Peugeot’s 508 proves you need not go german to get a fine European automobile. We reacquaint ourselves with the GT wagon.
I don’t like talking much about appearance when it comes to cars, particularly in the current era of homogenous looks — quirky concepts often getting crowbarred into lesser realities by regulation and design-by-committee thinking. People seem to disagree on styling now more than ever, whether it’s the Toyota GR Supra’s busy array of curves or the Tesla Model 3’s grille-less snout.
But, even in the opinion warzone known as NZ Autocar headquarters, there are occasional points of agreement. And, the Peugeot 508 lives at an apex. This, it’s unanimously agreed upon, is 4790mm and 1450kg of stunning car. From the aggressive LED daytime running light ‘fangs’ that frame its tastefully chrome-garnished fascia, to the front bumper’s chiselled jaw-line, to the sleek wagon variant’s tapered glasshouse. We’ve had plenty of opportunity to soak up the 508’s looks, given that this tester has spent time at the office recently — the chunky lion-emblazoned key falling into my lap for the eventual review.
There hasn’t been much change in the 508’s world of late, although that’s not really a bad thing. It’s still offered in New Zealand in just one trim level, the GT, across liftback and station wagon body styles. Each comes with the solid PureTech 1.6-litre turbo inline four (169kW/300Nm), and holding it all together is Peugeot’s familiar EMP2 modular platform — a stupendously versatile architecture that can be found underneath everything from the 308 to the Expert panel van.
There has, however, been some price tweaking. Each model has had its sticker beefed up since we last tested it; the liftback now starting at $59,990 and the wagon $61,990. Even with this change the pairing still represents impeccable value on paper. Buy one of these instead of the cheapest 3 Series, C Class, or A4 and you’re almost guaranteed to walk away with an extra 20 grand in your pocket.
There was a time in history where uttering a comparison quite as direct as that would result in hoards of pitchfork-wielding motoring anoraks kicking your door down in search of blood, but the cold truth of the matter is that Peugeot is doing exceptional things these days. It has effectively revamped its entire line-up in the space of about three years, with the 508 playing the role of nucleus.
Those barracking for the Germans in this caper will be glad to hear that the Peugeot’s driving experience doesn’t quite live up to its more expensive competition. But, that’s not to say the gap is especially large. Peugeot’s history is littered with well-sorted front drivers, and the 508 is another to add to the list. There’s not a lot of interplay, but the steering is well weighted (particularly in Sport mode). Sport and Normal present a neat calibration to both the eight-speed automatic and the adaptive dampers — each tightening up to give the driver snappier response. The former operates reasonably enough without the need for paddle-shifter intervention. But it’s there if you want it.
The 1.6 isn’t likely to evoke much in the way of emotion, but it’s nevertheless a surprisingly punchy unit. This mostly manifests towards the top end of the rev band, which the auto is happy to let drivers explore. In our tests the 508 SW completes the 0–100km/h in 7.5 seconds, which is more than sharp enough given the space and practicality on offer. We’re still waiting on Peugeot NZ to let us know when the hybrid 508 powertrains get here.
Grip feels ample on these Michelins, although the welterweight 1450kg means the Pilot Sport rubber can’t quite take all the credit. I was prepared to recommend simply leaving the 508 in Normal or Comfort when it came to driving thrills, but credit where it’s due, the wagon is multitalented. So long as rear-wheel drive expectation is left at the door, anyway.
When you swing open the driver’s door (it’s frameless, nice), you’re greeted by one of the most radical cabin layouts in the class. The most obvious quirk is the steering wheel…tiny in proportion, occasionally awkward to use and, depending on your height, possibly perfectly positioned to block the read-out on the digital speedometer. Optional diamond-stitched leather seats, complex animation theatrics with every change to the digital cluster, ‘piano key’ hard buttons … the big mash up somehow works. It’s practical, too, with 530L of boot storage when the seats are up and 1780L with them down.
Beyond looks, equipment is the 508’s next catchcry. The one spec sold locally is the overseas flagship, and it’s loaded. The aforementioned customisable 12.3-inch digital cluster with 3D sat nav comes standard, paired to a 10-inch touchscreen and 10-speaker Focal sound system.
All the safety suite requisites are here, too, including speed sign recognition, radar cruise control, and lane centering for Level 2 autonomous driving. It also comes with one of the best self-parking systems in class; unique in that it chooses your drive mode for you instead of needing to be babysat into R and D manually. The only options are paint, leather, and whether to fit a panoramic sunroof.
One of the few changes Peugeot has recently made to the 508 is the quiet delete of its ‘i-Cockpit Amplify’ menu layout and option-set in the main screen. This used to be the 508’s supposed luxury party piece — a chunk of its infotainment that housed a ‘Relax’ and a ‘Boost’ mode for drivers to pick from, each altering a range of settings like air conditioning and the massaging seats to fit the driver’s ‘mood’. It was rather gimmicky and I’m therefore thankful it’s gone; replaced by a conventional ‘Settings’ button on the 508’s piano-key arrangement with the massaging seats for both driver and front passenger now activated by a simple button on the side of each front-mounted pew.
Getting in and out can be a struggle thanks to the low roofline, and the resolution of both the reverse and 360-degree cameras needs improving. Positive oddities? Yes, they’re here too. The 508’s lane-centering can be configured in such a way to allow space for lane-splitting motorcyclists. And when the windscreen wipers aren’t in use, they shift downwards on some form of actuator to sit behind the bonnet so they don’t create aerodynamic turbulence.
It’s things like this that push the 508 over the threshold of merely being a good car and into the realm of feeling just a little bit special. A cursory glance at the second-hand market points to an obvious elephant in the room, but for those who simply want something vibrant, loaded, interesting, and — well — French, the search is over.
|Model||Peugeot 508 GT SW|
|Engine||1598cc, IL4, T/DI, 169kW/300Nm|
|Drivetrain||8-speed auto, front-wheel drive|