Yes yes yes, oh YES: smooth, spacious, premium feel
Oh dear me no: engine/a-c noise, cup holder placement
Considering the unrelieved awfulness of the unlamented and unloved 407, I held much hope for the 508 and on my first drive, and I loved it. It’s been facelifted since then, something that many middle aged ladies consider. We took a run through some beautiful New South Wales countryside, and its leafy lanes made us feel like we were in the middle of a 1950’s movie set. I could almost hear Sinatra or Dave Brubeck playing as the dappled sun flashed across the windscreen. I could see a couple dressed in silk shirts with cravats, smart trousers with best brogues, and bright faces laughing and singing. Their hands gently touching each other as they rested on the centre console. Of course the windows are down, and all is serene save for the occasional flash of silk caught in the breeze. The back seat has a wicker basket, plump cushions, and a chequered blanket. Think Jean-Paul Belmondo.
I know I’ve gone a bit off-piste but what I’m saying is: Peugeot is back. The big saloon isn’t the star of the day, but rather and integral part of it. It’s a lifestyle.
There is no sense of urgency in the cabin. It has the calming sense of the Tate Modern, on wheels. You can hear distant sounds but it is all kept way back in the periphery where unwanted inputs should be kept.
The refresh brought new engines, a redesigned front and rear end, loads of extra standard goodies inside, all topped off with a current offer of a 5 grand cashback on all but the top model.
We drove the range topping GT which has a new 2.0L euro6 turbo diesel. The 133kw/400Nm 4 cylinder is the only choice as is the new 6 speed auto. The power is smooth and progressive and the changes almost imperceptible. Buyers in 2016 expect the best and for nearly 64 grand (drive away NSW) they have a right to expect it. That’s a lot of dollars so do you get your money’s worth? Comparing space and inclusions the answer has to be yes.
The new front end has super-efficient full LED headlights that look like 3 ice cubes in a cocktail glass. Just below is a “feline” line of LED daytime running lights. These are on at all times but when the indicator is flocked on, the white LEDs become the familiar orange with a Peugeot twist. Instead of simply flashing on and off, they sweep gracefully from the centre outwards. The rear end gets the LED treatment too with 3 lines representing the Peugeot lion’s claw, or paw, or something like that. While you’re around the back end, try finding the boot release button. Clue: it’s in the “0” of the 508 on the bumper.
Continuing the theme of evolution rather than revolution, the interior also got the odd tweak here and there. The Nappa leather seats, while firm, were comfy, and heated. The rear fold down seats even have a ski flap. I’ve always wanted a ski flap and will find it particularly useful in Sydney with my trips to Bunnings almost every weekend. The Peugeot product manager made much of the cup holders, as well he should. The French seem hell-bent on making the non-French speaking buyers pay for daring to insist on places for coffee cups. They’ve begrudgingly included them but made them difficult to use. Perhaps someone should have said red wine holders instead?
In the 508, they can be found cunningly concealed above the infotainment System and in the rear arm rest. When you put you double-caff-French-vanilla-skim-latte into said front holder, it dangles precariously above the system reputed to cost 10 grand to replace. As if that wasn’t enough, the cup/bottle stands high enough so as to block out most of the screen located inconveniently above. So, although those sneaky champagne-makers have given us the cupholders we so desire, they’re sufficiently inconvenient so as to make each and every use a test.
The rear cupholders are much easier to use. In fact, the rear is a nice place to be. The lounge style seating has their own A/C vents. There is plenty of legroom (if the front seats aren’t all the way back) so you can sip your cocktails in comfort. If you’d like privacy as well, you can raise the rear shades. The door shades are manual and the rear window is electric. It lowers when the driver selects reverse, but it would be helpful to have it raise again when the gear lever shifts to D.
The sound is controlled from an impressive command centre with a large 7” LCD touchscreen. The upgraded JBL is worth the money, but the standard speakers still have a quality that should satisfy most. Personally I’ll throw the JBLs in for free if I was trying to up the impressions people have after a test drive. Satnav is standard across the range and responds quickly to touch screen inputs. She can be a bit pushy with no way of making her less verbose, so most of the time she will be muted especially on long trips. Like most Satnavs, she will try and steer you off tollways no matter what settings you’ve applied. The instructions are also displayed on the HUD. The Heads Up Display is a panel of glass which pops up when the push button ignition is activated. It only takes a little while to get used to after which you find it hard to do without. You don’t have to have the HUD raised if you don’t like it, and you can dim the display for night time use.
Just as an aside, we’ve found the last few years that no matter what inbuilt Satnav system a carmaker uses, none compares to the ones in Smartphones. The smartphonesrespond easily to voice commands, highlight heavy traffic in red, and use streaming data to keep maps up to date. They will also work with other phone apps without needing big hugs and having nervous break downs after every attempt. PSA Peugeot Citroen will eventually have Apple Carplay-sytle units. These integrate the phone properly into the vehicle, so maps and voice control actually work. So far, no car maker has been able to match smart phones for ease of use. There is still a certain amount of function even out of cell range. For the moment we manage without.
Back to the 508:
The power comes from the new 2.0L 133kw/400Nm diesel. Diesel has copped a bit of bad press. However, it is still the most economical way of covering big distance. If you want a 508 GT, you’ve got no choice but to have the diesel. It is Euro 6 compliant and claims 4.4L/100k while emitting 114g/km of CO2. 9.2 seconds to 100kph sounds leisurely, and it is, but the 508 is not a sports car, it is a big wafting saloon. Covering many kilometres is what it’s good at. After a little while, you relax into the drive but always feel like no matter what distance, you’d get out feeling fresh. Grand tourers traditionally have huge engines that drink like drag queens. The trend now is toward turbo-fours. The performance didn’t suffer unduly with 3 hefty chaps on board so why the need for a petrol guzzling V8?
The precise steering and responsive brakes match the super tight chassis. I prefer softer ride on a big GT but the firmness in the 508 is intended to lure buyers from BMW. So if buyers can get over the badge envy, the choice will be simple.
The first few kilometres revealed an annoying sound under the bonnet. The strange moaning is a harmonic resulting from a new engine/transmission being used with the existing air cond compressor. The pitch changes with the rises and falls in the revs but Peugeot there is a fix coming. It’s not a deal breaker but could be annoying and is only present when the climate control is on. On the subject of air conditioning: I found the auto setting too hot for me. I used the system on manual by turning the temp to LO and dialing the fan speed myself. This way I get the temperature I want without the fan being on full speed.
The GT gets a complex bespoke front suspension setup adding to the sense of sure footed traction. Whereas the Active and Allure get Macpherson struts and anti-roll bars, the GT has double-wishbones with something called a drop link hub carrier. I’ver always wanted one of those (whatever it is). The rear setup is standard across the range and is multi-arm with helical springs and multi-valve dampers. In short, the suspension is complex, expensive, and sporty. It does the job very well but I miss the days of super soft Peugeot ride.
Even though I’ve alluded to the fact that the GT is well suited to highway work, it is as comfortable in tight bends. The auto works well even when left in normal mode but really comes alive in “sports” mode. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel which come in handy but does a diesel benefit from one?
The price puts the GT in the range of Volvo’s S60 as well as the smaller BMWs and Mercs. There is a similar premium feel in most of the Europeans and isn’t immediately obvious despite the massive price difference. As I mentioned, there is much brand loyalty and prestige associated with the Germans. This is something the French have so far failed to capture.
Peugeot is trying to straddle the point between premium saloon, and affordable fleet. It remains to be seen as to whether or not this is successful. When most people who know a car is used for sales reps, they’ll avoid them like the plague when selecting their personal vehicle. Perhaps people will see the 508 in a new light? With the current cashback offer, a base model 508 Active can be had for a smidgen over $36,400 (drive away). Add the 5 year/75,000 warranty/roadside assist/capped price service, and all of a sudden the 508 makes sense for a fleet buyer. Who knows, maybe Peugeot is on to something. They already got their smaller models into fleets so the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
I can’t help but feel the brand has been reinvigorated over the last few years. Her sister brand, Citroen/DS has had a similar injection of youthful exuberance. They’ve got the product, they’ve upped the quality and they’ve got the support, so have they hit on the winning formula? There is a perception that big French cars have terrible resale value, and while that is true, it is no better or worse than any other large European. Have you ever seen the secondhand price on a 7 series or a Merc S class? What’s worse is that you’ll have paid much more for a big Beemer. This means a 40% drop after 3 years might be 25 grand on your 508 GT compared to $100,000 on a top 7 series. Ouch!
Would I buy one? Yes but…. I’d always want an RCZ
Price: Active $41,438(-$5,000cashback), Allure $50,772(-$5,000cashback), GT $63,162 *prices are Drive Away NSW
GT Engine: 4cyl 2.0L turbo diesel, high pressure common rail, direct injection, 133kw/400Nm
Transmission: 6 speed, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters