How Peugeot is bucking the trend with new 508 saloon while Rifter MPV opens up loads of space
First drive in Monaco: Peugeot 508, Rifter
With every Irish motorist seemingly running headlong for an SUV, it's refreshing to see a manufacturer taking a serious tilt at a proper saloon.
When I first saw the Peugeot 508 at the Geneva Motor Show, I thought it was a real looker. Since driving it in Monaco, where it didn't look out of place, I haven't changed my mind.
There's a hint of American muscle car at the rear. Although it's called a saloon, it's really a 5dr coupe design with a sleek and rakish profile featuring frameless windows. It's shorter and lower than the car it replaces and a consequence of the lowered roof line is that rear seat passengers are tight on headroom, particularly when getting in and out.
Once inside, though, the cabin is a delight, featuring the best iteration yet of Peugeot's iCockpit concept. A tiny steering wheel, a switchable high-resolution instrument panel mounted in the driver's eyeline and a second infotainment screen combine to signal the car's sporty intent.
Materials are first rate and the whole look is sleek and modern as Peugeot edges into premium territory.
Engines will be a mix of petrol and diesel, starting with a brand-new 1.5 litre HDi (130bhp), which promises to be among the cleanest on the road; 2.0 litre diesels with outputs up to 180bhp will also feature and there will be two PureTec petrols with 180bhp or 225bhp in the GT model. A plug-in hybrid, Peugeot's first, will follow, but not until late next year.
The standard transmission for all models, except base trim, will be the newly updated EAT8 auto, which will also find its way into other Peugeot models.
We started in the 180bhp diesel, and straight away the new car was an entertaining drive, at least as soon as we finished negotiating the tunnels around Monaco and got onto some proper driving roads.
A multi-link rear suspension features variable damping control and it seems to make all the difference. It's easy to place the car in a corner and the feeling throughout is a smooth and pleasant drive.
It's set up more for comfort than ultimate handling, and even on the sportiest suspension setting, the ride was never harsh.
More advanced active suspension control is standard on all petrol-engined versions and comes as an option on higher-power diesels.
Safety systems available include adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, lane assist, full parking assist - which controls both speed and steering - and night vision, a segment first This employs an infrared camera to provide vision 250m beyond the normal headlight range.
We didn't get the chance to try this on the road, but it's good to see such useful technology filtering down from luxury cars.
Along with the 508, we also got the chance to drive the new Rifter, which replaces the Partner Teepee. Essentially a van-based MPV, it targets customers more interested in space and utility than an SUV body style, and Peugeot expects to sell around 300 in a full year.
There's now a full range of trims and engines, even a GT-Line, and the Rifter features the iCockpit and an 8ins touchscreen. It spawns two sister vehicles with Citroen and Opel badges, but iCockpit is reserved exclusively for Peugeot's use.
The car is based on the latest MP2 platform, which also underpins the 308, so all technologies and systems on that car are available on the Rifter.
We tried petrol and diesel variants, both fitted with the 8spd auto, and the Rifter was a comfortable and enjoyable steer.
It's in no way sporting, but the suspension settings have been thoroughly revised to give a smooth and easy drive.
It will be come in two lengths and with either five, or seven seats, with cargo space up to 4,000 litres on offer.
Each of the three centre seats can be fitted with Isofix child seats.
Four-wheel drive will be available as an option, although for most customers, advanced grip control will be all they need.
Other features include sliding rear doors, an opening tailgate window and a roof-mounted passenger airbag to allow the inclusion of a huge, cooled glovebox.
We have no word on prices for either the 508 or the Rifter, and it will be the end of the year before they get here in any great numbers, making them both essentially 191 cars.