Peugeot – Last chance saloon

The 508 proves a saloon car from a mainstream brand can still set your heart racing. Peugeot went to great lengths to get this one right and they absolutely did.

I remember driving the first-generation Peugeot 508. It came at a time when Peugeot had dropped their flagship 607, so the 508’s task was to replace not only its direct predecessor, the old 507, but the 607 as well.

With this in mind, Peugeot tried to move the 508 upmarket and, although the car was nothing to be ashamed of, especially the station wagon version, it never succeeded in filling both those gaps.

It was like Peugeot knew what had to be done but wasn’t sure how to do it. And it took them seven years to find that out. But they finally did in the form of the second generation 508, the car you see here and that I drove last week.

The new 508 is everything a brand that is absolutely sure of what its path is should be doing. It’s a reflection of a very self-confident company, which is exactly what Peugeot is at the moment.

In a market dominated by a growing trend toward SUVs and crossovers, the French themselves have been occupied with filling each niche with a car that bears a lion at the front. Job done, it was time to create another great looking, great handling saloon, in the same moulds as the 405 and 406 did more than three decades ago.

Boxy cars are a thing of the past and even saloons need to look coupé-like these days, which makes it absolutely vital for designers and engineers to come up with inventive solutions to offer the same space as before in a tighter package. Peugeot’s have done just that.

The 508 looks like nothing else out there. Even I have to look twice sometimes to be sure if I am looking at a BMW, Audi or Jaguar – they all seem too much alike for their own sake these days. Not the Peugeot. You wouldn’t mistake it for anything else. I mean, just look at those LED tusks at the front. What’s up with that? Brilliant.

Gilles Vidal – Peugeot’s design chief – says this is a two-and-a-half-box fastback, meaning the three-box saloon is no more. This, I am afraid, is no picnic for the engineers. The rear three-quarter panels are so complex to build they needed stamping methods usually used on supercars only.

Another very neat detail is the frameless doors. It’s nothing new, but it’s not that usual and looks very nice, giving the car an avantgarde look and showing the people involved really cared about what they were doing.

Because the new 508 is 80mm shorter and 51mm lower than its predecessor, it is also 70kg lighter. The EMP2 platform – also used on the 3008 and 5008 crossovers, much larger cars – is the most rigid steel monocoque Peugeot have ever developed. Thus we have a smaller, lighter, more rigid car – the handling should be on another level.

No drum rolls needed here: the handling is much better. In fact, the whole car feels tauter, more connected to the road and shows a willingness to be driven in a spirited manner a big Pug had not shown for at least a decade-and-a-half. The car I was loaned was a 2-litre diesel with 180 horsepower in GT trim, the highest spec available.

It felt very close to what is considered to be a premium product, believe me. The cabin exudes quality, combining really interesting materials in an appealing manner with an array of gadgets that bring the French brand closer than ever to its German rivals. The i-Cockpit infotainment system is so complete it takes days to navigate the whole thing. A Focal audio system is also standard on GT-spec cars.

Peugeot claims 8.3 seconds to 100km/h and I have no reason to doubt that. The car feels fast at all times and selecting Sport mode sure changes its attitude towards a more vigorous performer. The eight-speed automatic gearbox works a treat but is best left to its devices. Although you can use the steering paddles, I wouldn’t bother; the 508 is sporty, but let’s not get carried away. Stability at high speeds is really good and you can count on the Peugeot to be a fine road trip companion.

The base spec Allure costs from €35,000 with the lower 1.5 litre diesel engine, 130 horsepower and a manual gearbox. On the other end sits the car I drove at €52,000, but there are another 16 versions available in-between, including some with a petrol engine, of course.

I really enjoyed my days with the 508. I am still not a fan of Peugeot’s mini-me steering wheel, but it got less awkward as the hours on the road went by. I don’t think it will be a deal-breaker for anyone. In fact, I believe the 508 is one of those cars that, if you like the looks, you drive it, you buy it.

The French are back in town with a quality product, one that I hope lures people away from another SUV or crossover. I am not sure there will be another 508 if such a good car doesn’t perform well commercially.

By Guilherme Marques