smug – because you’ve found out one of the best-kept secrets in modern classic motoring.

All credit for the ‘Bangernomics’ term goes to journalists Steve Cropley and James Ruppert.

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