This car has put a smile back on the face of Peugeot
As the company looks for a bigger slice of the family saloon market, Shane O'Donoghue tries out the new 508
APOLOGIES to sensitive owners of the Peugeot 407, but it really is an eyesore of a car. It probably looked good on its designer's sketchpad way back in 2004, with oversized wheels and a low-slung roof, but the production version didn't quite carry the brave look off.
Although the long nose is at odds with the abrupt rear, the car's single biggest problem is the design of its "face".
Clench your teeth together and bare them fiercely at this page. Now, slightly close your lips and pull your eyes towards your ears -- but not so much that you can't see.
That's how it felt to be the front of a Peugeot 407.
Not that the 407 was alone. Until last year (Peugeot celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2010), the wide-mouthed grille design graced all models in the line-up in some shape or form.
Then, on the arrival of the gorgeous RCZ coupe, the idea began to make sense. As I said, it needs bigger alloys and a lower, curvier roof.
Anyway, one of the ways Peugeot marked its second centenary was to introduce us to a new design direction for the brand.
The SR1 concept car took the form of a two-door convertible that looked remarkably like something Aston Martin would come up with.
Peugeot heard few complaints from us -- until we realised that there was actually no intention of turning the SR1 into a real car.
Instead, we got the 508, essentially a regular four-door saloon (and estate), which is the very first Peugeot to adopt the company's all-new look.
It's not bad is it? Admittedly, it's not quite as universally appealing as the concept was, but it does stand out in a relatively crowded marketplace. This is where the Toyota Avensis, Opel Insignia, Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat are sales kings.
Can Peugeot hope to compete?
Getting a potential buyer into the car will be a good start. The 508's cabin is impressive and builds on the step-up in perceived quality that Peugeot introduced in its 3008 and 5008 family cars. The new model's interior retains the soft-touch plastics and well-weighted switches, but adds to it a dash of style.
New instruments work particularly well, with a computer screen nestled between them; and the climate controls are much better than previous offerings from Peugeot.
The curving "hood" over the dials swoops across the entire width of the car, giving it a solid feel.
I'm a fussy man, though, and I have a few small gripes about the top-of-the range Allure model we drove.
It was fitted with the head-up display, which works well enough by putting speed and other readouts more in the driver's line of sight.
However, in bright sunshine, the head-up display screen can be seen as a distracting reflection on the windscreen. Thankfully, this is an optional extra anyway.
This Allure specification includes an electric parking brake as standard. At the best of times I dislike using these, although someone must appreciate them, as they're becoming much more common.
It's a pity, though, that the switch is way over to the right of the steering wheel, which is a fraction out of my reach, so I need to lean forward. Inevitably, I just don't bother.
Another marketing gimmick is the flat-bottomed steering wheel. It has its roots in motorsport, where access for the driver is restricted. However, as good as the 508's leather steering wheel is to look at, the driver has no such problems getting in and finding a comfortable driving position -- so there's no need for it to feature a flattened section.
Indeed, five adults can get comfortably into the 508. It's taken for granted that the front two will have plenty of space, but there's a noticeable surfeit of shoulder room, too.
The boot volume is comparable to the best in class, although access to it is hampered a fraction by the width of the rear lights. There's also a decently sized "secret" compartment underneath for valuables.
That's where you should secure anything valuable if you decide to go out for a drive in the countryside. The Peugeot 508 turns out to be really good to drive. In town, it smooths over speed bumps and sharp potholes with ease, which leads you to expect that it'll change direction with about as much finesse as the Irish banking system.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Peugeot corners with little body roll, which makes it more comfortable for the passengers, but also much more fun for the driver.
It's remarkably composed and stable, too, which should be a boon if you ever have to stop or turn in an emergency.
All in all, it definitely warrants comparison with the class leaders on the driving front. Of course, most car buyers care little for such shenanigans. All you need to know is that it's comfortable, easy to drive and actually really refined, too -- meaning that the outside world is kept at bay most of the time.
All that's left to talk about is pricing. Peugeot will focus on 1.6- and 2.0-litre HDi diesels in 112- and 140bhp guises respectively.
The range comprises of Access, Active and Allure specifications, starting at €24,850 for the 1.6-litre Access. The top-spec saloon (pictured) costs €32,550. The 508 SW (estate to you and me) is available in Active trim only, at €28,800 or €30,600, depending on which engine you want.
That pricing really puts Peugeot's new saloon into contention. It backs it up with a comprehensive list of safety equipment as standard across the line-up. It's well worth the step up to the middle Active model, though, as that boasts a lot more standard features than the entry-level 508.
Most models are in Band B, though the Ecomatique version does slip into Band A for just €104 in annual road tax.
Unfortunately, you pay a premium for that, which may not quite offset the reduced tax and fuel consumption over the life of the car. It's worth getting the calculator out.
Sales of the Peugeot 407 have been in freefall for a number of years, so the 508 really has its work cut out.
At least now it has the right face for the job.
PEUGEOT 508: IN BRIEF
Starting price: €24,850
Tax band: A-B
Fuel consumption: 4.4-4.8
Power output: 112-140bhp
Rivals: Toyota Avensis,
We like: quality, space,
We don't like: fussy
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