From £25,000
French compact saloon and estate face their latest test: three months each on our long-term fleet

Our Verdict

Peugeot 508 2018 road test review - hero front

Is Peugeot’s rakish new Mondeo rival as good to drive as it is to look at - and has it done enough to best competitor saloons?

Damien Smith
7 January 2020
Peugeot 508 SW 2020 long-term

What is it?

Why we’re running it: To see if Peugeot’s smart new generation saloon and estate really does offer a viable alternative to German premium rivals

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Peugeot 508 SW: Month 3

Not quite quick enough in one area - 24th December 2019

I struggle with some automated functions in cars. Take headlights: if I want full beam, I’ll pull back the stalk myself. Really, it’s no trouble. On the Peugeot, auto mode dips the lights a millisecond too long after sensing the glare of a vehicle coming the other way and never when lights are reflected before you see the vehicle coming. I beat it to the punch every time. Something else to turn off, then.

Mileage: 3437

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All change: we’ve swapped a petrol fastback for a diesel estate. Good move or not? - 4th December 2019

Life with the estate version of Peugeot’s smart 508 is passing as effortlessly as it was in the GT fastback. This is a smooth, sophisticated motor car. I was about to add ‘for a Peugeot’ to that sentence, but perhaps in 2019 I really shouldn’t.

The change of shape has naturally brought a variation in price and spec, too. Let’s start with the engine. From 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, we’ve switched to 1.5-litre inline four turbocharged diesel. That results in a notable drop in power: 225bhp versus a modest 130bhp. But naturally what we’ve lost in that regard we’ve gained in torque: 221lb ft at 2750rpm versus 300lb ft at 1750rpm.

Still, you can’t help but notice the loss in outright performance. The petrol GT has a top speed of 155mph and a pert 0-62mph time of 7.3sec. The diesel SW runs out of puff at 129mph and takes an unremarkable 10.1sec to do the 0-62mph.

On price, there’s a significant difference. The fastback base amount might raise the odd eyebrow at £36,420, with the estate coming in at £32,280, or £33,435 with the options fitted to our car. Add in the diesel’s big drop in combined CO2 emissions – 130-132g/km plays 92-98g/km – and on face value the wagon has it.

There’s little in it on dimensions. On the same 2793mm wheelbase, the estate is identical in width, 17mm taller and (inevitably) 28mm longer. At 1500kg, the kerb weight is only up by 80kg on the saloon and, of course, you gain in luggage capacity, but not by a huge amount given the fastback’s generosity in this regard despite its svelte rear lines. Seats up, the estate gives you 530 litres of boot space versus 487, stretching to 1780 litres versus 1537 with the seats down. Both have proven more than up to the task of daily family life, but for special trips – picking up an office desk with two small children in the car – the estate fell well short. Most would, to be fair. We reverted to the packaging marvel that is our trusty 10-year-old Ford S-Max for that one.

The driving comparison so far? In honesty, despite the spec differences, there’s little to choose between the variants. Refinement levels remain admirably high, the diesel delivering what power it has with little fuss or noise. Yes, there’s a diesel rattle on start-up from cold, but fine soundproofing ensures it’s remote, and once the engine is warm, it settles down anyway. At a cruise, all is quiet.

Primary ride on the 18in wheels (the petrol fastback rode on 19in) is untroubled and, as previously, the eight-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and makes progress easy.

Steering remains light – perhaps too much on occasion, as if the wheels are floating on a bubble of air. That’s fine on motorways but, on sweeping country A-roads, a more pronounced sensation of grip to the surface would be welcome. It will be interesting to see how it feels on frosty roads, as winter takes hold. Will there be any sensation at all through the trademark small-diameter steering wheel?

The interior is identical to the GT fastback’s, so the i-Cockpit’s attributes – comfy seats, pleasant ambience – still stand. But that means its drawbacks do, too: infuriating warning systems that take ages to turn off because the menus are hard to navigate and a touchscreen that doesn’t always respond to first contact. It’s a distraction from the road.

But I’ve saved the best bit about the 508 SW to last. In the month we’ve run it so far, I’ve averaged 58mpg on journeys predominantly made up of my 80-mile round commute to work, which means I’m edging 600 miles between fill-ups. Once again, on this aspect alone, you can’t beat diesel.

Love it:

DAB radio signal In the GT, this was under ‘loathe it’ because the signal kept dropping. It doesn’t in the SW. Odd.

Loathe it:

Speed camera warning The bong seems to have got louder. (What have I pressed now?) I must turn it off, but that means reading the manual…

Mileage: 2217

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Goodbye fastback, hello estate - 13th November 2019

End of intermission. The red 508 GT saloon was returned some time ago, but finally our replacement has landed to resume our Peugeot test with this, the SW GT Line Blue HDi – or, put another way, the estate version. From 1.6 petrol we switch to 1.5 diesel, powering a smart loadlugger that’s proving as rare a sight on UK roads as its saloon sibling. Time to rack up the miles.

Mileage: 833

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Life with a Peugeot 508: Month 2

The best angle - 14th August 2019

Do you have a favourite view of your car, an angle that sums up best why it presses your buttons? On the 508, the raking fastback line from the roof, down the rear screen to the short bootlid, for me, is the car’s strong point. Given how sharp design is vital to Peugeot’s new-generation appeal, it won’t be a coincidence that the GT logo sits on a signature feature.

Mileage: 5112

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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.

Love it:

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.

Loathe it:

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.


Mileage: 4210

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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.

Mileage: 3063

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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.

Second Opinion

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.

Matt Saunders

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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

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Comments
6

27 July 2019

Yes it's tight in there. But the wagon at least adds decent rear-access. It's a fine-looking thing, but at Peugeot's prices it'll remain on the wish list until the 2 year depreciation kicks in :)

8 August 2019

are they selling?

8 August 2019

I have seen a few now on the roads and live the looks, for me however unless there is an equuvalent to a Passat Alltrack (diesel 4x4 estate auto) it simply will never be on my shopping list. Pity.

 

9 August 2019

I've never seen a car that has a countdown on a fuel gauge! Mercedes used to fit a % on the current S-Class. It used to say 50% fuel left, rather than show half tank, but even they have removed that during the facelift.

Many cars have a range function as part of the trip computer. So does the Peugeot. Just change it from trip, or average fuel consumption, or whatever you have it on, so that it displays range.

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