Motoring

Can the ‘radical’ Peugeot 508 family saloon tempt people away from SUVs?

 

It’s a fresh style and an agile drive, but is it enough to keep up with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz?

It’s got a grille treatment that makes it looks like it’s got snaggly teeth (well, a bit), and it’s all low slung and lazy; looking, though, like its reptilian inspiration, ready to strike with lightning speed.

Peugeot people prefer to use the word “radical” to crocodile when talking about their car, understandably enough. That’s still puzzling actually, because it’s not that radical really, bringing out a family saloon I mean.

Apart from the VW, they all opt for a hatchback treatment, and mostly feature fastback styling, aspiring to the look and image, and premium pricing, they’d hope, of the Audi A5. The 508 is certainly aiming to be a “high-end generalist” offering in Peugeot-speak. Translated that means they’d like to be seen in the same frame as VW rather than Ford, but don’t claim to be toe-to-toe with BMW.

So the car is quite conventional in conception, and is plainly an evolution of the previous 508 model, which was moderately successful.

On first acquaintance Peugeot has succeeded in engineering some more quality into the 508 just as it did in its faster selling newer SUVs the 3008 and 5008. This is part of a long and painful rehabilitation for the Peugeot brand, which in turn has been helping PSA Group (which owns Citroen, DS and now Opel-Vauxhall) make impressive financial progress.

In the 508, then, the quality of the materials, the fit and finish, and the attention to detail all show an ambition to close in on VW, which was the benchmark for their designers. They say that the assembly of the body combines welding and “bonding” (glue to you and me) that makes it more rigid, one of the keys to decent chassis. In most respects they have succeeded, though how durable this new breed of Peugeots prove to be only time will tell, if you’ll excuse the cliché.

Peugeot’s “Blue Efficiency” engine range is well engineered, reliable, and has won many awards, but the petrol varieties are the leaders. It much suits the character of the car, which is designed to be a little bit of a throwback to much loved and respected models from the past, such as the 504, launched 50 years ago and still looking good – and fabled for its blend of rugged strength and supply ride.

Peugeot has reverted to the traditional kind of torque converter automatic, with eight speeds, and this is well-matched to the 508, rarely displaying any hesitancy.

The best of French, in other words, is what the 508 aspires to represent and the suspension settings and the rigidity of the body do make for an extraordinarily comfortable ride. It’s also perfectly responsive enough to offer a little entertainment and, as so often on middle and upmarket models now, the makers offer the driver various settings to make it sportier, comfier or economy oriented. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Peugeot bring out a GTi version, as with the 308, and the 508 could certainly take the additional power.

There are nice touches, speaking to the “high-end generalist” agenda and reminding customers of the great heritage of this venerable brand. (It started out making pepper mills in the nineteenth century, as it still does and, indeed, still with a substantial Peugeot family influence on the company). I liked the old-fashioned 508 badging on the nose, the frameless doors, the little interior lights on the door pillar next to the coat hooks and the piano key style controls for satnav, climate etc. GT-line is supposed to be highest level of trim but a lower speed car (in Allure trim level) – but light grey leather and the full-length sunroof is the ideal option to go for.

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