Peugeot 508 PSE: The marque’s highest performance saloon for decades

The rain may be lashing down, but this sporty plugin-hybrid is brightening my heart

Well balanced, fluent and fluid, the 508 PSE Hybrid4 is an excellent car to drive. The €68,000 price tag for the one tested here might be a stumbling block for some, but it does buy you BMW M340i levels of performance. Video: Neil Briscoe

The first high-performance Peugeot saloon in three generations, it’s packing 355hp and 520Nm of torque from a plugin-hybrid powertrain based around Peugeot’s 1.6 THP turbo petrol engine

Make: Peugeot

Model: 508

Year: 2021

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: August 18, 2021

Wed, Aug 25, 2021, 06:45

   

This has just not gone to plan. A flat, iron-grey mass of cloud has drifted in from the adjacent Atlantic Ocean, and is smothering west Cork in a dampening blanket. All rain types have shown up for the splashy party, from an unexpectedly drenching mizzle all the way to massive, fat drops that splatter both road surface and windscreen as if volley-fired by rainy Napoleonic infantry.

In other words, it’s wet and I wanted it to be sunny. In my memory, it’s always sunny on these roads. It can’t actually have been, could it? Have our climatic patterns shifted so much that where now it always seems to be rain, the west Cork of my youth was really bathed in near-constant sunshine?

Well, there were sunny memories in my mind when the AA, earlier this year, asked me to name my favourite driving road and the car I’d most like to drive on it. The choice was easy, hard-wired into my brain since 1994. It had to be the back road from Bantry, via the village of Durrus, over the back of Mount Gabriel, and down the dizzy slope from the glacial spillway, all the way to Schull harbour.

The car? My parent’s 1990 Peugeot 405 2.0-litre injection. It wasn’t a top-spec model, not even close, but it had sufficient power, and a near-perfect balance between grip, handling, steering feel, and ride quality for those west Cork roads. It also had a boot spoiler, so as an 18-year old I basically though it perfect.

Happy coincidence

Fast forward 27 years and that white 405 is long gone, but by happy coincidence, just as I had nominated favourite car and favourite road, up pops this to test drive – the Peugeot 508 PSE. The first high-performance Peugeot saloon in three generations, it’s packing 355hp and 520Nm of torque from a plugin-hybrid powertrain based around Peugeot’s long-serving 1.6 THP turbo petrol engine. Its pay grade is way, way above that of my parents’ old Peugeot, but this seemed like a perfect chance to combine memory with mission. It was, of course, sunny and warm when I came up with this plan…

The Peugeot’s grey paintwork is blending in almost perfectly with the sky above, but unlike the sky it’s livened up by some acid-green flashes in the air scoops, and the three claw-marks of the Peugeot Sport Engineered badges. PSE hardly has the gravitas nor instant appeal of GTI, but in time it could be just as legendary – after all, it’s Peugeot Sport Engineering that’s bringing the French brand back to Le Mans in 2023, with a wingless hybrid hypercar.

Like that dramatic 9X8 racing car, the 508 PSE does without a big, ugly rear wing but there is some aggressive aero on its bodywork all the same. The little winglets that poke out from the bumpers and the rear wheelarches make it look as if someone has set the 508 down on a trio of Airbus models, but they do work, for real. The rest of the 508 is as handsome and instantly desirable as it’s ever been.

Odd arrangement

Slip inside, and there’s the same low, reclined seating position, the same (too fiddly, too awkward) touchscreen in the centre, and the same (rather impressive) digital instruments set high above the rim of the diminutive hexagonal steering wheel. It still feels an odd arrangement, every time you sit back into it, but personally I find it comfortable and natural after a while. Not all will.

Aside from some more of the green flashes, and the nicely quilted Alcantara suede on the bucket seats, there’s little to tell you from within that the 508 PSE is anything special. Fire up, and it starts silently in electric mode, and as long as you have charged up the battery (which takes about seven hours from a three-pin socket), you’ll roll along for a fair distance on that silent power. Peugeot claims you’ll get 41km from a fully-charged battery, but we could manage, at best, 30km. Blame west Cork hills, I guess?

There are two electric motors – giving 113hp at the rear, and 110hp at the front, and combined with the 225hp from the engine, that gives you the combined total of 355hp. Which is about the same as you’d get from a BMW M340i. Which is just as well, as the Peugeot is about as expensive – €68,325 for this one, which is only fractionally cheaper than the BMW (albeit the BMW would be nowhere near so well-equipped as standard, so that’s maybe not so much of a fair comparison).

Priorities

Can this 508 – can any Peugeot – be worth the guts of €70,000? It depends where your priorities lie. If your priorities are to feel the sheer grip and cornering poise as you hit the tight left-right chicane-like sweep just before turning left to head up the back of Mount Gabriel, then yes, it’s worth every penny. You can feel the efforts and expertise of the Peugeot Sport Engineering team every time you find a corner with a tightening radius, or a series of bumps on entry, or some other tangle of tortured tarmac. The sheer poise and fluidity of the 508 PSE really do take some beating. I’m not convinced that the BMW would have been any better to drive on the Durrus road.

The German car would almost certainly have been less comfortable. The 508 PSE does a remarkable job of feeling precise and sharp to drive, but never – even in Sport mode – being rough in its ride quality. Unless you’re on the worst surface possible, it just glides beautifully.

In terms of downsides, when the suspension does fidget it does so quite noisily, and there were a few creaks and groans from the interior trim, which took some of the gloss of what is generally very high quality construction. On the upside, it’s practical (there’s a decent boot under the long hatch, and an estate version if you need more space), and at 6.5-litres per 100km on longer journeys, tolerably practical. And the M340i can’t run on zero emissions power around town…

We’ve reached my favourite point of the drive. You crest the rise of the spillway – the channel carved in the side of Mount Gabriel by a billion tonnes of glacier, millions of years ago – and suddenly, there’s Schull harbour, dead ahead. Beyond it, Cape Clear and Sherkin Island, and if the sky were a little clearer, you’d see the Fastnet lighthouse poking up from the distant horizon. Even under the grey, it’s a stunning sight, and it makes the long haul southwest entirely worth it.

The 508 PSE has proven its worth – yes, even at that price tag – on this drive. Few cars, of any description, let alone a spacious family-friendly saloon, have this kind of delectable chassis balance and sheer level of driving enjoyment. If it can’t quite match the glories of that long-gone white 405 in my mind, well maybe that’s just because it wasn’t sunny out.

Lowdown: Peugeot 508 PSE Hybrid4 Fastback

Power: 1.6-litre petrol engine + 163kW electric motors putting out 355hp and 520Nm of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. CO2 emissions (annual motor tax): 46g/km (€140). L/100km (MPG): 2.0 (141). Electric range: 41km. 0-100km/h: 5.2sec. Price: €68,325 as tested. Our rating: 4/5. Verdict: Almost as good as 18-year old me would have hoped.