Into the hills with a Pug and friends
Peugeot 508 shows how the traditional saloon has gone in an 'executive' direction, writes Campbell Spray
SLIGO and Galway weren't the only places to have visitors with strong Welsh connections last week. My two old friends may not have Prince and Duchess in their titles, but Tony and Pauline are Welsh born and bred and more welcome because of it.
The last weeks haven't been easy and it was very good to get a few days when I could get back to driving cars, entertaining people and, hopefully, giving you a bit of information too.
Not so long ago the big saloon was the epitome of family luxury; the perfect vehicle for the Sunday afternoon drive when children and spouses - of whatever sex - could enjoy the views and salivate with anticipation as they headed off after, or for, the roast or a cream tea.
These days Crossovers have literally eaten that lunch. With elevated seating, greater glass areas and some off-road ability they are much more family friendly. Most saloons have gone in the opposite direction - sleeker, lower, more "executive" and image building.
In a way, that's a pity. But being a bit conservative I was very happy to have a large Peugeot 508 saloon to collect my friends from the airport and then take them for a tour of the varied landscape south of Dublin through the Wicklow hills and back along the coast.
The way saloons have gone is not ideal for drivers or their passengers of a certain age. It was more difficult getting behind the wheel or ducking your head in the back than in times past or is the case in a basic city car, like my partner's three-year-old Hyundai i10. A car I was first attracted to when I saw five hulking tourists emerge from one. Yet the 508 is ultra-comfortable inside. This is a class Pug, even if the driving dynamics aren't as good as the Mondeo and the prestige - for some - stupidly won't equal that of the VW Passat. As a package it is better value and with a very high spec - The 508 1.6 HDi 115bhp level 3 Allure saloon costing €29,850 plus delivery really delivered what Peugeot's beautiful - and forever 21 - marketing manager Emma Toner calls "affordable quality". The fact that the new 508 is available with five year's extended warranty and from €270 a month with Peugeot Passport PCP finance emphasises that message.
Going across the bleak but beautiful landscape on the R115 towards Glendalough we turned left for Annamoe and Roundwood on the R759. It is place of stunning vistas and brilliant walks and you can see where the Vikings TV series is filmed as the Clohoge river passes through Lough Tay on its way to entering - poignantly for me - Lough Dan. On the way back to Dublin we drove up to the wonderful Calary Church. It is a beautiful place with a peaceful cemetery which I had visited recently for some quiet reflection and had discovered the grave of a titan of the newspaper world, who believed he was "born to rule".
Tony, who has also spent his life in journalism and with whom I worked in the 1970s, was stunned that I could show him Cecil Harmsworth King and his second wife Ruth Railton lying at Calary. King at one time was the most powerful person in British newspapers and in 1968 was behind the idea of a coup to get rid of Labour PM Harold Wilson and put Lord Louis Mountbatten at the head of an interim military government.
Our journey on this strange week of coincidence ended with coffee and cake at Avoca in Kilmacanogue where the 508 looked very sleek among the massive Range Rovers, which seem to be coming back in droves.
The 508 is a good car. I loved the leather and all the comforts including the cup holders that came out from the fascia where there are probably more knobs and switches than can be taken in during a week's drive.
Last Sunday, Sam - now getting a bit arthritic - was very happy with all the space in the back and that the car's sleekness made for a low jump-up. On the Monday Tony and Pauline were equally impressed, although I think the drive was a bit harsh at times. Yet the 1.6-litre diesel was adequate and flexible for our tour. If the view from inside has been compromised by the sleekness, it is good that the test car was coming down with parking devices, including a rear-view camera.
It is a great executive buy, lovely to look at but not so good to look out of.