Peugeot returns to the sporting fold with a new division and hybrid tech. Is it a success?

The Peugeot 508 PSE arrives more than half a decade after Peugeot, one of the great players in the emerging affordable performance car scene of the 1980s and 1990s, introduced its last hot hatchback: the Peugeot 308 GTi.

And how starkly the market context in which cars of its ilk operate has changed in that time. Europe is now well along its ‘road-to-zero’ new-car electrification glide path, and carbon-based taxes on higher-emitting performance cars are skyrocketing – not least in France, Peugeot’s all-important home market.

Peugeot Sport Engineered cars will have a prominent new logo – the three ‘Kryptonite’ claws, which adorn the nose of the car, sitting above the Peugeot crest itself, as well as the flanks and tailgate.

Considering all of that, the firm has had to think innovatively and boldly to maintain its standing as a key player in the market for real-world driver’s cars. And for several years now – while some of its key competitors have been carrying on as they were, avoiding the elephant in the room, or have simply concluded that affordable electrified performance cars either can’t be viable or can’t be much fun – Peugeot has been experimenting, innovating and daring to believe.

Back in 2015, the year in which the 308 GTi was introduced, it had developed the near-500bhp Peugeot 308 Hybrid R prototype to a high enough standard that it allowed journalists to drive it. And although a turbulent few years of market conditions since put paid to that car’s chances of making production, it has just launched this week’s test subject – the Peugeot 508 Peugeot Sport Engineered – with which, it claims, its performance engineering department is stepping forwards with both feet into a new electrified era.

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The 508 PSE is the most powerful series-production road car that Peugeot has ever made and one of the most technically daring. It combines a four-cylinder petrol engine with a powerful electric motor for each axle; and it also has a big enough drive battery to serve those motors with the current they demand during intensive performance driving, and to allow it to work for electric-only running as a tax-saving plug-in hybrid.

The 508 line-up at a glance

With the arrival of the 508 PSE, there are now two plug-in hybrid versions of the Peugeot 508 family saloon and estate, but only one diesel, the old 2.0-litre HDI having been removed from the UK price list.

The PSE becomes a de facto trim level in its own right, the uppermost of six in all, and with a generous equipment specification.