Peugeot 508 review
by Sue Baker (8 June 2011)
Sales of large family cars have declined over the past five years by around one third, as buyers have followed a downsizing trend or strayed away to other, arguably more interesting alternatives like MPVs and 4x4s. The arithmetic has not deterred Peugeot, though, from introducing the 508 as a combined successor to two defunct models, the old 407 and 607, and it is a significantly better car than either of them.
There is more profit in larger cars than small ones, so Peugeot aims to scoop some of this lucrative market with its rival for the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. As models this size all sell predominantly as company cars, it is unsurprising that Peugeot expects 90% of 508s in the UK to be diesels.
There are three of them to choose between: a 1.6, two-litre or 2.2. The likely best-seller amongst these is the 1.6 e-HDi, with micro-hybrid features that help boost its fuel economy to a combined average of 64.2 mpg, and tug its CO2 emissions output down to a creditable 109g/km. This is achieved by measures such as automatic stop-start that cuts the engine when the car is stationary waiting at the lights or in traffic.
Relatively low running costs are a strong aspect of the 508 1.6 e-HDi's appeal. Not just the fuel cost benefit of the very good mpg figure for a car this size, but also the savings in road tax. The first year's tax disc is free, and the charge for the second year is just £20.
The car has a double-action alternator, to provide a boost of power to quickly re-start the engine when you lift your foot off the brake pedal in Stop and Start mode. The alternator also captures braking energy to boost the power supply used to operate the automatic shut-down and re-starting. This is intended to ensure that the system continues to operate even in very cold weather or when the car's other electrical kit such as wipers, lights and air-conditioning are in use.
The penalty you have to pay for choosing this eco version of the 508 is its electronic clutchless six-speed manual gearbox that operates like a semi-automatic, and is decidedly an acquired taste. Drive it like an automatic – which you may instinctively feel inclined to do as there is no clutch pedal - and its action is awkward and jerky, unless you take care to lift off the throttle slightly with each upward ratio change and blip the throttle going down through the box. The system works better if you take control and use either the steering column paddles or the fore-aft sequential gearlever to control it manually.
With the 1.6-litre HDi engine, the 508 is an adequate performer. Its bigger brother with the 2.0 HDi engine is the optimum blend of performance and diesel economy, but it's hard to argue with the smaller diesel's frugality and economic sanity. The range-topping 2.2-litre diesel takes the 508 into prestige territory, and good though it is, the big Peugeot is in deeper water against svelte offerings from such as Audi and BMW.
Rivalling the dynamically excellent Ford Mondeo, the benchmark model for mainstream cars this size, is a tough task. The 508 makes a fair fist of it, though. It drives really well, not quite well enough to upstage the Mondeo, but it comes much closer than previous big Peugeots have invited us to expect.
The 508 handles with agile civility and ride quality is generally pretty good, sopping up undulations and smoothing all but the worst excesses of Britain's pothole epidemic. There is enough feel in the steering to give you a clear understanding of what is happening where the tyres bite the tarmac, and the overall impression is of a dynamically engaging car.
It's not a bad looker, either, with a body design that gives it more street presence than the old 407 ever had. At the front is a high bonnet line with Peugeot's family-look "floating grille", and the side view with a high waistline gives the car quite a classy, a substantial look.
Interior quality is good, with decent fit and finish around the cabin. It's roomy inside, but not at the expense of boot space, which stretches from a roomy 515 litres with the back seat in place, to a very useful 1381 litres with the rear seat-back folded.
There are five trim levels, ranging from Access to GT, with Active as the mid-range option. Depending on version, the kit available on the 508 is on a par with its rivals, including Bluetooth connectivity, satnav, dual-zone air-conditioning and cruise control. There is also a Connect SOS function to let you summon help in an emergency.