Can Peugeot’s new 508 really revive the flagging fortunes of saloon cars?

First drive: Following on from success with the 3008 and 5008 comes the French firm’s new sporty saloon

 

Peugeot is doing its bit to slow down the death of the family saloon with the new 508.

The demise of the three-box saloon has been well recorded on these pages. In 2012 the 508 had its best year in the Republic with 587 sales from a total of 2,950 to year to date. Compare that with its predecessor the 407, which at its best sold 2,837 in 2005, while 2000 was the best year for 406, and almost every car, with 2,252 sales.

Peugeot still believes there’s live in the saloon, however. If there is to be a last-ditched attempt to revive its fortunes, then the good news is that the 508 stands the strongest chance of doing so. The new car looks like a traditional saloon but is actually a cleverly disguised liftback.

Peugeot set the VW Passat as the base target to beat, but also included premium brands such as Audi and BMW in its sights. The new 508 is built on the same platform used in the award-winning 3008 - last year’s European car of the year - and 5008 crossovers in the PSA group. An estate 508 SW version will debut at the Paris Motor Show later this year. A 225bhp PHEV plug-in hybrid variant will join the range in 2019 with the promise of a full electric-only driving capability of 50km.

But it’s neither styling nor powertrain that are the dealbreakers in the all-important fleet market. Here it is the cost of ownership that matters. The good news for the 508 is that several assessments by fleet buyers, seen by The Irish Times, indicate the 508 has an advantage on this front. Across three different fleet assessors, a new 508 with 90,000km on the clock is reckoned to hold more value than its German rivals.

Coupé styling

While the Germans remain the benchmark for quality in the mainstream market, Peugeot is setting its sights on joining them at the upper end of the volume market. Having driven a couple of examples of the top specification 508 GT, the new model is a fine quasi-premium offering. The exterior is very impressive in the metal. The front overhang has been shortened with a more upright and aggressive variation of Peugeot’s family grille.

The side profile is sleek with a four door coupe look, in fact the rear hips of the car have a hint of BMW Gran Coupe to them. The coupe styling is helped by the frameless doors while the rear of the car hints to American muscle cars. The boot holds an adequate 467 litres and our test car’s featured a space saver spare wheel under the floor. If you fold the rear seats down there is 1,537 litres of cargo space.

Inside the firm’s high-tech “I-cockpit” is the star of the show. Peugeot’s compact steering wheel sits below the high set digital instrument cluster and layered surfaces on the dash deliver a premium look. A large centre touch screen provides a great additional display for sat-nav and the optional Focal audio system. The much hailed “piano key” switches that were a strong selling point on the 3008 allow access to the sat nav, apps, and climate control.

The new 508 will be offered with just one six speed manual gearbox in the diesel entry model while the rest of the range will feature the firm’s new eight speed auto gearbox as standard. This transmission is more efficient than the previous six-speed and adds to the premium feel behind the wheel.

In terms of safety tech, along with the usual array of collision protection features, there is a new optional offering of night vision that uses a windscreen mounted infra-red camera. This technology works and can detect people and animals beyond the range of the car’s headlights. Peugoet’s nod to semi autonomous driving comes in the form of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistant to ease you along on your journey, even in stop start traffic.

New engines

The latest range of engines feature with a petrol 1.6-litre, with either 180hp/250nm or 225hp/300nm (GT) and two diesel engines, a 1.5-litre with 130hp/300nm and a 2 litre with 160hp/400nm and 180hp/400nm. The 508 is due in Ireland near the end of the year for 191 registrations. Pricing has yet to be confirmed.

On the road the slightly wider track - 29mm wider - and new suspension transform the five-seater into a sports saloon. On the top grade versions active dampers feature as part of the adaptive drive mode set up. You can adjust the ride quality to suit the selection with eco, comfort, normal, sport and manual (gearshift) available.

In all other models, a drive mode button lets you select how the engine is mapped and the weight of the steering with eco, normal and sport setting. In reality it’s a gimmick and waste of time. Instead, judicious use of your right foot will have a better effect. Greater use of bonding in the manufacturing process has helped stiffen the body and also lower noise and vibration. The cabin is quiet and motorways speeds are vice free.

The 225hp/300nm GT 1.6 litre petrol is great fun, yet civilised at the same time. Peugeot, by specifying automatics on all except the 508’s entry models is helping enhance its desire to be seen as a more premium offering and rivals should take note. The new gearbox is smooth and effortless to use.

The 180hp BlueHDI GT is almost as much fun on the open road. With less power but more torque at 400nm the pulling power comes in sooner and offers greater flexibility. We also tested a basic 130hp BlueHDI with a manual gearbox and while it lacked the grunt of its siblings it will be better priced than the rest, so it will be a financial trade-off.

Peugeot believes the traditional saloon car still has a future thanks to demand in China, but Europe is a problem with the mass motoring migration to SUVs. Even business fleets are shifting to the high-rise world in motoring.

With the new 508 Peugeot has a real head turner and a pretty good driving machine that will keep it relevant for a few more years to come.

Lowdown: Peugeot 508 BlueHDI 180

Price: €TBA

Engine: 1997cc diesel putting out 180bhp and with 400Nm of torque. Matched to new eight-speed automatic transmission

0-100km/h: 8.3 secs

Top speed: 235km/h

Claimed fuel economy: 4.7L/100km (60.1mpg)

Emissions (Motor tax): 123g/km (€270)

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