Fact: If there is a Pug in the COTY field, arguments will ensue. Mostly, this will centre on Peugeot’s signature diminutive steering wheel and i-Cockpit set-up. Sometimes, it spreads to interior fabrics or paint schemes. But as a rule, French form and function always splits the judges. This year, the glamorous Peugeot 508 GT Fastback and Sportswagon did just that. However, they both also astonished beyond expectations, resulting in a very hard-to-make call.
The new 508 is a result of the French taking on the Germans. A Gallic-Bavarian-styled beauty, it targets a sweetspot between drama, emotion, driving pleasure and practicality. The 508 is underpinned by the formidable EMP2 platform, has shed 70kg, and has undergone a Grand Designs-level makeover in style, technology and engineering.
In Australia, Peugeot offers a value-soaked standard equipment package that sees the entire kit – including high-level active safety, pedestrian and cyclist detection, 360-degree camera, active dampers and more – arrive with only two boxes to tick (paint and a sunroof). At $53,990 (Fastback) or $55,990 (Sportswagon) it’s a compelling pitch. Peugeot reckons its belle fille can square up to the luxo-legs of an Audi A5, while a Wheels comparison test (Yearbook, 2019) has already seen it beat fellow COTY competitor the Volvo S60 (as well as COTY ’18 final-fiver, the Kia Stinger.)
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“This thing is a sleeper!” exclaimed Byron, with such wide-eyed enthusiasm you could be forgiven for forgetting it was him who wrote the aforementioned comparison. “Supple, suave, sophisticated!”
On the twists and turns and bumps and dirt, the 508 hugged Lang Lang like an old friend. Not everyone agreed that the eight-speed Aisin EAT8 transmission was flawless, but the BMW-developed 1.6-litre turbo-four is refined and punchy, and pleased most with its feverous desire to seek out the redline.
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But where the Pug truly soared was ride and handling. The adaptive dampers added a Goldilocks-level of comfort, the lightweight chassis felt composed and well balanced, the fluid, pointy steering brought on smiles and it sailed through our lane-change testing. It seemed Sochaux’s saviour-sedan was a podium dark horse. Alas, soon those polarising French quirks reared their heads.
It turns out, there was more to spar about than just the steering wheel-to-dash relationship. Judges who preferred a touchscreen argued with button-enthusiasts about the piano-key design. There was an outburst around the bizarre USB and wireless charging pad locations. The terrible quality of the reversing camera was raised. And finally, the almost wilful oddness of an anti-clockwise tach proved to be the cherry on top of a list of frustrating irks for some that could not be undone by even the most comfortable massage seats.
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The Pug’s outcome was sealed by losing a tie-breaker vote with the Toyota RAV4. A disappointing result for judges who felt its appetite for open roads would allow it to shine even brighter in round two, but a little too much weirdness and questionable resale value were tipping points for others. This French beauty might have its ooh la la moments, but a COTY revolution didn’t quite eventuate.
THE JUDGES’ COTY SCORECARD
PEUGEOT 508 SPECS
Type: 5-door lift-back sedan, 5 seats / 5-door wagon, 5 seats
Boot capacity: 487 – 1537L
Weight: 1420 – 1449kg
Layout: Front-engine (east-west), FWD
Engine: 1598cc 4cyl turbo-petrol (165kW/300Nm)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
ADR81 fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km
CO2 emissions: 143g/km
Crash rating: 5 star (ANCAP)
$53,990 – $55,990