Car reviews - Peugeot - 508 - range
Improved looks, impressive ride quality, versatile diesel, rear seat comfort
Room for improvement
Lacks cabin cubbies, numb steering, underwhelming petrol engine
18 Mar 2015
BROWSE the mid- to large-car offerings priced about the $45,000 mark and virtually all your options will try to play the sporty card in some form with performance figures, big wheels and nods to distant motorsport victories.
While Peugeot can certainly offer a hotter GT version of its refreshed 508 range and a rich racing heritage, the company has acknowledged a majority of customers will be after something a little more day to day with a focus on passenger comfort rather than driver reward.
With its updated 508, the French car-maker is offering a simple recipe of frugal front-drive sedan or wagon, combined with a little European style and flair, which starts with its light redesign.
The previous, largely mechanically identical, 508 had aesthetics that looked like it had started to melt in the sun and, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we think the company has taken a step in the right direction with the facelift.
Its nose has a much more assertive appearance with bolder headlights, LED running and fog-lights up front and a tidy rump with more reshaped LED lighting at the back.
Opt for the GT and you won't find a single incandescent globe at either end with very cool looking all-LED headlights replacing the more conventional kind.
It's not jaw-dropping but the 508 manages to be inoffensive and pleasant to look at with just a little French charm.
Carrying over from the previous range, the 508 line-up starts with the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol Active with 110kW and 240Nm developed by the four-cylinder – the same PSA unit produced in collaboration with BMW.
We have always liked the versatile engine and we are not alone with the 1.6-litre receiving many awards, but in the 1414kg Peugeot it really needs to be revved to get the most out of it.
When under the bonnet of a previous-generation Mini Cooper S or Peugeot 208 GTi, the charismatic donk does very well with a bit more power and less weight to lug, but in the comfort-focused 508, a low revving torquey engine is a far better match.
Which brings us nicely to the middle of the range 508 Allure and its 2.0-litre HDi with 120kW and a chunky 340Nm. Like the Active, the diesel is coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission but with all that torque lurking at just 1400 rpm, piloting the Allure is effortless.
In the name of fuel consumption the transmission is programmed to shift up quickly, keeping revs low and efficiency high, but hit the sport button and the transmission holds revs higher as well as adding more throttle sensitivity. We liked driving in sport mode permanently as it produced the best balance of performance and comfort.
For the enthusiastic, gear changes can be made with the steering wheel paddles but in sport mode the transmission does such a good job on its own we didn't feel intervention was necessary.
Peugeot say the engine will use 5.7 litres of fuel per 100km in a combined cycle – a figure we got amazingly close to when driving with more vigour than a combined cycle.
The Peugeot's interior is simple and well laid out with quality materials and very comfortable seating in both rows. Finding a good driving position was easy and hopping in the back for a stint kept even our 188cm tester happy.
Our car had been fitted with a few extras which brought a welcome head-up display and we liked the superfluous but charming oil and water temperature gauges.
Only the lack of cubbies including proper bottle holders and good-sized storage bins put a black mark against the interior, but the general quality and space would keep occupants large and small happy a majority of the time.
Pushing the 508 through some twisty bits in the rural areas surrounding Sydney was a fairly straight-forward task. The diesel torque made quick work of hills and overtaking, while the MacPherson/multi-link suspension kept all four 18-inch wheels where they should be.
The adaptive and electrically assisted power steering has a good weight when negotiating faster turns but feedback and feel was a little lacking, although the 508 does exactly what you would expect from a front-engined, front-drive sedan of its size.
When in mid-range specification, the 508 is not a sporty proposition but let's make it patently clear that Peugeot deliberately made that very calculated decision when developing the sub-GT variants.
To realise the 508's strongest attribute, you have to apply a much more day-to-day scenario and hit a few of Australia's most typical roads.
Cruising at speed on well maintained freeways, the Peugeot turned into an extremely quiet and accomplished machine with minimal cabin, road or wind noise thanks to the low-revving diesel and well tuned suspension.
We could have covered many miles of freeway in complete comfort but just as we were getting settled in, the road deteriorated and threw some obstacles that you will frequently find on most trips, such as poorly maintained surfaces, corrugations and potholes.
And you know what? Nothing changed.
The 508 continued to plod along with virtually no change in cabin comfort, eating up vibrations and even severe road damage without complaint.
Pitch that kind of abuse at almost any other European mid-sized sedan and it will respond with an exhausting and bone-shaking ride that will have you wishing you had ignored the brochure and its pictures of racing circuits.
We didn't manage any time in the hotted up GT with its 2.2-litre diesel, 150kW/450Nm and retuned suspension, and no doubt it would cater for the driver wanting more performance, but then so would many of its rivals. The 508 equation works best in more standard trim.
The rise of the SUV is certainly partly to blame for the decline of the mid-sized car in Australia but Peugeot is aiming the new 508 at the bastion of drivers that realise in a vast majority of situations, a regular sedan or wagon could do a better job.
Peugeot has taken a bold step and ignored what most of the other European manufacturers, and even some others do, looking instead at exactly what the Australian driver really needs.
Most families, couples and fleets don't need a car that can crack eight minutes at the Nurburgring, but they do need a comfortable, practical and efficient car that looks just a little bit different.
The Peugeot 508 might not be the mid-sized sedan you think you need, but it's certainly one that should be on your test-drive list.
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