Peugeot 508 2011 review
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Any time a carmaker tears six grand out of the bottom line on a new model it's time to pay attention.
When the new model is also a sea-change car for one of the great European brands, there is even more to get you interested. And so we have the all-new Peugeot 508.
It's basically the replacement for the French company's mid-sized 407, but so much has changed - from a starting price at $36,990 to a cabin that's as big as the flagship 607 - that the 508 demands a re-think. The styling is much more conservative, there is a new emphasis on quality, equipment levels have been boosted across the board, and the driving experience is far less quirky than in the past.
It's almost as if Peugeot decided it needed to be more like Toyota to survive in a world where competition as never been tougher and customers expect far more for every dollar they spend.
The 508 has landed as both a four-door sedan and smooth looking station wagon, with a range of petrol and diesel engines and even a GT with the promise of Peugeot-style long-distance express travel.
The price leader is not here yet, but Peugeot expects most buyers to go for the mid-level 508 Allure with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel and a starting price of $39,490. Perhaps with a 50:50 split for wagon buyers, who pay an extra $3000 for the Touring.
"This car takes Peugeot back to its heartland in Australia, but also moves the brand forward," says Ken Thomas, managing direct of Peugeot in Australia, summing the 508 in a single sentence.
The easiest way to put the 508 into perspective is to look at the 407 it replaces. The new car is significantly bigger, most importantly in the cabin, and also picks up extra standard equipment including four-zone aircon that's a big bonus for rear-seat passengers.
Equipment varies depending on the model, but some of the good new stuff includes a colour head-up instrument display, front and rear parking radar, efficient new headlamps with 'light tube' daytime lamps, and even a system that can measure a potential parking space and give a verdict on its suitability.
Peugeot says the Australian dollar has helped with pricing from $36,990 through to $52,990 for the GT sedan, but also says the car is cheaper to make. And it has introduced capped-price servicing as extra buyer bait.
It has decided to slide it into the large-car class in Australia, although it could also qualify as a medium contender, which means its closest Euro rival is the Skoda Superb. But it can also be measured against everything from the Mazda6 and Toyota Camry to Falcon and Commodore.
Development of the 508 began with a rigid new body and all-independent suspension, with things like the parking space system and adaptive Xenon lamps to provide the window dressing.
The really important stuff includes four new engines, both petrol and diesel, with C02 that's down by a claimed 15 per cent over the 407 with similar improvements in overall efficiency.
The basic 1.6-litre petrol makes 115kW/240Nm with 7.1 litres/100km and CO2 of 165grams/km, the 1.6-litre turbodiesel is 82/270/4.4/115, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel is 120/340/5.7/149, and the 2.2-litre turbodiesel is 150/450/10.0/150 and the engine for the GT.
It's no surprise the 508 is front-wheel drive, with a six-speed automatic gearbox that comes with a paddle shift behind a wheel that now houses all the minor controls - instead of having them shotgunned around the dash.
The 407 was a mistake and Peugeot has learned from it. The giant gaping grille has been replaced with a restrained opening that points to a new French face - and is already reflected in an updated 308 - and the body doesn't look like the front and rear were designed by different people. But the 508 is not as uniquely Peugeot as past cars.
At first glance it even looks - whisper it - a bit like a Mitsubishi 380. It is strongly styled and the new dash is more user-friendly, but the back-seat space is only good enough for two Aussie adults despite the boot capacity.
Peugeot says the 508 is the first car built from its new 'Platform 3' and that brings significant safety benefits in a crash. It was developed for the first time for both side barrier and post impacts.
The suite of safety equipment is the standard stuff with ABS and ESP, but the 508 also gets cornering brake control - for added stability when you need to slow in a curve - and hill-start assistance, first seen on off-roaders. It's a five-star car with six airbags as well.
Peugeot tragics - and my experience of the brand runs back to the 203 - will find the 508 a bit bland. But for people who are moving out of a Japanese car, perhaps tempted by Peugeot's new deals for fleets and 'user chooser' buyers, it will have enough personality to give them a bit of flavour without provoking a gag reaction.
My time at the press preview of the 508 is spent mostly in the Allure turbodiesel, that sits in the middle of the lineup, and it gets along well enough, is comfy and quiet, and feels secure and easy to handle in turns.
It's only once I get well out of Melbourne on some long loping roads that I rediscover the sort of long-legged ability which has always set Peugeots apart. There is some annoying thump through the low-profile tyres and some quality glitches - a loose gearknob, one piece of cabin trim that doesn't fit, some wind noise and a rattle in the back door - but the package comes together more convincingly in the sporty GT model.
The styling is nothing special, and the back end even looks a bit Korean, but the 508 is intended to bring new people to Peugeot and it should do the job.
I cannot close without highlighting the incredible number of warning bells and chimes in the car - the 508 seems to have an audio reminder for everything, from an open door to the handbrake, and what starts as a bit of fun quickly becomes annoying.
The 508 is good but not great, effective but not memorable. It's a car that has been driven by a new approach at Peugeot to a new group of customers, and it will definitely give them something to consider.
The price line is very appealing and the 508 makes a strong case against rivals such as the Camry, but is less convincing when it's lined up against a Skoda Superb or a Volkswagen Passat.
It should definitely make big gains for Peugeot in Australia, but it's not the landmark car the brand needs. Perhaps that's the baby 208 that's coming next year . . .
Range and Specs
|Active 1.6 EHDi||1.6L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$7,860 – 12,990||2011 Peugeot 508 2011 Active 1.6 EHDi Pricing and Specs|
|Active 1.6T||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$7,200 – 11,110||2011 Peugeot 508 2011 Active 1.6T Pricing and Specs|
|Allure 1.6T||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$7,700 – 11,880||2011 Peugeot 508 2011 Allure 1.6T Pricing and Specs|
|Allure HDi||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$8,800 – 11,999||2011 Peugeot 508 2011 Allure HDi Pricing and Specs|