Why we’re running it: To see if Peugeot’s smart new generation of saloons really do offer a viable alternative to German premium rivals
Life with a Peugeot 508: Month 1
Life in the i-Cockpit is proving comfortable – if perplexing - 31st July 2019
You’ve got to love marketing speak. Sometimes it states the bleedin’ obvious, sometimes you simply wonder: what does that actually mean?
I’ve been living in (not literally, but it feels like it) Peugeot’s much-vaunted i-Cockpit for some weeks now, and first impressions have morphed into something more solid. But before picking through the detail, I returned to Peugeot’s info gubbins to check what I’m supposed to think…
They key messages from the i-Cockpit “philosophy” are to be “a driving environment that puts you in control” (that’s the bleedin’ obvious, then. A cockpit that doesn’t would be a problem); and one that allows “a greater connection to the road”.
That second one is more pertinent. Steering, driving position and comfort are where Peugeot can hope to deliver in this regard. So does it? I’ve previously mentioned the small steering wheel, which adds a welcome sporting flavour but blocks a complete view of the dashboard.
So does size matter? In this case, yes. The small diameter contributes to a directness and reasonable feedback that inspires a modicum of confidence. The dash sits high in your eyeline, above the small wheel, to be “more within your field of vision” rather than viewing dials through the spokes as is usual on most cars. I hadn’t really thought much about it until I re-read the bumf. In truth, it’s what you can’t see that is more noticeable than what you can. Beyond the dash, the wheel’s positioning and the manual gearchange paddles totally cut off any view of the indicator and wiper stalks. Sure, you don’t have to look at these often when driving, but it would be nice to have a choice.
The other oddity, which feels like a weird oversight in 2019, is the lack of a mileage countdown on the fuel gauge. There’s just an old-fashioned bar that decreases in height as the fuel level recedes. For someone who has always been a terrible range worrier (Lord knows what I’d be like in an electric car), the lack of security of not having a mileage countdown feels like a step back into the past – and I’m sure I refuel earlier than I strictly need to because of it.
Seating gets a solid tick this far into our test. The Nappa Mistral leather in our GT looks and feels great, with lumbar support proving firm but comfortable over distance. My legs tend to be stiff after even medium-length journeys, but to be fair that might just be me as I creep with a cloying inevitability towards a certain age… Front and side views are good for a relatively low car, but I’m proving rubbish at judging how close I can get to a car park wall when nosing in (again, that might just be me). The rear view is limited through the raked fastback window, but when parking the excellent rear camera steps in. Only when I drive our ageing family Ford S-Max, which lacks all digital sophistication, do I realise how reliant I have become on it.
The tablet-shaped 10in high-def infotainment screen grates in terms of aesthetics (integrated units look so much better), but its position makes it easy to glance at while in motion. The characterful ‘piano keys’ for the menu options are a plus, too, and add a welcome physicality to its functions.
So does the i-Cockpit put one “in control”? Er, yes, of course. But does it contribute to a “greater connection to the road”? Okay, let’s give the marketeers a break: yes, the interior does help make this a pleasant car to drive. With odd reservations.
Lane assist. Yes, really But only because the button to turn it off is so accessible (below right of the steering wheel). Always pressed soon after starting up.
DAB radio reception. It drops out far too often for a system in a car at this price. Every day in the same ‘black spots’ the silence is deafening.
iCockpit or iCockup? - 10th July 2019
Peugeot’s signature small steering wheel feels more like something you’d find in a little sports car, but that’s no bad thing. Although there is one snag: it tends to partially impede the driver’s view of the dashboard. The solution? I raise my chin and peer over the top if I want to see the bottom third of the dash. Not exactly a hardship.
Our fastback is already turning heads but will it have the mettle to win hearts, too? - 3rd July 2019
There’s a giant billboard on one of my occasional routes to work. Earlier this year, it drew my eye every time I passed it, plastered as it was with this, Peugeot’s all-new 508 coupé-saloon. I’d read what Autocar colleagues had written about it, I’d seen the pics and here, in giant-sized, perfectly airbrushed form, it looked rakish, potent even – and oh-so-very French. Already aware it was coming my way for long-term test duties, I was excited.
Twenty-odd years ago, 405s and 406s inspired the same adjectives as they added a touch of style to the repmobile D-segment, and then matched their striking looks with decent driving dynamics, too. But in recent years, Peugeots got lost among the jostling pack in this deeply competitive market: they became, in a word, boring. Rejuvenation was much needed, and when it came, naturally the plaudits followed.
Autocar’s recognition of Gilles Vidal this year, by making him our Design Hero at our annual awards do, is acknowledgement of that turnaround. In our citation to Peugeot’s director of style (now that’s a job title anyone would covet), we even labelled the 508 a “masterpiece”.
But not everything has come up smelling of freshly baked baguettes. Our four-star verdict opined the 508 was “stylish and likeable but lacking the polish of more premium rivals” and, more recently, Matt Prior judged it fourth out of four in a non-German saloon shootout with the Volvo S60, the Kia Stinger and the Alfa Romeo Giulia. The competition in this segment is indeed as tough as they come when you also consider the 508 faces the Jaguar XE, Mercedes-Benz C-Class variants and the all-conquering BMW 3 Series.
So can this really stand as a viable alternative to the German premiums that our brief demands us to investigate? My recent experience in two Audi A6 executive saloons, while admittedly a step or two above the 508’s price range, size and spec, should be a useful barometer.
On first acquaintance, those warm feelings inspired by the billboard remained toasty. This is undoubtedly a stylish car, as a pleasing reaction from a colleague on sibling title Classic & Sports Car attests. After I’d passed her one morning on the M3 motorway, she made a point of speeding up to take another look, intrigued by its unfamiliarity, but more by its natural good looks – although another colleague’s critical eye for the vertical running light ‘tusks’ in the nose has struck a lasting discordant note.
Still, there’s something faintly ‘muscular’ about the 508. A subtle flavour of French Mustang, perhaps? From some angles, I’d say so. That fastback rear end at least appears to carry some stars ’n’ stripes inspiration.
The variant we have chosen is the GT, one down from the range-topping First Edition and likely over time to prove a popular choice. On engines, we plumped for the 1.6-litre PureTech petrol over the 2.0-litre BlueHDi diesel, partly because of the black pump’s increasing decline towards redundancy in the UK, but also to find out if a relatively modest-sized powerplant could live up to the GT tag that no car should carry lightly.
The only option taken up was the paint job, but then the 508 does come equipped with a respectable amount of standard kit, largely courtesy of Peugeot’s much-vaunted i-Cockpit. More on that to come in the following weeks.
First impressions? The first thing I did was bump my head on the roofline as I tried to get in. It’s no GT40, but at 1.4m from the ground, it’s relatively low. Matt Saunders’ second opinion (or rather his wife’s) rang a bell, too. That fastback rear looks the part but might knock a few marks off the score when it comes to family practicalities. Still, the Alcantara and leather quilted seats are smart, and once I’d rubbed my head, I realised I liked what I was seeing. That small leather steering wheel I’d read so much about was novel from the off, too – although does it suit such a car? Time will tell.
Out on the road, the eight-speed automatic gearbox appears well mated to the engine, offering silky acceleration and quiet refinement on A-roads and motorways. Economy is a little disappointing so far, but in the context of the mpg marvel that is the A6, that’s hardly a shock. More surprising is the lack of part-electrification. That’s for the future, apparently, but in our fast-changing world when certain buyers have new priorities, that might hurt sales.
Then again, Peugeot boss Jean-Philippe Imparato told us at launch that “the 508 will not affect our profit and loss”, given that 60% of company profit now comes from SUVs. Saloons matter less than they used to, apparently – but not to us.
There’s much here that should appeal and getting under the skin of those French curves should help us discover whether a Peugeot really can stand comparison as a practical, economical and family-friendly driver’s car alongside and against something refined from Munich, Stuttgart or Ingolstadt.
At least it won’t be boring.
It’s not often that my better half passes comment on a test car, but Damo’s 508 inspired both wrath and praise from the good Mrs Saunders. She liked the outward styling. She thought the classy interior ambience a pleasant surprise. But the language she used after leaning in to help belt the kids into their booster seats made me glad that she’d told them to cover their ears. In her defence, very few saloons this size offer such meagre rear quarters.
Peugeot 508 Puretech 225 GT EAT8 Auto S&S specification
Specs: Price New £36,420 Price as tested £37,145 OptionsSpecial paint £725
Test Data: Engine 4-cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged petrol Power 224bhp Kerb weight 1420kg Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 7.3sec Fuel economy No WLTP data CO2 131g/km Faults None Expenses None