Peugeot leaps forward with the 508

We have been informed of late that the saloon car is rather passé, that we should all be driving MPVs and hatchbacks. Don’t count on total demise of this genre any time soon though, because there are some fabulous non-premium models out there. And the choice has just got better with Peugeot’s new 508.

Peugeot’s design language started to improve with the RCZ and the 508 is similarly neat and unfussy. Gone is the gaping mouth of the 407 in favour of a modest sized set of chops set between Volvo-esque bonnet lines. Flanks are plain (if slightly Germanic) with a tight shoulder line and gentle mid-height crease to break the visual weight of the doors. The rear is smart and the clamshell boot looks great.

The 508 has a delightful cabin. The dashboard is uncluttered and the instruments are beautifully crafted with floating red needles on black-backed displays. Fit, finish and design are all very good, knocking at the door of many premium brands.

Rear seat space is good, rather than huge (Peugeot has made much noise about pandering to the Chinese desire for plenty of space here). In fact it’s about the same as my old Saab 9-5. (I know this because I can fit the same sized bag in the rear foot well with the driver’s seat set for my leg length.)

In terms of design niggles, I’m really down to one: the pop-out cup-holders. They were designed by someone who’d been told about cups but had never seen or used one (they are too small and only level when the car is climbing a one-in-five gradient).

This e-HDi model has the 1.6 112 bhp diesel engine which should be a big seller based on very low emissions and reasonable performance. It pulls willingly and is extremely quiet and refined. It’s almost habit to choose a 2 litre diesel in a D segment car but the 1.6 won’t disappoint.

Of note is the stop-start mechanism which actually cuts the engine before the car has fully stopped – at about 3mph. This will save more fuel and contributes to the remarkably low emission figures. It makes no difference when coasting the last metre-or-two up to traffic lights; even on the approach to busy roundabouts, the engine starts promptly once the foot brake is released. It is only caught-out when manoeuvring slowly to park where the engine might cut and restart a number of times.

Ride at lower speeds is marginally firm but handling is competent. Even without powering through a corner, turn-in is good.

So it’s all fantastic, then. At this point we should be heading for a healthy four-and-a-half stars out of five. And yes, pick the right model and those stars are fully deserved.

It’s a shame, then that this 508 is fitted with an electronically controlled manual gearbox. Choose a fully manual or proper torque-converter auto and the 508 will be a delight. This hybrid neither-auto-nor-manual ‘box makes it virtually impossible to drive smoothly. On the flat, making gentle progress, it’s acceptable. Pressing on or climbing hills, the gear change is so slow that the power is lost for about a second while the French robot taps the ash from its Gitane and chooses the next cog. The first time it tried to change up on a steep ascent I genuinely thought there was an engine problem. I live next to the Peak District. This is a problem.

The way round the lurching changes is to use the paddles to change ratio (even in auto mode). This allows the driver to ease the throttle during the change to minimise the effect of power absence. It is rather laborious and frustrating since it is just a means of getting round a flaw.

Would I recommend a 508? Definitely, but save £800 and avoid this gearbox.

Model tested: Peugeot 508 Active 1.6 e-HDi stop/start, from £21,050.  (508 range: £18,450 – 29,050)

Power: 112bhp (3,600 rpm), torque: 270Nm (1,750 rpm), emissions: 109 g/km CO2 (band B), 0-62 mph: 11.9 secs.

Motor Writer rating:

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  1. · Hybrid [noun], mixture of two very different things
  2. Misty-eyed

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