Peugeot 508 revamp is full of class
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Damien O'Carroll drives the new 508 in the Med and finds it's full of surprises
The island of Mallorca - or Majorca, if you prefer - is a Mediterranean paradise boasting fantastic weather, stunning beaches and remarkable history. For a holidaymaker it is perfection and relaxation in one handily island-shaped package. For drivers, it can be a source of frustration and near-death experiences.
Mallorca is blessed with some tight, winding roads - seemingly endless, aggressive switchbacks that snake up and down mountainous routes are punctuated by open, flowing runs through majestic landscapes. Oh, and there is hardly any local constabulary around.
But those roads are narrow and heavily populated by folk who have no idea/don't care about what a white line signifies and spend most of their time with two wheels (at least) on what is theoretically "your" lane ...
This meant that, as I drove the Peugeot 508 at its launch on the island this week, a mid-sized car felt decidedly large on some occasions.
The 508 has been around since 2010 and has struggled to make much of an impact in the New Zealand medium sedan/wagon segment. This is disappointing - it is a good car that deserves better - and yet not unexpected, as the equally impressive and equally European VW Passat has also struggled in this ultra-competitive segment where the Japanese and Koreans (and Ford) reign supreme.
Still, the 508 has been a success elsewhere - particularly China - and Peugeot has sold about 370,000 since 2010, and now it has come in for a major refresh.
A new face brings the 508 in line with the younger members of the Peugeot family, particularly the new 308, but also makes it look remarkably like a Honda Accord. On top-spec models, the new face sees a remarkable 44 LEDs scattered across it in the form of a new headlight design and daytime running lights. At the rear of the sedan a new tail-light design refreshes things nicely to match the front, while the wagon variants and the RXH hybrid remain the same.
On paper it sounds like a less-than-successful-or-extensive facelift, but in reality that is not the case. The new face and tail make for a far sleeker, more aggressive car than the previous 508.
The 508 now has real road presence and looks classy in a segment dominated by unnecessary bling. Perhaps the most special and fundamental change takes place inside the 508, however.
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The design and layout is magnificently minimalist and functional, and yet also manages to be elegant and classy, especially on up-spec GT models that feature a satin brushed aluminium insert across the dash.
While the seats won't go low enough for our tastes, they are still magnificently comfortable and particularly supportive in the GT.
The 508 gets a range of electronic comfort and safety systems along with its new look, including auto headlight dipping, keyless entry and start, tyre pressure monitoring and two new systems: blind spot sensors and a reversing camera.
In Europe the 508 is available with a range of petrol and diesel engines, most of which we won't see here.
Initially we sampled a 508 with the new-generation 1.6-litre THP petrol engine hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission (Peugeot's excellent new EAT6 unit) and came away impressed by the small-engined car.
With 121kW and 240Nm, the small petrol engine was more than capable of pulling the 508 along at a brisk enough rate, with a delightfully nimble feel thanks to the compact size of the engine. The EAT6 is a brilliant automatic transmission that is easily the best-programmed self-shifter to have featured in a French car.
Sadly, though, it seems that Kiwi tastes don't stretch to small displacement petrols in medium-sized cars, as Peugeot's local importer, Sime Darby Automobiles, has previously tried to sell a 1.6-litre car with little success.
SDA boss Grant Smith says that the company is looking at an all-diesel lineup for New Zealand, likely to be an all-GT lineup.
So it was a happy coincidence that the car we snagged in the afternoon was a 2.2-litre diesel-engined GT wagon.
With 150kW and 450Nm, the GT's 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel added a fat, flat torque curve to the 508's already impressive cruising ability. It also added weight over the front axle, which made it noticeably less nimble and sharp than the 1.6-litre petrol engined car, however, this added mass also had the advantage of settling the car into a nice, satisfying and predictable cruiser.
This is also due to the GT getting a different front suspension set-up to the rest of the range (double wishbones as opposed to the MacPherson strut set-up of the lesser cars).
While an all-diesel, all-GT line-up is no bad thing - if the price is right, it will be a very good thing indeed, as the GT is an extremely refined, comfortable and accomplished car with a thoroughly fantastic interior and great looks - but it is a sad fact that Kiwis are missing out on a treat with the 1.6 petrol. But then it is their own fault for not buying the car when it was offered.