Peugeot's 508 push to challenge the best from Germany
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The premium market is dominated by SUVs, so if you are going to sell a car it’ll have to be specced-up to the maximum with as many luxury features as you can fit in — and have a good price tag on it.
That’s what Peugeot’s local dealer, Auto Distributor NZ, has done with the 508 fastback and wagon.
It realised that here, the desire for D-segment sedan, hatch and wagons is small “and people like to buy the top of the range”.
So it’s calling the 508 sedan-cum-hatch a “fastback” and the extended model is a “sports wagon”.
The fastback is priced from $55,990 and the sports wagon $2000 more. For that you get this impressive line-up of standard features in both vehicles, including massaging front leather seats (thoroughly recommend), lane maintain, level two autonomous driving (another tick), an electric tailgate, head-up display, parking sensors, reversing camera, and night vision.
Night vision is an infrared camera system that detects the presence of obstacles, including pedestrians and animals in front of the vehicle. The image is displayed in a 12.3in head-up digital instrument panel.
The front-wheel-drive 508 fastback and sports wagon get a 1.6L, four-cylinder petrol engine producing 168kW of power and 300Nm of torque and is paired with an eight-speed transmission.
Compared with the previous 508 sedan, the new liftback hatch 508 fastback is 60mm lower in height (1404m), and measures 80mm less in length (now 4750m), giving it a sporty, coupe-like appearance, especially with the frameless doors.
Competitors include the Audi’s A4 sedan, BMW’s 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, plus Volkswagen’s Arteon — all of those are around $20,000 more than the 508s.
Peugeot is first to state that the French brand has improved in quality; and it shows with the build, engine performance and overall design.
Peugeot’s head designer, Gilles Vidal, created the 3008 and 5008 SUVs, then turned his attention to the 508. It takes styling cues from the Peugeot Exalt and Instinct concepts with the i-Cockpit taken directly from the Exalt.
Peugeot plays even more on its lion badge by having the LED running lights resembling a lion’s fang (check it out).
The interior is premium — with soft-touch material, glossy black panels and a transmission lever that effortlessly slots through the gears rather than stops in “neutral” before pulling it into drive (like you find with some of the competitors).
One of the most interesting features of the new 508 is the i-Cockpit that features a compact steering wheel and a large 10in wide HD touchscreen. It also comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
That i-Cockpit system can be customised with six display modes. The settings let driver and passengers decide what sort of mode they want to drive home in; ambient or invigorating with the inclusion of a seat massage programme that automatically starts without your intervention.
We loved this feature; the massaging seats were comparable with Range Rover, but not quite up to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class — a vehicle costing nearly twice as much as the Peugeot.
The modes included “cat paw” massaging, but we reckon lion paw would be better.
But we didn’t like a couple of figures of the i-Cockpit; the “piano key” buttons to control air conditioning, telephone etc looked out of place, and the squared-off steering wheel was annoying to use. Its position had to be low to see the cockpit dials and handling it was cumbersome.
Squared-off bottom that you find in sports cars; good. Squared off top and bottom? No. Unless it’s a McLaren.
The suspension of the new 508 five seater now uses variable-damping controlled suspension as standard; providing a smoother ride on 19in alloys.
You could also change the suspension mode to comfort, normal or sport — which we did in both variants in the two weeks we had both vehicles.
It was a delight to turn on advanced cruise control for no pedal driving, the 508 maintaining distance and set speed.
The fastback was a different beast to the sport wagon; both in drive and functionality. The fastback turned heads, thanks in part to the LED “fangs”. Its handling around tight corners was sophisticated and it worked comfortably as a daily drive.
We liked the sports wagon for its expansive boot, and more head room in the rear. It is a more solid performer on the road thanks to the increased length and weight.
So should you get the fastback or sports wagon? It’s all down to use; SUVs have smashed wagon sales but there is still a need for them and the 508 proves you can find a stylish one; whereas the fastback will get you attention if you are shopping for a sedan.
Both vehicles have so many specifications, and handle so well it would be tragique if you didn’t.