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First Drive: Peugeot puts heat on 508 RXH rivals

Wagon trail: The Peugeot 508RXH is the first diesel electric hybrid in Australia and will battle competitors from Europe and Japan.

Hot-weather testing delays keenly priced electric/diesel eco AWD wagon

Peugeot logo25 Apr 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

AUSTRALIA’S first diesel-electric hybrid is on track for a lower-than-expected starting price when sales commence at the end of this year.

Kicking off from about $60,000, the Peugeot 508 RXH will become the flagship of the French brand’s medium-size family car range, sitting above the $55,990 GT Touring announced earlier this month.

With importers Sime Darby sweating on the conclusion of hot-weather testing for the Peugeot 508 RXH, a more precise release date is not yet possible, even though the car is currently being rolled out across colder European countries right now.

“We’d love to have the 508 RXH by the end of the year,” said Peugeot Australia public relations manager Jaedene Hudson.

“The car is currently undergoing heat and dust testing in Europe. Once it has completed homologation testing we can make our plans for bringing it to Australia.

“South America, Asia, Africa and Southern Europe are also waiting on the same thing.

“While this is a process that we have no timeframe for, we are really hoping that we might be able to get it by the end of the year.

“It is already on sale in the United Kingdom, so there are no issues about right-hand drive.” Developed in part to take advantage of corporate car tax advantages in some markets such as the UK, the 508 RXH is Peugeot’s tilt at the low-emissions end of the medium wagon segment against the Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion and Ford Mondeo Econetic.

While fleets will account for more than 90 per cent of UK sales, in Australia the 508 RXH will be pitched at private buyers against similarly priced wagons such as the Volvo V70, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate and Audi A4 Avant.

23 center imageIt will undercut the thematically similar Volvo XC70 and Audi A6 Allroad crossovers, and Peugeot hopes it might even appeal to customers of the Lexus RX, Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q5 and BMW X3 SUVs. Outwardly, the hybrid is pure 508 wagon save for a slightly wider stance, higher ride height, extra plastic body cladding, unique bumper treatments, a separate ‘floating’ grille (as also seen on the upcoming 208 light car), a brace of LED fog lights up front (surely a world first) and specially styled 18-inch alloy wheels.

It may be a first for a large Peugeot wagon, but visually the newcomer owes much to the Subaru Outback, Volvo XC/Cross Country and Audi Allroad series.

Underneath, however, the French have been much bolder.

Dubbed ‘HYbrid4’, the drivetrain consists of a 120kW/300Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection common-rail four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine driving the front wheels via a six-speed clutchless manual gearbox, combined with a 27kW/200Nm electric motor mounted on the rear axle.

The part-time AWD system can apportion up to 40 per cent of drive to the rear wheels.

Compared to the 2.2-litre diesel-powered 508 GT Touring, CO2 emissions are slashed by 43 grams per kilometre to 107g/km, while the combined fuel consumption figure is 4.2 litres per 100km.

Peugeot says these results underline the fact that a diesel hybrid emits some 35 per cent less CO2 than an equivalent petrol hybrid.

With a push-button starter, a complicated gear lever (there is no P for Park) and your foot on the brake, getting going requires some tuition, but then progress at low speed is smooth thanks to the electric motors whirring the rear wheels along.

However, while the 508 RXH’s noisy regenerative braking system continuously recharges the battery pack that lives under the rear floor (eliminating the spare wheel), the Peugeot can only run on pure electric power for about four kilometres – if you are feather-footed. More often than not the diesel motor chimes in earlier than expected and those CO2s start spilling out.

The hybrid system adds more than 200kg to the car, bringing the kerb weight up to 1910kg, though weight distribution improves from 37 per cent to 44 per cent over the rear wheels compared to the regular 508 wagon.

Acceleration is fine, but if a sudden surge is desired, patience is needed as the gearbox spends an eternity gathering its thoughts while the electric-assisted turbo-diesel spools up into the torque sweet spot.

Even after that – and this betrays the sheer mass of the RXH – a concerted prod of the pedal is required to keep things on the boil, accompanied by the not-very-smooth din of the diesel engine up front.

When crawling in heavy traffic the 508 RXH comes into its own in pure electric mode, though it just doesn’t last long, and on the open road a heady stream of torque keeps the Peugeot cruising nicely.

There is just no getting away from the fact that this is a heavy car around the bends, though it will zip through your chosen cornering line with a flat, secure and confident attitude.

Light but numb steering means there is precious little feedback, with the steering wheel only weighing up enough to give an approximate sensation of feeling when freeway speeds are reached.

The brakes are effective but feel oddly unnatural and even at times snatchy in their application – a common issue with regenerative braking systems.

And the ride on the pretty 18-inch alloys is busy when surfaces are less than smooth. Must we remind Peugeot that once upon a time it used to make large cars with a magic carpet ride quality? Despite the interesting technical specifications, driving enthusiasts need to look elsewhere.

However, the RXH has a handsome exterior styling coupled with a well-screwed-together interior presentation.

The basic dashboard architecture is regular 508 save for some garish bronze metallic-like painted trim, but the dials are tidy, clear and classy, we enjoyed the bolstered suppleness of the front seats, and there is no shortage of space.

Furthermore, the RXH represents intriguing value for money. In European specification it includes keyless entry and start, Xenon headlights, an electrically operated tailgate, front and rear parking radar, and a nicely integrated GPS/audio/Bluetooth phone system.

As long as the price is right and peoples’ driving expectations are not too high, we can see real merit in the 508 RXH in Australia, but the real test will come on our local roads.

Just don’t expect to be electrified by the experience.

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