Peugeot's 508 BlueHDi 120 combines big car luxury with tiny running costs. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
Ten Second Review
The Peugeot 508 is one of those cars that's far more accomplished than you expect. With great ride quality and tons of equipment, the eco-focused BlueHDi 120 1.6-litre diesel version offers plenty of space inside and great refinement. This variant may not be quite as efficient or as clean as the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 diesel variant further up the range, but it's a great deal more affordable and for lower mileage buyers, could be a better choice.
Is there some sort of unwritten rule that dictates that if a country borders the Mediterranean, then the small cars it produces will by default be better than its big cars? For years that seemed a reasonable maxim to guide buyer behaviour, with Italian, French and Spanish companies in particular doing most of their best work with small cars. Peugeot is a case in point, with its best loved vehicles being the 205, the 106 and the 306. It seems that, of late, Peugeot is attempting to set this historical precedent aside. Its 3008 and 5008 MPV models are both excellent and now the improved 508 saloon also aims to convince us that this Gallic brand is good at larger designs too. Let's try it in affordable 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 diesel guise.
The prime expectation of a larger French car is that it should ride well. If it can't overcome this obstacle then it's up against it from the get go. Even though this base 508 variant doesn't get the uprated suspension and bigger wheels of the now-deleted 2.2-litre GT variant, it still passes this test with flying colours, riding superbly and combining this with more than acceptable body control. The model we're looking at here is the 120bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi derivative. There's also a 150bhp 2.0-litre BlueHDi option in the range - which ideally, most buyers would probably want. That's expensive though, which is why many 508 buyers continue to opt for this 1.6-litre variant, capable of 62mph from rest in 11s, en route to 126mph, as fast as most will want to go. The headline economy and emission figures for this particular 508 are the responsibility of the model fitted with the EGC automatic gearbox. Unfortunately it's far from the best example of its ilk, managing to be slow-witted and jerky on many upchanges. Yes, you can learn to drive around its foibles by feathering the throttle when you sense it's about to execute a gearchange but I'm a strong believer in technology adapting to us and not vice versa. Should you instead decide on a traditional manual 'box instead, you'll find the six-speeder is a sweet-shifting unit.
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 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. If you need more space, then the SW estate version offers a 512-litre boot extendable to 1598-litres. Whatever your bodystyle choice, you'll find the quality's much improved, 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
Compare the Peugeot to most German rivals and it demolishes them on the value front by packing in way more standard equipment for the price. This used to be motoring journalism shorthand for saying that the company was trying to divert you with gadgetry but in the 508's case it's just the spur that could convert many wavering buyers. Prices start at around £22,500, with a £1,200 premium if you want the SW estate version. There's a choice of 'Active', 'Allure' or 'GT Line' trim levels and the £1,000 option of automatic transmission if you want it. Equipment across the range uns to features like keyless entry and starting, an automatic electric parking brake, automatic headlamp dipping, quad-zone automatic air conditioning, a JBL-badged stereo, blind spot sensors and a colour reversing camera. There are also a number of Peugeot Connect Apps available via the touch screen system. Via a mobile internet connection, the driver can find free parking spaces nearby, fuel prices at filling stations in the vicinity, traffic and weather information, plus tourist information from the Michelin Guide or TripAdvisor.
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. Though this 1.6-litre BlueHDi unit isn't the most efficient of the bunch, it still delivers a competitive set of stats. In manual saloon guise, it delivers 70.6mpg on the combined cycle and 103g/km of CO2. Go for the auto gearbox and those stats improve to 72.4mpg and 102g/km. Residuals are better these days too. Peugeot has learned a lesson from the heavy discounting it undertook to try to shift 407 and 607 stock, this in turn having a distinctly deleterious effect on residual values. A new-found confidence in the product it's attempting to shift might mean less conspicuous bargains for new buyers but it will spell better returns further down the line.
The Peugeot 508 is an impressive proposition but it could well become one of those cars that appears technically competent without generating that crucial spark of desirability. The styling is handsome without being attention-grabbing and although it does most things extremely well, there are really only one or two criteria - possibly standard equipment provision and the technical excellence of its engine line-up - where the 508 is at the very top of its class. So it's hardly an emotional purchase. Appealing to the head rather than the heart could well pay dividends when trying to seduce business buyers though. The frugal 1.6-litre BlueHDi models are quite attractively priced and the fact that this now looks a more expensive car than it actually certainly weighs in its favour. Give the Peugeot 508 a fair crack and you'll discover that few models in its class are anything like as well-rounded.