There was a time, before the turn of the 21st century, when picking the best-driving car in any ordinary family motor sector invariably meant securing yourself a Peugeot. Unfortunately, the 508 arrives at a time when that guarantee no longer exists. Back in the 1990s, buying a car from the French firm promised you “the drive of your life”, and even if that was only likely to be true if you endured an otherwise sheltered motoring existence, a model with a lion on its nose was generally the best driving in its class. Cars such as the 205 supermini, 306 hatchback – even the 106 city car – built a powerful perceived lead for Peugeot on ride and handling.

It’s a lead that’s since been squandered, by dull-to-drive offerings like the 206 and 307, and that Peugeot would rather like returned. Recently, its 5008 and 3008 have threatened to be the most interesting handling cars in their respective, generally uninspiring, niches. And the 508 has the potential to go a stage further and become a mainstream Peugeot, one that sells in vast numbers, that is as engaging as any competitor.

Replacing both the 407 and the ancient 607, the Mondeo-sized 508 is part of a class that – albeit not so dominant as it once was, when the cars like the Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Cavalier and Peugeot 405 were in their pomp  – is still one of Europe’s most significant and competitive.

The 508’s lineage can be directly traced even further than the 405, however, as far as the 403 of 1955. That was replaced by the 404, then the 504 and 505, where the car’s lineage diverges. The 505 was replaced by both the 405 (in 1987) and the larger 605 (in 1989), both of whose lineage continued to the 407 and 607. The 508 reunites them again.

Top 5 Family saloons

  • Ford Mondeo
    Ford's new Mondeo is offered in hatchback and estate body styles

    Ford Mondeo

    1
  • The new Volkswagen Passat is now in its eighth generation

    Volkswagen Passat

    2
  • New Mazda 6 largely carries over the styling of the striking Takeri concept that previewed it

    Mazda 6

    3
  • Skoda Octavia
    The Octavia name dates back to 1959

    Skoda Octavia

    4
  • Vauxhall Insignia
    Vauxhall's traditional family saloon is regular UK class sales champion

    Vauxhall Insignia

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Peugeot range

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    27 March 2015
    Lavishly-equipped, rugged-looking Peugeot 508 estate is a pleasant drive, but there are many more recommendable alternatives
  • 308 GT 1.6-litre petrol is priced from £24,095
    First Drive
    27 March 2015
    Peugeot's given the 308 the engine from the 208 GTi 30th and some chassis upgrades; we find out if the changes bring a bit of old-school Peugeot hot-hatch magic to this likeable family hatch.
  • Car review
    26 March 2015
    Does Suzuki's new city runabout have what it takes to succeed?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    Collins Performance has given the Fiesta ST 270bhp and 265lb ft, but has our favourite fast Ford been ruined in the process?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    The Seat Leon X-Perience is the closest thing to an SUV that you can buy with a Seat badge for now, blending estate practicality with off-road ability