Tuesday 20 March 2018

Comeback for the Estate of grace?

Irish motorists may go for saloons rather than estates these days, yet the Peugeot 508 and Hyundai i40 have two of the best on the market. Shane O'Donoghue checks them out

Why in the name of all that's holy do Irish buyers not buy estate cars? After all, we have a long history of doing more than our fair share of procreating, so you'd have thought that we'd sensibly opt for more boot space when the opportunity arose. But no, we prefer conventional, four-door saloons with a good boot, thanks. Well, that or an SUV, crossover or MPV. Basically, anything other than an estate.

Perhaps that's why the car makers have stopped calling them estates. BMW and Audi cottoned on to that a long time ago with their Touring and Avant tags, but everyone else is getting in on the act now and it's getting confusing, to be honest. I regularly have to double-check if I should be typing ST, Sports Tourer, Wagon, Combi or Variant. Peugeot has been at it for a while with its SW badge (it stands for Station Wagon I believe) and the 508 SW pictured here is its latest offering. In the other corner is Hyundai's i40 Tourer (I've checked, that is what it's called, but don't hold it against me if I lapse into using simply "estate").

Conveniently, both the Peugeot 508 and the Hyundai i40 are new to Ireland this year and they've both made the 10-car shortlist for Irish Car of the Year. Here we're comparing the more versatile versions, but other than more space and reshaped rear ends, there's little difference between the saloons and the estates/SWs/Tourers/whatever they're called.

Unusually, the Hyundai i40 arrived in Ireland (and across Europe) first and foremost in Tourer format. That decision clearly wasn't made by the Irish distributors, though they've been surprised at how much interest there's been in the car. Sales figures show it considerably outselling rival estates. Admittedly it's not a particularly representative time of year to be compiling such data, but still, it's a start for a completely new car that doesn't directly replace another Hyundai.

We found that the i40's looks really divided opinion. It's highly distinctive, which is a good move forward, especially in a segment dominated by heavyweights such as the Opel Insignia, Toyota Avensis, Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat. Take time to walk around the i40 and you'll appreciate the detail design a little more. The sculpted front lamps are a highlight thanks to their curvy line of LEDs, while the daring character line down the flanks and the raked rear window set the car apart, too.

In contrast, the Peugeot 508 SW looks quite conservative. We've featured the 508 saloon on these pages before and praised its styling, especially when compared to its predecessor, the 407.

Some of the saloon's tautness of line has been lost in translation to estate, though. The high boot line of the four-door saloon gave it a more assertive stance and its rear lights were more attractive.

Still, parked next to the Hyundai, the 508 SW looks the more substantial car. Where the i40's design is curvaceous and a little daring, the Peugeot's is much more upright and serious. That does lend it a certain gravitas.

It's much the same story inside. Hyundai's designers threw away their rulers (that's the straight things, not the bosses) so every surface and line is curved and it's a very cohesive cabin. Not only does it look good, it feels great. I do have a thing for tactile switchgear and steering wheels and Hyundai has got both things spot on in the i40.

Just as importantly, there's loads of adjustment for the driving position and it's easy to get comfortable. Rear legroom, while not quite as generous as the likes of the Skoda Superb, is massive by any other standards and the sloping roof-line doesn't seem to impinge on headroom too much. No doubt the shape of the rear window makes it more difficult to carry huge, bulky items, but there's still 553 litres of space (or 1,719 litres with the rear seats down).

The Peugeot 508 SW isn't short on that either, with a 512-litre luggage volume (up to 1,598 litres) and a more sensible rear hatch design to, presumably, fit blockier items in. Passengers are well catered for as well, though it feels like you sit up higher in the 508 than in the Hyundai. That's probably a good thing if you have a dodgy back, but despite dragging two kids around these days, I personally still prefer a more low-slung seating position.

The feeling is probably exacerbated by the big block of dashboard in the Peugeot. Don't get me wrong, it ticks all the boxes in terms of quality and tactility, but the i40's is more interesting to look at. Still, I'd pay extra to have a conventional handbrake like the Peugeot's instead of the electric item fitted as standard to the Hyundai.

How these cars drive is of secondary importance to the above, their pricing, running costs and specifications, but it's worth taking a test drive in both if you're in the market as they're quite different. There's no clear winner in the driving experience stakes. The i40 features the most polished chassis of any Hyundai in living memory.

It soaks up the worst of our roads with aplomb and is naturally biased towards comfort on longer journeys. Despite that, it's highly stable at speed and makes a good fist of a twisty road. Overall, it feels accomplished and safe, which is what you want from your family car. The Peugeot could be described with the same words really, though it does offer a tad more driver interaction on an interesting road. The downside is a slightly firmer ride.

In terms of engines, Hyundai offers the i40 with two different versions of its new 1.7-litre turbodiesel unit. The choice is easy enough. If you want an automatic gearbox, you go for the 136hp model, while the manual car makes do with 115hp.

Bear in mind that, while the manual version sits in tax Band A, with an annual bill of just €104 (until the Budget changes next month no doubt), the automatic car costs €302 a year to tax. The manual gearbox is well-suited to the engine's delivery.

It won't win any races, but there's plenty of poke for its intended purpose in life and it never feels slow. Where Hyundai's engineers deserve praise is in isolating the engine from occupants -- this is a really refined car.

Peugeot offers 1.6- and 2.0-litre HDi turbodiesels. They're well-proven engines and mix decent performance with good economy. The 1.6-litre version with 112hp is the direct competitor for Hyundai's i40 (in manual format at least).

Unsurprisingly, Peugeot's 2.0-litre HDi engine feels much faster, especially with a full load of passengers and their luggage, but the 1.6 is about €2,000 cheaper. However, Hyundai trumps Peugeot in terms of fuel economy and emissions. The manual i40 Tourer sits in Band A for road tax thanks to emissions of 113g/km, while the 508 SW 1.6 HDi is in Band B. On that fabled combined cycle the i40 uses 4.3 litres of diesel per 100km to the Peugeot's 4.8 litres. Small gains, but that's what buyers want.

If you like your toys, then study the two cars' specification sheets carefully. The i40 pictured is the more expensive Executive model, but even the entry-level Comfort version features stop-start, LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, a leather multi-function steering wheel, electric windows all-round, Bluetooth with voice recognition, USB and other connectivity options, auto lights and front fog lights, not to mention the arsenal of safety systems -- including nine airbags.

That'll cost you €25,995, though most private buyers will opt for the Executive version, and the €1,500 premium seems more than justified when you realise that it adds alloy wheels, a neat reversing camera in the rear-view mirror, cruise control, electric adjustment for the driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers, electric folding door mirrors and more.

How does the Peugeot compare? Well the 508 SW is only available in one specification (called Active). It's €28,800 for the 1.6 HDi or €30,600 for the 2.0 HDi with 140hp. At those prices the spec needs to be compared to the higher level Hyundai option. It's very close to the i40 Executive, with similar levels of safety equipment and gadgets. The 508 SW does come with a highly desirable panoramic glass roof as standard, though.

There's little to choose between the Peugeot and the Hyundai in terms of comfort, safety, performance and space, but the i40 has the edge on value.

On top of that is Hyundai's excellent five-year 'Triple Care' warranty, maintenance and recovery plan. In fairness to Peugeot, it will introduce a new four-year warranty and roadside recovery scheme from January 1.

It'll be interesting to see if i40 ranks above the 508 in the Car of the Year results next week. It doesn't matter of course, as you lot still won't buy estates.

Sunday Independent Supplement

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