Peugeot's classy medium range model sharpens up its act. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Big French cars used to be interesting. Distinctive. Now, they are again. Or at least this one is anyway, the second generation version of Peugeot's 508. It competes in the medium range Mondeo segment but offers something quite different, offering a choice of five-door 'Fastback' and SW estate body styles. You might even prefer it to something with a premium badge.
Once upon a time, European roads were filled with volume brand 'D'-segment cars. Mondeos were plentiful, as were the mainstream mid-sized Vauxhalls, Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots that competed with this Ford. But that was then. A new 'D'-segment model is quite rare to see on the roads these days - partly because so many brands no longer bother to sell them. Which is somewhat short-sighted given that the huge Chinese market, unafflicted by badge snobbery, simply loves cars of this kind. Hence the reason why Peugeot has developed this second generation 508, despite the fact that it'll probably be as rare a sight as a unicorn on British highways. Indeed, for likely buyers, that'll be all part of the appeal.
Peugeot's CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato says "If you drive this car, you'll buy it". Quite a claim. The hardware certainly looks promising here. There's a proper multi-link rear suspension set-up and a strong crop of engines from which buyers can choose. The previous generation 508 was launched here with an all-diesel line-up, but a lot's changed since then and today, a car in this class needs strong petrol provision too - which it gets in this case courtesy of a couple of 1.6-litre turbo petrol units, developing either 179bhp or 221bhp. There's also a 129bhp 1.5-litre diesel and 161bhp and 174bhp 2.0 diesels. Only the 1.5 diesel gets a six-speed manual gearbox; the others must be ordered with an eight-speed automatic. For the future, Peugeot's promising part-electrification, but that's apparently some way off. At the wheel, you're positioned in front of a further improved version of Peugeot's i-Cockpit dashboard layout, which as usual, sees you looking over the rim of the steering wheel at the instrument dials, rather than conventionally through it. And as usual, the leather-stitched tiller in question is a small, grippy thing which gives you the illusion of greater interaction with the car. Or maybe it won't be an illusion. Higher-spec models are fitted out with adaptive damping. And all variants get the usual drive modes system, which adapts steering, throttle and gear change timings to the way you want to drive.
Style rather than space seems to have been the key determining factor in devising the look of this MK2 model 508 - and the car is all the better for it. The big news is that the saloon body style of previous Peugeot medium range models has been abandoned in favour of a hatch body shape - though the brand wants us to call it a 'Fastback'. The idea obviously, is to position this car as an alternative to models like the Audi A5 Sportback or the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. Which might be something of a stretch, even though like those cars, this one has a set of trendy frameless windows. The alternative 508 SW estate model has a 530-litre boot, extendable to 1,780-litres. The sharky looks will probably be the thing that'll best sell this model to you. The front end with its sleek, thin vertical daytime running light strips, really makes a powerful overtaking statement. This 508, as just suggested, is slightly shorter than the segment norm - a 4.7-metre overall length is a bit less than you get in either a Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb (both of which are around 4.9-metres in length). The unusual exterior looks are mirrored by an original interior, highlighted, as mentioned in our drive section, by the usual Peugeot i-Cockpit dashboard design, plus there's a large 10-inch capacitive touchscreen angled towards the driver and a 12.3-inch head-up digital instrument panel. The cabin also features i-Cockpit Amplify, which enables the driver to choose between two levels of ambience - 'Boost' and 'Relax'.
When the full range of 508 models is available, prices will start at well under £30,000. To start with though, Peugeot is selling a fully kitted-out 'First Edition' version of the Fastback model, priced at around £37,000. This gets signature GT styling and exclusive exterior design, with chrome chequered and black gloss grille surround and 19" Augusta two-tone diamond-finish alloy wheels with dark tinted varnish finish. There are two paint choices - 'Twilight Blue' or 'Ultimate Red'. Enginewise, 'First Edition' buyers choose between the 225-hp PureTech petrol unit or the 180-hp BlueHDi diesel. Equipment runs to just about everything Peugeot could think of, including a superb 'FOCAL' surround sound Hi-Fi system, night vision, fully automated parking assistance and of course full navigation on the 10-inch central-dash HD touchscreen. There's also a 360?? colour camera system and a wireless smartphone charging plate to keep your mobile's battery topped up during long drives. The wrap-around seats offer five multi-point massage programmes, there's a range of premium and sophisticated trim and upholstery materials and you get a panoramic opening glass roof.
Peugeot usually specialises in extremely efficient running cost returns and this 508 is no different in that regard. The 1.6 PureTech 225 petrol unit with its EAT8 auto transmission manages 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and 131g/km of CO2. The 2.0 BlueHDi diesel 180 EAT8 variant manages 60.1mpg and 124g/km. All of this will help Peugeot dealers when it comes to offering competitive leasing rates on this car. If that's what you're after, it's likely you'll be offered two basic options. The first of these is a straightforward deal where you pay a deposit and monthly sum as you would with any other leasing contract. Or, you could choose the French brand's popular 'Just Add Fuel' package that wraps up insurance, servicing and tax into regular payments so all you have to do is fill up the tank. Of course running costs are about a lot more than just fuel economy and CO2 readings, so what else are you going to need to know? Well, there's the usual unremarkable three year/60,000-mile warranty. And if you are paying for maintenance work, you can budget ahead for it by taking up Peugeot's 'Service Plan' that for a fixed monthly fee, can cover you for up to 50,000 miles of motoring over either three or five years.
Peugeot says that this is the first medium range car it's made that it isn't really interested in selling to fleets. Well, obviously it is, but not at the kind of vast discounts that fleets tend to want. Which is good news in terms of relatively buoyant residuals for private buyers. So yes, if you like the look and feel of a 508, you can buy one without undue worry that you're going to lose a fortune when the time comes to sell. On the contrary, we expect that this car will out-perform all its volume brand rivals in this regard. Which is appropriate given that in terms of inherent desirability, this 508 offers something you just can't get from a Mondeo, an Insignia, a Passat or a Superb. That 'want one' factor. It's a strong draw.
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