Peugeot 508: Haute couture
The new Peugeot 508 brings a sense of style and glamour to the family car market, says William Scholes
ON these pages a few weeks ago, I lamented the decline of beauty in contemporary car design, writes William Scholes.
This was prompted by time with the new Mazda 3, a car of organic beauty with superb surfaces and an attention to detail that is borderline staggering for a family hatchback.
The contrast with the bloated same-again SUVs bludgeoning their way around our roads couldn’t be more stark.
But if former paragons like BMW have lost the plot, where should the aesthetically aware direct their gaze?
Mazda, certainly. Volvo is on a great run too. The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a fine piece of work. There are a few others, but it’s not a long list...
The last 508 was less attractive to behold than a sow’s ear, but this new car is the silkiest of silk purses
And there’s also this, the Peugeot 508. What a fabulous looking car - or “thing of beauty” as a neighbour was moved to describe it.
Peugeot has been heading on this path for a while - the clues were there in elements of the 3008 and 5008 SUVs - and applying that design language to a family car-sized canvas has allowed the designers free rein to create something stunning.
The last 508 was less attractive to behold than a sow’s ear, but this new car is the silkiest of silk purses. They should probably have given it a different name.
The new 508 has correct proportions and a spot-on stance. Park it beside something conventional like a BMW 3 Series and you can see just how low the Peugeot’s roofline is.
The 508 might look like a saloon but the tailgate is in fact a hatchback, with Peugeot branding the arrangement a ‘Fastback’.
The metal pressings at the rear three-quarters of the 508 appear highly complex - as with the Mazda, this is evidence that great looking design is often expensive to manufacture.
If the silhouette and form of the 508 grab your attention, the details hold it: the smoked LED light bar across the back of the car looks high-tech and futuristic; the doors have no window frames; the wheels properly fill the arches; the slim headlamps and LEDs that frame the front bumper.
The overall effect is superb, and results in a car that one might be persuaded to buy for its looks alone. The BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class that Peugeot aspires to compete against with the 508 look bland by comparison.
The interior is more likely to divide opinion than the 508’s exterior couture.
I enjoyed the low-slung driving position but the by-now-a-Peugeot hallmark tiny steering wheel will not be to everyone’s taste.
You don’t so much look through the steering wheel as over it to view the driver display - a very slick digital job in this case - and this also takes a bit of getting used to.
Peugeot calls this small-wheel-low-dashboard arrangement i-Cockpit and where I’ve found it positively irritating in some of its cars - that’s you, 2008 - I found it worked very well in the 508.
It’s a set-up that is far more sensitive to individual driving position and preferences than that offered by most other manufacturer’s one-size-fits-all dashboards and steering wheels, so it’s worth seeing if it works for you.
If the silhouette and form of the 508 grab your attention, the details hold it. The overall effect is superb, and results in a car that one might be persuaded to buy for its looks alone. The BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class look bland by comparison
A centrally-mounted screen with a crisp display is your go-to place to work the heating, radio, sat-nav, telephone and other settings. This has the same drawbacks as all such systems - buttons and knobs are sometimes just better, aren’t they? - and while it mightn’t be as intuitive as those you find in a Mazda or Volkswagen Group product, it all works adequately enough.
There is also a sense of quality and luxury to the interior - not necessarily something Peugeots of old would have been synonymous with…
Front seat accommodation is generous and the back is perfectly adequate. That low, low roofline naturally means rear headroom is tight for taller frames - beauty comes at a price - but my child-size assistants found nothing to complain about.
Although it was more than generous for my purposes (a volume of 487 litres which swells to 1,537 litres when the back seats are folded), some rivals also offer larger boots - but then again, they don’t look as good as the 508. And if you want 508 looks with more space, there’s always the imminent estate version to consider…
Engines, for now, lean towards diesel, with mild and plug-in hybrids arriving later.
Petrol duties are taken care of by Peugeot’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo unit, here in either 179bhp/184lb.ft or 221bhp/221lb.ft states of tune and paired exclusively with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
If you want a manual gearbox, you will need to go for the 128bhp 1.5-litre diesel version. It can also be had with the eight-speed automatic.
An auto-only 2.0-litre diesel can be had with either 161bhp/295lb.ft or 175bhp/295lb.ft.
As is typically the way with Peugeot engines, these are notably frugal, with my 161bhp diesel test car recording a credible 46.2mpg average despite, erm, a motoring journalist right foot…
The chassis set-up - at least on my car, which was fitted with 18-inch alloys - offers a fine balance of handling and comfort on Northern Ireland roads, with evident quality to the suspension’s damping.
B-road blasts aren’t the 508’s most natural habitat - it lacks the ultimate fluency and pliancy of the Mazda 6, for example - but it is in its element as a motorway and A-road cruiser, where its comfort and refinement shines out.
Prices start at £25,245 for a 1.5-litre diesel, rising to £37,444 for a 2.0-litre diesel in ‘First Edition’ trim.
There is a sense in which family cars like the 508 are an endangered species, swimming against the tide as wave after wave SUVs washes over their market.
In this context, Peugeot has realised that offering a same-again humdrum saloon won’t cut it, which explains why it has gone all-out to make the 508 such a distinctive and striking proposition. Such ambition deserves to be rewarded.
AT A GLANCE
Peugeot 508 GT Line BlueHDi 160 EAT8
Price: £31,295. As tested £33,460. Options included metallic paint £575, electric tailgate £400, 'visio pack' with 360-degree colour camera and automatic parking £600, Focal premium hifi upgrade £590
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 161bhp, 295lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 143mph, 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 49.6mpg (WLTP combined cycle), 46.2mpg (real world), 120g/km
Car tax: £210 in first year, then £145 annually
Benefit in kind: 32 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (96/86/71/79), 2018