WHAT IS IT
It seems almost a throwback to launch a three-box sedan, so if you’re going to do it at all, do it well. That seems to be the logic behind the development of Peugeot’s 508, available as a liftback sedan and also as a conventional five-door wagon. For some, it’ll be the styling that sells it, but there’s more to the cinq-cent-huit than just a svelte silhouette.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The old 508 was always something that was basically likeable but lacking in any great injection of Peugeot flair. The latest car is prettier, more athletic and far more appealing, so we jumped at the chance to pick one up from Peugeot’s Poissy factory and put a couple of thousand kilometres under its wheels.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT’S ODD to think of a new car launch as the end of something, but this feels just that. In its latest 508, Peugeot has delivered - in concept at least - a broadly conventional petrol-powered sedan and estate with no electric tech, no high-riding all-wheel drive version and no voguish ‘lifestyle’ frippery. Shorn of pretence, the 508 stands or falls on its substance, which is just as well, because beneath the slinky styling is a vehicle that’s refreshingly long on good old-fashioned talent.
The sedan version we tested is both lower and longer than its bloated predecessor and its light too, the EMP2 chassis helping shave 70kg model-for-model off the kerb weight, the sedans weighing in at 1420kg. That’s less than a Ford Focus 1.5-litre hatch, so it’s no great surprise that the Pug feels perky and agile. Power comes courtesy of a 1.6-litre petrol four, driving the front wheels through an eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission. This powerplant is offered in two discrete outputs, 133kW/250Nm for the entry-level versions and 169kW/300Nm for the range-topping GT version, which also scores adaptive dampers, making it the one to pick, funds permitting.
The GT also gets bigger brakes behind its 19-inch alloys, leather and Alcantara interior trim, wood fascia fillets, adaptive cruise, an electric tailgate and a 515-watt, ten-speaker Focal sound system. Switch on the cruise and lane keep assist, crank up the cat’s paw massage seats, set the stereo to your favourite playlist through the standard smartphone mirroring and wireless charging and you have a car that demolishes long-distance highway trips and that’s a quality that certainly won’t be lost in translation when the car arrives on these shores in the second half of 2019 (sadly, the UK gets first dibs on initial RHD production). Refinement is good with some muted bump-thump from the suspension and minor wind rustle around the door mirrors.
Switch the drive mode selector into Sport and the 508 does a passable impression of a 308 GTI, this map sharpening the throttle, steering, gearbox and adaptive damping. On testing alpine roads, the 508 displayed decent damping even in Sport, with a mighty front end that locks onto a line and doesn’t want to let go, the front 235/40ZR19 Pilot Sports keying doggedly into the tarmac, aided by a well-calibrated traction control tune. Body control is best in class, and the steering feels almost Ferrari-alert despite the tiny wheel taking 2.6 turns lock to lock.
It’s not all good news though. The resolution for the surround view cameras is poor, the manual mode for the transmission is now buried in an on-screen menu rather than atop the gear selector like the 508, the adaptive cruise functions located behind the steering wheel require Braille to operate, and the wireless charger and USB ports are buried in the nether reaches of the dash beneath a flying buttress. Out of sight, out of mind, you’ll forget your mobile every time you get out of the car. On the plus side, you won’t be distracted by incoming alerts flashing onto its screen. Accommodation is acceptable for such a slinky looking car. The frameless doors have freed up 6cm of additional glasshouse, allowing the designers to create a high-waisted coupe-like profile. Headroom is a little compromised in the rear, but there’s no shortage of legroom from the 2793mm wheelbase. The boot‘s a decent size too, with 487 litres and fold-flat rear seats opening up 1537 litres when dropped.
The success or failure of the 508 in Australia depends almost entirely upon local pricing. Peugeot’s CEO, Philippe Imperato, insisted at the Paris Show that Peugeot was not premium, but at the top end of mainstream. That may be so, but pitching the extravagantly talented 508 within a cooee of the entry-level versions of the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class will do it no favours here, despite it being an objectively better car than any of these basement-spec sluggards. Hanging your hat on objectivity, it seems is almost as quaint a concept as selling sedans and wagons in a market that’s turned its back on them. The effervescent and wholly charming 508 more than deserves a fair go.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
There’s something very old-fashioned about the Peugeot 508. It’s a throwback to a time when buyers valued light weight, supreme agility and a certain lack of disingenuousness in the product development process. As such it’s a breath of fresh air, leveraging modernity to give us something we thought had gone for good, in this class at least. Its qualities massively outweigh the relatively trivial caveats, although we’ll reserve our final judgment based on the car’s Australian pricing, which we hope comes in lower than the initial $45-$55K estimates.
PLUS: Styling; ride; front end grip; adaptive suspension on GT; neat i-Cockpit; equipment; packaging
MINUS: Some irksome ergonomic trivialities; could be priced out of contention here
Model: Peugeot 508 GT sedan
Engine: 1598cc inline 4cyl, 16v, dohc, turbo petrol
Max Power: 169kW @ 5500rpm
Max Torque: 300Nm @ 2500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 7.3 sec
Fuel economy: 6.5L/100km (combined)
Price: $55,000 (estimated)
On sale: Mid 2019
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