Peugeot 508 full of French flair
Matt Joy says Peugeot's new 508 saloon and SW estate have that distinctive Gallic charm and are desirable to drive and own.
We'll do our best to steer well clear of national stereotypes for obvious reasons, but to give credit where it's due the best French cars are decidedly... well, French.
If you pick through the highlights of Peugeot's back catalogue, the more it has stuck to its guns rather than trying to chase the approach of rival manufacturers, the better the end product. By mutual agreement the 205 of 1983 is regarded as the finest Peugeot of recent times, blessed as it was with a pretty body, simple interior and a sweet driving experience. But Peugeot also enjoys a reputation as a maker of fine mid-sized saloons and wagons, with the 505, 405 and recent 407 being the pick of the bunch.
It is the job of the 508 to take on that mantle, a difficult task given that it has to please the Gallic purists who want to see a floaty ride and a quirky cabin as well as tempt those who are on their fifth German saloon in as many years and are quite happy, thank you very much. It is a fierece market to compete in with manufacturers fighting over a falling number of buyers. But thankfully the Peugeot artisans have taken the holistic approach to the problem and decided that their own way is the only way.
First impressions confirm that this is a truly modern Peugeot, much in the spirit of the 3008 crossover in that it steadfastly refuses to simply follow existing trends. The shape has presence and an unmistakable style – this could not be confused with the product from another country. The Peugeot badge takes pride of place on the distinctive nose while the slim windows and gently-curving shoulder line give it more of a coupe look – something that will no doubt be met with enthusiasm by potential owners. There are LED lights at the back too, designed to look like claws on the saloon, all of which adds up to a quality feel.
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Quality is clearly a priority on the inside too and it is pleasing to see smart new switchgear used on the dashboard. A large screen sits at the centre with the main controls on the centre console, while the usual clever arrangement of buttons on the steering wheel means everything is within easy reach. Add in the head-up display that's already been put to good use elsewhere in the Peugeot range and the 508's cabin has plenty going for it – not least an abundance of space for front and rear occupants. Although not available on the saloon, it is worth mentioning the panoramic glass roof available on the SW estate version which runs almost the length of the car and provides a wonderfully airy feeling inside.
The French company hasn't skimped on the engineering for the sake of a posh cabin. Unlike all of its rivals there are two types of front suspension design depending on the specification of the car, with the higher-end versions gaining a more sophisticated double wishbone set-up. However, you need not feel short-changed if you go for the lesser version. Despite clear advantages on paper, the simpler front strut layout delivers such a good balance between sharp, consistent responses and a fluid ride that you'll forget all about the next model up.
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Just like all the best Peugeots the 508 breezes along even more challenging roads and is happy to waft when required. With high levels of noise insulation and even the more humble four-cylinder diesel enginet there is very little to disturb cabin occupants. Large distances can be covered with great ease. Better still the 508 is just as happy to play in the bends, providing resolute grip and a forgiving nature.
There can be no question that the 508 is up against some very tough opposition. But the great news is that this is the most convincing response to its rivals, and building on the strengths of the outgoing car has resulted in a complete, desirable and capable saloon that will give private and fleet buyers something to think about.
Price: Peugeot 508 1.6 e-HDi Active, �21,975 (range from �18,150)
Engine: 1.6-litre, 112bhp turbo diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automated manual gearbox
Performance: 0-62mph 11.9 seconds; top speed 122mph
Economy: 64.2mpg combined
Emissions: 109g/km (by summer)