Big French cars used to be interesting. Distinctive. Now, they are again. Or at least this one is anyway, the second generation version of Peugeot's 508, now improved. It competes in the medium range Mondeo segment but offers something quite different, offering a choice of five-door 'Fastback' and SW estate body styles. You might even prefer it to something with a premium badge.
Once upon a time, European roads were filled with volume brand 'D'-segment cars. Mondeos were plentiful, as were the mainstream mid-sized Vauxhalls, Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots that competed with this Ford. But that was then. A new 'D'-segment model is quite rare to see on the roads these days - partly because so many brands no longer bother to sell them. Which is somewhat short-sighted given that the huge Chinese market, unafflicted by badge snobbery, simply loves cars of this kind. Hence the reason why Peugeot has developed this second generation 508, despite the fact that it'll probably be as rare a sight as a unicorn on British highways. Indeed, for likely buyers, that'll be all part of the appeal.
Peugeot's CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato says "If you drive this car, you'll buy it". Quite a claim. The hardware certainly looks promising here. There's a proper multi-link rear suspension set-up and a strong crop of engines from which buyers can choose. The previous generation 508 was launched here with an all-diesel line-up, but a lot's changed since then and today, a car in this class needs strong, efficient petrol provision too - which it gets in this case courtesy of a mainstream 1.2-litre three cylinder PureTech 130 turbo petrol unit, developing 130hp. There's also a 130hp 1.5-litre diesel. All models now come with an EAT8 8-speed auto gearbox. Peugeot can also offer you a plug-in hybrid version which uses a 1.6-litre petrol turbo engine mated to an 80kW electric motor, the resulting package offering a combined total output of 225hp. Rest to 62mph takes 8.3s en route to 155mph. If you want to go faster in a 508 Hybrid, you'll need the Peugeot Sport Engineered 360hp 4WD version, which trims the 0-62mph time to just 5.2s. At the wheel of any 508, you're positioned in front of a further improved version of Peugeot's i-Cockpit dashboard layout, which as usual, sees you looking over the rim of the steering wheel at the instrument dials, rather than conventionally through it. And as usual, the leather-stitched tiller in question is a small, grippy thing which gives you the illusion of greater interaction with the car. Or maybe it won't be an illusion. Higher-spec models are fitted out with adaptive damping. And all variants get the usual drive modes system, which adapts steering, throttle and gear change timings to the way you want to drive.
Style rather than space seems to have been the key determining factor in devising the look of this MK2 model 508 - and the car is all the better for it. The big news is that the saloon body style of previous Peugeot medium range models has been abandoned in favour of a hatch body shape - though the brand wants us to call it a 'Fastback'. The idea obviously, is to position this car as an alternative to models like the Audi A5 Sportback or the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. Which might be something of a stretch, even though like those cars, this one has a set of trendy frameless windows. The alternative 508 SW estate model has (when fitted with conventional engines) a 530-litre boot, extendable to 1,780-litres. The sharky looks will probably be the thing that'll best sell this model to you, embellished by tiny recent changes (black door mirrors and, for the GT model, a black chrome grille). Across the range, the front end with its sleek, thin vertical daytime running light strips, really makes a powerful overtaking statement. This 508, as just suggested, is slightly shorter than the segment norm - a 4.7-metre overall length is a bit less than you get in something like, say, a Skoda Superb (which is around 4.9-metres in length). The unusual exterior looks are mirrored by an original interior, highlighted, as mentioned in our drive section, by the usual Peugeot i-Cockpit dashboard design, plus there's a large 10-inch capacitive touchscreen angled towards the driver and a 12.3-inch head-up digital instrument panel. The cabin also features i-Cockpit Amplify, which enables the driver to choose between two levels of ambience - 'Boost' and 'Relax'.
All 508s have EAT8 auto transmission and prices start at just over £28,000 for the Fastback version; there's a £1,600 premium for the SW estate. There's a choice of 'Active Premium', 'Allure Premium', 'GT', 'GT Premium' and 'PSE' (or 'Peugeot Sport Engineered') variants. Pricing in the mainstream range runs to just over the £40,000 mark, but you'll need a lot more (from around £54,000) for the powerful Peugeot Sport Engineered Hybrid4 variant. Across the range, all are reasonably well equipped. Even base 'Active Premium'-spec gives you 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers and automatic dual zone climate control. 'Allure'-spec adds Connected 3D Navigation with voice recognition and the 'Peugeot i-Cockpit' digital instrument binnacle screen. At the top of the range on plush variants, equipment runs to just about everything Peugeot could think of, including a superb 'FOCAL' surround sound Hi-Fi system, night vision, fully automated parking assistance and of course full navigation on the 10-inch central-dash HD touchscreen. There's also a 360-degree colour camera system and a wireless smartphone charging plate to keep your mobile's battery topped up during long drives. The wrap-around seats offer five multi-point massage programmes, there's a range of premium and sophisticated trim and upholstery materials and you can have a panoramic opening glass roof.
Peugeot usually specialises in extremely efficient running cost returns and this 508 is no different in that regard. Let's get to the WLP-rated figures. The base 1.5 BlueHDi 130 EAT8 variant manages up to 62mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and puts out 121g/km of CO2. Want petrol power? Well for the 1.2 PureTech 130 petrol unit with its EAT8 auto transmission, the figures are up to 49.1mpg on the combined cycle and up to 131g/km of CO2. For really frugal running cost returns though, you'll need the clever hybrid plug-in variant, which returmns up to 235.4mpg on the combined cycle. This uses an 11.8kWh battery which can be fully charged in under two hours using a standard 7kW Wallbox. Once that's done, an all-electric WLTP-rated driving range of between 30-39 miles is possible. Even better news is the CO2 reading applied to this model, up to 30g/km, which means that it attracts a Benefit-in-Kind rate for company car drivers of just 10%. The faster PSE Hybrid4 model manages 138.9mpg and 46g/km. Of course running costs are about a lot more than just fuel economy and CO2 readings, so what else are you going to need to know? Well, there's the usual unremarkable three year/60,000-mile warranty. And if you are paying for maintenance work, you can budget ahead for it by taking up Peugeot's 'Service Plan' that for a fixed monthly fee, can cover you for up to 50,000 miles of motoring over either three or five years.
Peugeot says that this is the first medium range car it's made that it isn't really interested in selling to fleets. Well, obviously it is, but not at the kind of vast discounts that fleets tend to want. Which is good news in terms of relatively buoyant residuals for private buyers. So yes, if you like the look and feel of a 508, you can buy one without undue worry that you're going to lose a fortune when the time comes to sell. On the contrary, we expect that this car will out-perform all its volume brand rivals in this regard. Which is appropriate given that in terms of inherent desirability, this 508 offers something you just can't get from an Insignia, a Passat or a Superb. That 'want one' factor. It's a strong draw.