Peugeot's classy family saloon and estate sharpens up its act. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Peugeot's 508 has certainly evolved, but its virtues are much as before, with comfort, style and practicality all strong selling points. It's still not the most dynamic choice you could make in this segment but it's a consummate cruiser that's benefitted from extra technology and the option of more efficient BlueHDi diesel engines. These attributes combine with the smarter styling to keep this saloon and SW estate line-up current.
The Peugeot 508 was launched to change the way you think about the brand's larger models. Now it's time to change the way you think about the 508. Welcome to this, the revised first generation version. Reports of the demise of its marketplace - that for mainstream medium-sized Mondeo-class family cars - appear to have been greatly exaggerated. It's true that in recent years, this sector has certainly been besieged from all sides from Crossovers, SUVs and compact executive models from the up-market German brands. But across Europe, it still accounts for more than 50% of sales in what the industry calls the 'D Segment' - conventional saloons and estates that are larger than a Focus-sized family hatch but a little smaller than a big Executive-class model. Cars, in other words, just like this one. It's a far more competitive car than it used to be, thanks to smarteer styling and extra hi-tech cleverness introduced in the summer of 2014. More recently, the brand has also completed a far-reaching engine upgrade programme that's brought with it mre efficient BlueHDi diesel technology. Will it all be enough? Let's find out.
There are now no petrol options offered in the UK but the diesel range is boosted by the PSA Group's latest BlueHDi technology. Most business buyers will be looking at the entry-level 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 unit, which makes 62mph from rest in 11s en route to 126mph. Just as clean and frugal though, is the pokier 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 powerplant, which improves those figures to 8.9s and 130mph. This unit also comes in 180bhp form at the top of the range, but only with an auto gearbox. Peugeot's HYbrid4 all-wheel drive diesel-electric hybrids also continue, sold in either the rugged-ised RXH estate version or as a saloon. The 163bhp 2.0-litre BlueHDi Diesel engine combines with a 37bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels and they can operate either alternately or together, in a way that is transparent for the user. The four selectable driving modes (ZEV, 4WD, Sport and Auto) allow the driver to alter the feel and response of the car. On the move, Ford hasn't been surpassed as the driver's choice in this class but Peugeot has managed to run the Blue Oval close with a more refined car that's a more relaxing haven for longer journeys. There's a quality here that feels premium German - and I'm not just talking about the fixtures and fittings. The standard-fit acoustic windscreen, the dampers fitted on the front axle to reduce vibration and the suspension set-up that even in its simplest form, rides pot holes with disdainful ease yet is also able to offer confident cornering. It's all enough to create in this car a better medium range model than any Peugeot has offered us for the last twenty years.
Design and Build
We tend to expect something special of Peugeot in the styling department, a distinguished elegance that carries a bit of weight. The original version of this 508 was a clean shape, but it lacked that gravitas - that certain something that ought to differentiate a Peugeot from a Ford or Vauxhall. The latest front end certainly gives the 508 a bit more visual clout, with a chromed grille that's more assertive and which is framed by 100 per cent LED light units. The bonnet looks flatter and more imposing, while at the rear there are new bumpers and light assemblies. At 4.79m long, the 508 saloon is still quite a size and there's plenty of room inside, both front and rear. The quality's improved as well, with softer trim finishes and higher quality cloths. The dashboard now includes a 7" touch screen grouping together in an intuitive way most of the vehicle's functionalities. As a result, the central panel now has fewer buttons, while the centre console includes a closed-storage box. Positioned in front of the driver, the rich and complete instrument panel makes a style reference inspired by that of a precision watch. It's backed up by the Head-Up Display with driving and navigation information in colour, viewed in a retractable smoked viewing screen.
Market and Model
Prices start at just under £23,000 for the saloon variants and you'll be looking at a £1,200 premium if you want the SW estate model. The key trim level in the line up is the 'Active' variant, which will target business buyers. Further up the range, there's a choice of 'Allure' and 'GT Line' trim, while those wanting the top BlueHDi 180 auto model can get the top 'GT' spec. Where the 508 scores over its key rivals is in building in plenty of equipment at modest prices. Even entry-level 'Active' variants get LED daytime running lights, rear parking sensors, auto headlamps and wipers, tinted glass, power-folding mirrors, an ultrasonic alarm and 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there's automatic dual zone air conditioning and the 7-inch multifunction colour touchscreen from where you can control a DAB digital radio, satellite navigation and Bluetooth for your mobile 'phone. Oh and, thank goodness, a proper full-sized spare wheel. Most though, will want to upgrade to the plusher 'Allure' spec we tried, which adds niceties like the full LED light set at the front with its front foglights, plus half-leather seat trim, a keyless start system, the dubious pleasure of an automatic electric parking brake and, on SW estate models, a panoramic glass roof. Tempting options include full leather trim, a sunroof, a thumping upgraded JBL HiFi system and a motorised tailgate on SW models.
Cost of Ownership
Although Peugeot isn't ignoring the needs of private buyers, it freely admits that by far the majority of 508 sales are coming from business customers and inroads into this market are impossible without a range of fuel efficient, low emission diesel engines. Most will be drawn to the 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 variant, which can deliver 70.6mpg on the combined cycle and 103g/km of CO2. Curiously, the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 unit though, does even better, recording 72.4mpg and 101g/km of CO2. Those figures take a knock if you go for the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 version of this engine, as it must be ordered with automatic transmission. The figures here are 67.3mpg and 110g/km. Best of the bunch for cleanliness is the diesel-electric HYbrid4 model, which can put out as little as 95g/km and manages 70.6mpg on the combined cycle. We''ll mention to the green-fingered that 85% of the mass of a 508 is recyclable and 95% is bio-degradeable. On a more practical note, residual values won't of course be like those you'd get from the premium German brands (or even as good as those from Volkswagen or Honda), but they have proved to be firmer with this 508 than they were with its 407 predecessor thanks to a reduction in dealer discounting. Insurance might be slightly more expensive than some rivals but lengthy 20,000 mile service intervals will be welcome, as may be the Optiway service plan that helps you budget for routine maintenance.
This 508 is now desirable enough to be selected out of choice by the many company car drivers often forced into daily usage of a model of this kind. True, dynamically this Peugeot may not be a class leader but the fact remains that few cars in this segment offer a better blend of comfort, style and handling. This one must face down a number of more recently developed key rivals, but few of these can offer a more modern range of efficient engines. Would we ever have imagined a few years ago that a car of this kind would routinely be able to average over 65mpg and put out only just over 100g/km of CO2? This one can - and does even better still if you can stretch to it in its clever diesel/electric HYbrid4 guises. If you buy one though, we have a feeling that's not going to be the reason why. 508 folk, it seems, are people who want style and comfort but don't want either of those things to compromise the ownership experience. They're people with a very distinct set of priorities. Here's a car that'll continue to suit them perfectly.