How Peugeot’s 508 is a Fastback battle for hearts and minds
This week's review car is, in microcosm, all about the battle for the hearts and minds of people who drive a family saloon/hatch and are being seriously tempted by thoughts of buying one of the many new SUVs or crossovers doing the rounds. I think it is a fascinating insight into what is pulling/pushing people into new cars.
Technically speaking, the new Peugeot 508 is a mid-size Fastback - a sort of five-door hatch (with a substantial boot by the way).
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But it is a family car in the more traditional sense of the word, as well as being one normally taken on to business fleets.
It just so happens that this new 508 is, by some measure, the best-looking car in a segment being ambushed by SUVs.
As such, it is in total contrast to the perceived and fashionable projection and contours of SUVs and their derivatives. I mean how much further can you get from the latter?
The 508 sits low and has a flowing crescent (almost coupé) shape. Can you get a more direct opposite to the crossover that is increasingly beloved by so many?
The Peugeot has suave lines of design, subtle curves, frameless door-windows and a front embellished with flair rather than muscle - again in contrast to what is in such demand.
I suppose Peugeot reckoned there was nothing for it but to push the boundaries; a formulaic car at this stage would have done nothing for anyone.
At least with its super smooth-line looks, it stands a chance of someone buying with their heart as well as their head.
The cabin is seriously attractive - it's brilliantly put together around the core visual/interactive elements they call the i-Cockpit.
This concept, spreading through the brand's models now after debuting in the 3008 SUV, comprises a tiny steering wheel, a multifaceted hi-res instrument panel in the line of driver vision and a larger central infotainment screen that parcels inputs, information and demands.
It works extraordinarily well (though I'd like an easier way of adjusting the temperature).
And how I like that tiny flattened steering wheel. Because it is smaller/lower, you can - over the top of it - clearly see key info on the panel (speed, etc) in front of you. Obviously if the wheel were larger, you'd have to peer through.
But even without that attribute, I think it's great. It adds a fun element to the drive and is a much more comfortable proposition than some oversized rims that pass for steering wheels.
You do sit quite low in the cabin; they have good seat-height adjustment to compensate.
The AGR seats are specially made for suspect spines; appropriate and timely now we spend so much time sitting in our cars. The 508 is both shorter and lower than the old one, yet it feels substantial.
Strangely, crosswind effects were noticeable on one drive to Portlaoise. Wind and tyre noise were virtually absent, however, affording one worn-out passenger the opportunity to snooze briefly. In its own way, that sums up how comfortable and smooth the car can be.
Its lack of height carries a potential stumbling block, however. I had to stoop a bit to get in the driver's side while taller rear passengers met a similar fate. Headroom in the back is quite decent really; the difficulty in getting in/out is more focused on the lower-lip of the roofline.
I understand it comes as part of the coupé look, but it would be one of the few deterrents to keep me (nearly 6ft 2ins) from buying it. I'd have to balance that against the lovely free-flowing feel of the look and drive.
I had the new 130bhp 6spd 1.5-litre diesel. Much improved and cleaner, it still needed all its punch to keep the pot boiling in higher gears. This is family motoring and not performance central so the smooth, if leisurely, pick-up through fifth and sixth has to be taken in context. It was quiet, easy-pulling and will yield 55/60mpg.
The 508 does bring focus to a key issue. People are looking for far more automatics these days to take the leg work out of driving in heavy traffic - in towns and motorways. So there are lots of EAT8 automatic versions of the 508.
I had a six-speed manual which blended in well with the drives. But the autos are the way to go, I think.
Overall, I thoroughly liked and enjoyed this car. Loved the drive, cabin, chassis. I think it will win the hearts of potential SUV buyers. Sadly, in the current climate, I'm not as certain about winning their minds.
Facts & Figures
Peugeot 508 Fastback:
1.5-litre 130bhp diesel, €190 road tax, 6spd manual transmission. Allure trim (from €34,930). The 508 range: from €32,400.
Spec/trim includes: Safety Plus pack, ACC, blindspot warning, smart beam, i-Cockpit, 20ins touchscreen, keyless entry, special AGR seats, electric lumbar support/front seats, 3D nav, 17ins alloys, 'mild' leather effect.