The Peugeot 508 is is better all round than its predecessor, and should be a fleet favourite

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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 hatchbackeven the 106 city car – built a powerful perceived lead for Peugeot on ride and handling.

There was a time when picking the best-driving family car meant securing yourself a Peugeot

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. Its Peugeot 5008 and 3008 have threatened to be the most interesting handling cars in their respective, generally uninspiring, niches, with the second generation of the latter set to take the baton on and forward. 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.

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The 508’s lineage can be directly traced even further back 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.

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Peugeot 508 rear

This Peugeot is as big and as mechanically conventional as its class expects. Its body is a steel monocoque, with a transverse engine driving the front wheels, and there are MacPherson struts at the front, with a multi-link axle at the rear.

If you buy the highest-powered 508 GT variant, though, you’ll get double wishbones at the front. There are prohibitively expensive for the rest of the range, says Peugeot – but too expensive to develop for just one derivative of a family car, you’d have thought.

Peugeot’s transmission options on the 508 are complicated

The 508 has a longer wheelbase than the 407, and has increased in overall length to 4.8 metres. Both saloon and estate variants of the 508 are styled, to our eyes and those of most observers, far more pleasingly than the 407 this car replaces – both more stylish and mature. In particular, Peugeot seems to have found a more stylish way to design the noses of its latest cars to meet pedestrian impact demands than it did previously. 

All 508s are powered by either a 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre diesels. Power outputs range upwards from the 118bhp of the 1.6 HDi, a rather modest output for a car claimed to weigh at least 1545kg in estate form - even one that, like for like throughout the range, is said to be 45kg lighter than the 407 it replaces. The entry-level 2.0-litre HDi makes 148bhp and tipped our scales at 1680kg. The headline 2.0-litre diesel GT makes 178bhp

At the top of the range is the 508 RXH, an Audi Allroad style estate that is the only bodystyle offered with the Hybrid4 powertrain option first seen in the 3008. This combines the 161bhp 2.0-litre HDI as in our test car with a 37bhp electric motor that powers the rear wheels.The only tranmission option is a six-speed automated manual gearbox.

Elsewhere in the range, the transmission options on the 508 are thankfully now less complicated than when the car was launched. The 1.6-litre and 148bhp 2.0 HD are both available with either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox, while the range-topping 178bhp 2.0-litre HDi is only available as an automatic.


Peugeot 508 dashboard

Everything that’s true about the 508’s exterior being more mature, sophisticated and of a superior appearance to its predecessor is also true of the cabin. Peugeot has created a well-finished paragon of pleasing design and decent perceived build for the 508.

Ergonomically, the cabin is generally sound. There is a new and much easier-to-fathom stereo controller, while heating/ventilation controls are straightforward and the dials and supplementary gauges are well finished and clear. You could search long and hard to find the car’s ESP switch and parking sensor deactivation button; they’re hidden away inside a cubby to the right of the steering column, because Peugeot expects owners to need only very occasional use of them. 

The car’s interior looks very classy

It’s a spacious environment, too. Rear seat passengers get ample leg and headroom, while seat-up boot volume is 550 litres – plenty for the class. The rear seats can be folded – cleverly from the boot edge via a one-touch lever – to create a 1598-litre volume with a two-metre length. Similarly, it’s ample within the class; you’ll need the wagon variants of a Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb to match it.

Uncomfortably for Peugeot, there’s only person who might feel short-changed – and it’s the one who sits behind the steering wheel.

For every one of our testers who liked the 508’s relatively high-set driving position, there were two others who bemoaned the fact that the seat couldn’t be set as low as in a Vauxhall Insignia or Volkswagen Passat. The steering wheel can’t be extended far enough, either, making for a long-armed, bent-legged driving position that, while never truly uncomfortable, left some of us forever searching for a truly relaxing seating set-up.

On the equipment front, there are four core trims for the saloon and SW models - Active, Allure, GT Line and GT. The entry-level models get 17in alloys, tinted rear windows, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control and electric folding and heating door mirrors on the outside as standard, while inside there is manually adjustable front seats, rear parking sensors, electric windows, dual-zone climate control and Peugeot's 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and DAB radio.

Upgrade to Allure and you'll find electrically adjustable heated front seats, leather upholstery, front parking sensors, reversing camera, 18in alloy wheels, blind spot assistance, and keyless entry and go adorning your 508, while going up to GT Line adds adaptive LED headlights and a half leather upholstery.

The range-topping GT models get luxuries such as a Nappa leather upholstery, massaging driver's seat and a head-up display as standard. The rugged RXH model gains its own trim which adds a rugged bodykit, a panoramic sunroof and extendable seat bases. 


Peugeot 508 front quarter

The 178bhp generated by the 508’s most powerful 2.0-litre diesel motor (the same as you’ll find under the bonnet of the Ford Mondeo and Citroën’s C5, incidentally) puts it bang on the money in this sector. Every serious rival of the Peugeot has an engine of similar size and/or power output, while the 150g/km of carbon dioxide it emits is competitive too.

Subjectively, this engine is just as impressive as it is in objective terms. It starts quietly and settles to a muted idle. Power delivery is impressive, too; from low revs it pulls without fuss and with significant oomph the more you ask of it. At our test track this 508 pulled itself from a standstill to 60mph in 9.6sec. Just as significantly, it reached 70mph from 30mph in just 9.7sec.

The car’s manual tranmissions are much better than the autos

The 508 RXH delivers the lowest emissions of the 508 range, at 107g/km, but it is also the most expensive, at £33,695. With 197bhp, it is nearly as fast to 60mph as the 508 GT at 8.8 seconds, but our issues with the automated gearbox remain; it is too jerky and hesitant to allow smooth progress.

Which hints at an important reality that will quickly become unmissable to a lot of 508 drivers: the car’s manual tranmissions are much better than the autos. Take the torque converter auto teamed with the 161bhp HDi: around town and when manoeuvring the gearbox is acceptable enough. The delivery, shift quality, amount of creep and step-off from rest are all smooth.

But at higher speeds, even if you’re just tooling around and not pressing on, the shifts are sluggish and the 508 frequently allows itself to be caught in the wrong gear. You can counter some of this by changing gear yourself, in which case the 508’s gearbox is very obedient to manual override demands, but this does rather defeat the object of having an automatic in the first place. Rivals do it better.

No complaints, however, about the 508’s brakes, which have both good stopping power and resolute staying power. Good pedal feel makes for easy, smooth stopping.


Peugeot 508 cornering

The Peugeot 508 faces the unenviable task faced by D-segment saloons of needing to be all things to all men; we expect rather a lot of large family cars when it comes to driving dynamics.

For us, the best of these is still Ford’s Ford Mondeo for its ability not just to massage surface imperfections and shrug off long distances, but to entertain its driver while it is at it. Volkswagen’s Volkswagen Passat, meanwhile, takes a more soothing, detached attitude to the whole business – not unlike Skoda’s Skoda Superb.

The 508 rides moderately well

Peugeot seems to have aimed for a point somewhere in between, and has landed not too far from the mark it was going for. In its favour when it comes to refinement are low noise levels from not only the engine but also wind and road sources.

The 508 rides moderately well. It’s not as detached and aloof as a Passat, tending to shudder over smaller surface imperfections that the Passat would shrug away. Neither is it as pertly supple as a Mondeo; the Ford’s taut suspension might allow slightly greater movement of its body over town rumbles, but for every thud it settles very quickly, giving the impression that it’s isolating its occupants better than the Peugeot. After these two rivals and Skoda’s equally appealing Superb, though, the Peugeot is the best of the rest by far.

The same is true at motorway speeds; the Ford, Skoda and Volkswagen all offer levels of straight-line stability and maturity that are the equal of the 508. When it comes to outright dynamism, things swing into the Peugeot’s favour a little; with a modicum of feel through the rim and a degree of poise, it’s mildly more engaging than the competent Passat, albeit lacking the appetite for cornering of the Ford. It’s easily as good as anything else in the class, though – and a significant step from the 407 that went before it.

The raised ride height of the RXH model upset the 508's secure cornering, although we have concerns around the increased firmness of its ride. The standard 508, however, is easily as good as anything else in the class – and a significant step up from the 407 that went before it.


Peugeot 508

Nearly all new cars in this sector are company purchases, making it a fiercely competitive market segment, so you’ll be utterly unsurprised to learn that the Peugeot 508 is pitched right at the level of every decent car in this class.

See the 508 against Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat and you’ll note that the purchase price of the Ford is cheaper and the Volkswagen more expensive, with the latter countering with superior residual values. Lengthy (20,000-mile) service intervals fall in the Peugeot’s favour; more expensive insurance counts against it. Ultimately, the differences are likely to be felt only to the extent of a few quid each month.

The Peugeot is pitched right at the level of every decent car in this class

Economy might show a greater disparity. Having a conventional torque converter auto rather than the theoretically more efficient dual-clutch unit of the VW and Mondeo could place the Peugeot at a slight disadvantage. Certainly, our touring economy test result (in a 2.0 HDi 178 auto), which replicates a typical motorway cruise, of 45.5mpg was nothing to write home about; neither was our overall test figure of 38.8mpg barely better than average. At least the manuals could be expected to be slightly more impressive.

As intimated earlier, Peugeot’s 1.6-litre eHDi powertrain is the company’s fillip for fleet users looking to minimise their monthly tax bill. In the 508, it produces CO2 emissions of 109g/km and impressive claimed economy of 67mpg, which positions the Peugeot directly alongside the likes of the Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion on tax rate, and one rung lower than the most economical Ford Mondeo. 

The downside is that you have to accept Peugeot’s dim-witted automated manual gearbox in the eHDi; other low-emissions models offer you a preferable manual transmission.

The situation is similar with the diesel-electric hybrid 508 RXH. In theory it offers a huge tax advantage to company users thanks to its CO2 emissions; a similarly-powerful Ford Mondeo would cost more than twice as much to tax as a company car. But its expensive £33,695 asking price and frustrating automated gearbox limit its appeal and relevance.

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4 star Peugeot 508

There is an awful lot to like about the Peugeot 508, not least should you compare it with the 407 that went before it. At a stroke Peugeot’s fleet-centric car has gone from a vehicle you’d grudgingly accept being given to drive to meetings for a couple of years, to a car you’d actively seek out on a company car list. It’s a far more mature, sophisticated package than the Peugeot that went before it.

Does it set fire to the class, though? Not quite. For all its excellence, there are still areas where its rivals narrowly pip it. A Ford Mondeo is more engaging, a Volkswagen Passat is a more relaxing distance companion and a Skoda Superb more accommodating. Even the range-topping 508 GT, with its more sophisticated suspension, can’t change that.

The 508 contains a fine blend of appealing qualities

And little frustrations abound elsewhere, taking the edge off what would otherwise be a fulsome test recommendation. When other manufacturers produce fluent and responsive automatic transmissions, why can’t Peugeot? When others offer greater freedom of choice of buyers about which engine, gearbox and trim to combine, why not here? And when the French manufacturer can get its driving positions right in almost every class now, how does it manage to get it slightly wrong in the case of such an important volume-selling model?

And yet despite a few shortcomings, the 508 contains a fine blend of appealing qualities. It’s the classiest, most polished mainstream Peugeot for years. And since it suggests, albeit quietly, that France’s lion is continuing to recover its strength when it comes to building distinguished driver’s cars, the 508 is welcome indeed.

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Peugeot 508 2010-2018 First drives