What Car? says...
With the revolutionary zeal historically associated with the French, the latest Peugeot 508 has been transformed from a staid four-door saloon into a striking and low-slung five-door coupé.
Peugeot calls the 508 a fastback, the very term evoking associations with the dashing Jaguar E-Type and Ford Mustang of the 1960s. There's no doubt at all that it's a more striking machine to look at than its similarly-named predecessor.
A strong identity is vital if the 508 is to attract a wide audience, with rivals that include the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport as well as premium models such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.
Neat styling touches include frameless side windows and tear-like daytime running lights that drip from the corners of the headlights onto the bumper below. Meanwhile, the rear lights are enclosed within a horizontal bar that runs the full width of the car.
Such confident looks help the 508 to exchange its middle management image for bang-on-trend, Volkswagen Arteon-style modernity, and should help it appeal to those looking for something a little different in the executive car class – especially as there’s a company car-focused plug-in hybrid version.
Not so long ago, the Lion badge was associated with driving fun, and whether the 508 can restore this reputation or not, recent offerings such as the 3008 and 5008 SUVs have emerged as fine all-rounders. Peugeot will no doubt be delighted if the 508 can be half as successful as those models, given the strength of the exec opposition from both mainstream and prestige brands.
In this review, we'll look at how the 508 stacks up. Or to see how much you can save on a new Peugeot, go to our New Car Buying pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The plug-in hybrid version of the 508 combines a petrol engine with an electric motor, and offers an electric-only range of around 39 miles, putting it in direct competition with Volkswagen's impressive Passat GTE as well as the Skoda Superb iV.
When running on electric power alone, progress in the 508 hybrid is brisk, quiet and relaxing. However, when the petrol engine kicks in – once the battery is depleted, or if you are particularly enthusiastic with the accelerator pedal – the transition isn’t completely seamless. There is a slight jolt as it awakens, but only in sudden, hard acceleration is it noticeable to the point of being frustrating. In normal driving it shuffles between the power sources smoothly. The hybrid ties with the 2.0 BlueHDi 180 diesel as joint quickest 508 in the lineup, but isn’t as quick as its Skoda and VW plug-in rivals.
The 1.5-litre diesel engine (badged 1.5 BlueHDi 130) only produces 128bhp and is the only 508 engine offered with a manual gearbox. Unfortunately, it feels underpowered enough to make joining a motorway or overtaking more stressful than it should be. We have yet to try the 161bhp version of the 2.0 BlueHDi diesel engine (2.0 BlueHDi 160), but the 174bhp 2.0 BlueHDi 180 unit has plenty of oomph.
For those who favour petrol power, the 179bhp unit (1.6 Puretech 180) is smooth, responsive and a more spirited performer than the diesels. The caveat here is that it doesn't pull quite so well from low revs, so you have to work it harder.
The more powerful 221bhp 1.6-litre petrol (1.6 Puretech 225) brings a noticeable amount of extra guts and is the quickest option in the line-up. It's more expensive to buy and run than the lower-powered petrol, though, which is, on balance, the pick of the range.
The manual gearbox of the BlueHDi 130 is disappointing, with a long, notchy action between its six gears. Fortunately, an eight-speed automatic gearbox is optional, and is standard with all the other engines. This is generally impressively smooth and responsive in its operation, but can be hesitant around town (a failing that isn’t helped by an overly intrusive start/stop system). When paired with the hybrid engine, it gets particularly flustered if you ask for a sudden burst of acceleration – it can dither around trying to decide on a gear.
Adaptive suspension is optional for most models and standard on range toppers, and is linked to four driving modes: Eco, Sport, Comfort and Normal. Comfort and Normal tend to introduce a floating sensation over the crest of bumps at speed, while Sport increases the steering weight and stiffens the dampers, but the differences are small. Regardless of setting, the 508 fidgets over road imperfections at all speeds; the Skoda Superb is far more forgiving of poor road surfaces. Unsurprisingly, cars without the adaptive suspension also fidget and are set a little on the firm side.
The upside of the 508's firm set-up is that it resists body lean well in corners, in addition to gripping the road like a limpet. But it can’t match the steering precision of a BMW 3 Series, Ford Mondeo or Mazda 6, so you end up sawing at the wheel quite a bit.
It’s worth knowing that in order to charge your hybrid 508’s battery at full speed from a 7kW wallbox charger, you’ll need to pay extra. If you do, it’ll get a full charge in two hours, otherwise the best it’ll manage is four hours, or eight hours from a domestic three-pin plug.