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. 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 petrol provision too - which it gets in this case courtesy of a couple of 1.6-litre turbo petrol units, developing either 179bhp or 221bhp. There's also a 129bhp 1.5-litre diesel and 161bhp and 174bhp 2.0 diesels. Only the 1.5 diesel gets a six-speed manual gearbox; the others must be ordered with an eight-speed automatic. 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. At the wheel, 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 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. 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 either a Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb (both of which are 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'.
Prices start at just over £26,000 for the Fastback version; there's a £1,600 premium for the SW estate. There's a choice of 'Active', 'Allure', 'GT Line' and 'GT' variants. All are well equipped. Even base 'Active'-spec gives you 17-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers and Connected 3D Navigation with voice recognition. You'll need to stretch at least as far as mid-range 'Allure'-spec though, to get 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 SW is no different in that regard. The base 1.5 BlueHDi 130 variant in manual form manages up to 63.6mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and puts out just 93g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. For the 2.0 BlueHDi diesel 160 EAT8 variant, the figures are up to 52.9mpg and up to 110g/km. And for the top 2.0 BlueHDi diesel 180 EAT8 version, you're looking at are up to 50.3mpg and up to 109g/km. Want petrol power? Well for the 1.6 PureTech 225 petrol unit with its EAT8 auto transmission, the figures are up to 44.0mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km of CO2. For the perkier 225hp version of this engine, it's 42.2mpg and 119g/km. For really frugal running cost returns though, you'll need the clever hybrid plug-in variant. 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 39g/km CO2 reading applied to this model, which means that it attracts a Benefit-in-Kind rate for company car drivers of just 10%. 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 a Mondeo, an Insignia, a Passat or a Superb. That 'want one' factor. It's a strong draw.