I have a bit of affinity for French barges. There was a time in the 1990s when if you wanted a comfortable, diesel cruiser you headed for French cars. Having owned two Citroen BXs and two Citroen Xantias, as well as a Renault Laguna, my ‘dad car’ radar is certainly switched on. Driving one of these cars was a joy – ultra comfortable and ridiculously reassuring and efficient. Maybe ‘je ne se quoi’ is stretching a bit, but although these type of cars may have lost their way in terms of driveability, I’m pretty confident they’ll find their way again. Can Peugeot’s latest 508 do just that and move Peugeot’s ‘French barge’ credentials into the 21st century?
In a sense, the Peugeot 508 aims to kill two birds with one stone. Replacing the outgoing 407 and 607 models, the 508 crosses the boundaries between two types of cars – the mid range saloon and the executive cruiser. It’s smaller than the 607, but upon first impressions it certainly feels like it has enough clout to feel confident amongst the pack. Here’s my full review after testing one for a week and covering just over 500 miles in it.
The styling of the Peugeot 508 has lost some of the quirkiness of the outgoing 407, but to be honest I don’t think that’s a bad thing and it retains its appeal despite losing the gaping grin and the Peugeot Lion at the front. The raked LED lights hold a lot of appeal, and you certainly can’t deny it’s attractiveness. There’s definitely a sense of the 607 about the back – and in the right light it can look imposing and sharp. There are subtle changes to the outgoing generation, but generally the look is improved – classier, more refined, more understated and more sure of itself.
The interior is a great step up, and was inside the car I really felt like Peugeot has upped its game to rival the German market considerably. Everything felt sturdy and comforting, almost snug, which was surprising for a such a large car. The only minor gripe was that I had to fiddle around with the seat adjustments for a long time…I always felt a bit close to the wheel…but this was overcome with the plethora of options available. On the GT model tested, the large screen was responsive and colours were sharp – the navigation system and bluetooth connectivity being simpler than others in the sector. Although not a fan of leather auto shifts, if that’s the way things are going I’ll accept it, and this is a particularly good example.
The heads up display on the model I drove was crisp and clear – and actually I rarely looked down at the speedo. That’s not something I can say for many cars with such a system. The way is conveyed GPS data was efficient and enjoyable, too.
There’s tonnes of room front and rear, as you’d expect, and one thing that I particularly noticed was how much headroom people get. I’m not the tallest – but those that are far taller than 6ft and even I’d say about 6ft 3 would have no problem in the back at all.
There is a trend to downsize amongst larger vehicles, and it doesn’t need me, of course, to spell out why. The variant I drove was the 2.0 HDi producing 180bhp – and iit was what you’d expect from a French car of this nature that weighs more than 1500 kg. Making 180bhp from its 2.0litre engine, the power output of the car I drove was noticeable and didn’t disappoint when you wanted to push on – reaching 60 in a shade over 8 seconds, which I thought was mightily impressive. There are petrol options available, a 1.6 VTi and a 1.6 THP turbo with a respectable 154bhp, but expect these to be a long way down the pecking order when it comes to popularity.
As one of the headline cars, the Gt-Line is a very sweet drive indeed. Although it’s certainly no slouch – crucially between 30 and 70 it’s a bit of a stunner – it’s quiet, refined and adept to slow driving. It’s got bags of torque but it delivers it without much of a fuss – and it’ll happily return 45-50 mpg staying within the limits whilst cruising. It isn’t the most frugal of its type however, and expect not to see the 40s that much if doing shorter trips. There are more affordable cars of this nature out there.
The ride isn’t the best in the class, I can pretty much say that for sure. It doesn’t clatter or resonate, but you might find yourself wincing at the odd pothole or two. On the smooth stuff there’s no fuss, though, and after a couple of 4 hour journeys I had nothing to complain about at all. The sense of space, drive, handling and overall comfort more than makes up for it.
The gearbox is good, but it makes itself known when going slowly and is hardly unobtrusive. There’s so much torque I found myself thinking that it could stay in gear far more than it actually does – even without pressing the sport button it’s keen to change down and mpg suffers as a result. Having said that, when cruising it’s delightfully smooth and does its job without a fuss.
The steering is light and responsive, and better than I was expecting from a car of this size. It certainly is good enough to rival the top sellers in the sector, and when pushing on the feedback is reassuring and enough to make your feel you can probably go that extra 10%. Around town it’s great too, and with the cameras and sensors all doing their job as they should, it doesn’t always feel as big a car as it is.
The Peugeot 508, for me, is a big step up for the French brand. It did exactly what I hoped it would, and it was big, comfortable and reliably efficient enough to reinstate my love of these big egalitarian cruisers. It made me feel like I was driving a French diesel barge, albeit and modern and refined one, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.
This car should be a go-to for the fleet sector, but I’m worried that it won’t be as I am not sure it will quite find its place in what has become a very crowded market. Prices, and engines, are downsizing, and I’m worried the Peugeot 508 doesn’t pack quite enough punch for the money to rival the BMW’s, the VW’s and the Benz’s. At more than £30,000 for the model I drove, it’s dangerously close to more premium cars with better specification, and I feel that could worry some people.
That doesn’t necessarily stop me from ending this review on a positive note, however. The car shows a huge promise for Peugeot in this sector, and there’s a lot here to be very excited about if you’re a fan of French cruisers.