Gareth Butterfield reviews the stylish new Peugeot 508
In our relentless and inexplicable purge to switch from sensible, conventional terrestrial cars to pointlessly jacked-up, thirsty and cumbersome SUVs and crossovers, we’ve been forgetting a once bustling market for the humble saloon.
Well within a decade ago the arrival of a new Peugeot entering the crowded but oh-so important, fleet-dominated world of mid-range hatchbacks and saloons would have been big news, but I must admit the 508 caught me by surprise.
While I might have overlooked its launch, its arrival on my driveway was quite a shock. It looked pretty good in pictures, but in the flesh, it’s absolutely stunning.
And that’s made all the more remarkable when you consider that this once bustling sector is very much the poor relation at the moment, and manufacturers seemed to have been responding by peddling very dull-looking cars. Yet here’s one that properly stands out.
From some angles, the swoopy coupe-esque styling reminds me of my old Vauxhall Calibra. The front strikes a fine balance between aggression and elegance, the rear is almost retro, but in a very cool way and the curved roof-line adds plenty to the visual treat.
So has Peugeot caught everyone else napping and produced a genuinely brilliant car that could re-ignite this slumbering sector? Or are its looks only skin deep?
Well what you’re immediately struck by with the 508 is its size. For a brand new car competing with the likes of Vauxhall’s Insignia or Ford’s Mondeo it’s refreshingly compact. Its rivals are busy following a trend of piling on the pounds and extending every dimension, but here’s a car that bucks that trend.
And it’s not as if it’s at the cost of practicality. Sure, six-footers will find the low roof-line causes problems in the back seats, but it’s not as if any of it feels especially cramped.
It’s at its best powered by a 1.6 petrol engine, which is available in two strengths, offering up to a healthy 224bhp, and there are two diesels, a newish 1.5-litre and the familiar 2.0, along with the standard choice of an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Excitingly, a plug-in hybrid version is on the way, as is, even more excitingly, an estate version – which looks even more gorgeous.
The ride and handling are fine, but the small steering wheel delivers rather numb responses, despite being well-weighted. You’ll be pleased to hear it’s at its best on the motorway, which will no doubt be its spiritual home for most buyers.
The interior is minimalist, but well-set up, with twin digital displays packing in most of the controls and gadgets. It’s not exatly conventional in design – everything’s a bit high-up – but it’s easy to use and better than many of the systems on the market. There’s also plenty of storage and two USB sockets.
Pricing isn’t exactly keen, when compared with the likes of Vauxhall’s Insignia, but pitch it against more premium rivals such as the Volkswagen Arteon, Audi’s A5 Sportback and the ungainly BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and it makes a better case for itself, even if it lacks the premium badge.
Any buyer of a big French car will be concerned about depreciation, but Peugeot’s trying to quell that across its range by limiting the discounts given at dealers, which keeps its products valuable. This helps the lease and PCP market, which is how most 508 buyers are likely to secure their new chariot.
So what’s not to like? Well, very little to be honest. I love its looks, I don’t mind the fact it’s smaller inside, I can empathise with the slightly premium prices and it’s a million miles better than some of the mainstream offerings – to the point where it’s more sensibly placed alongside the likes of the Jaguar XF, Volvo S90 and the holy German trinity.
And that, it has to be said, is a remarkable achievement. I doubt this car will change the motoring landscape and woo many away from their crossovers and SUVs, but it’s a refreshing break from the norm. I really like it.