Peugeot 508 VS Lexus IS
- Design oozes style
- High-tech, well equipped
- Refined fun behind the wheel
- Touchscreen air-con controls
- Rear seats clumsy to get into
- Steering wheel can block instruments
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
Peugeot has gone from strength to strength in Europe off the back of a branding and design renaissance.
The brand now fields a competitive range of SUVs as well as a new generation of tech and design-focused cars.
In Australia, you'd be forgiven for not knowing any of this, with French cars still well and truly in the niche basket. And with Aussie consumers increasingly shunning cars like the 508 in favour of SUVs, the liftback and wagon combo has the odds stacked against it.
So, if you're not already a French car die hard (they very much still exist) – should you be stepping out of your comfort zone and into Peugeot's latest and greatest offering? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The 508 draws you in with its stunning design, but under the surface there's a well-equipped and practical car.
While it might not be destined for mass popularity in Australia, it's still a compelling semi-premium option that should have you asking yourself: "Do I really need an SUV?"
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
Let's lead with this Pug's strongest suit. No matter whether you choose the liftback or the wagon, you're getting a seriously stunning car. There are a lot of elements comprising the front and rear fascias, yet somehow it's not overly busy.
The downward swoop of the bonnet and the angular rear, with a subtle flicked up wing on the liftback, give this car a curvy but muscular aesthetic, and there are more than enough 'wow' items, like the DRLs which streak down from the front light clusters and rear fittings, which reference this car's classy 407 ancestor.
Meanwhile, the more you look at the wagon, particularly from the rear, the more elements begin to stand out. Either car has a sleek silhouette when spotted from the side.
There's no doubt it has a rich visual presence – one which is befitting of Peugeot's new push to be seen as a more premium offering in Australia. It's also easy to draw comparisons to recent design leaders like Volvo's S60 and V60 twins, and Mazda's new 3 and 6.
Inside is just as bold, with Peugeot's iCockpit interior theme providing a fresh take on a tired formula.
The theme consists of a steering wheel that 'floats' low and flat in the dash, with the instrument cluster perched atop. There's also a raised console and super-wide 10-inch touchscreen adorning the centre of an otherwise minimalist looking interior.
Annoyingly, the dual-zone climate control is operated via the touchscreen, which is clumsy and annoying to look at when you should be keeping your eyes on the road. Give us an old-fashioned set of dials next time, it's just so much easier.
The design is comprised of mostly tasteful leather finish, gloss black panelwork and soft-touch plastics. The pictures somehow don't do it justice, although personally I think it could do with a little less chrome.
Maybe we should really be thanking SUVs for a resurgence in great-looking passenger cars for every niche.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
No matter which bodystyle you pick, the 508 is a practical unit, although there are a few areas where the design takes priority.
We'll start with the luggage area, where both cars are at their best. The Sportback offers 487-litres of storage, which is up there with the biggest hatchbacks and most mid-size SUVs, whereas the wagon offers almost 50 extra litres (530L), which is more space than most people will realistically need.
Up in the second-row space is decent, with an inch or two of airspace for my knees behind my own (182cm tall) driving position. There's room above my head once I'm seated - despite the slopey roofline - but getting in and out is a scramble, with the C-pillar jutting down where the door joins the body.
You'll fit three adults across, with a bit of a squeeze, and there are ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer two seats.
The rear seats also get access to a set of air vents, two USB power outlets and netting on the back of the front seats. There are cupholders in the doors, but they're so tight they'll only really hold an espresso cup.
Up front, the door issue is the same – it won't hold a 500ml bottle due to the complex door cards – but there are two large cupholders in the centre.
Storage for the front occupants is far better than it is in this car's 308 hatch sibling, with the posh raised centre console also offering a long trench for phones and wallets, as well as a deep centre-console box and a storage area underneath, which also hosts the front USB outlets. There's a decently sized glovebox on the passenger side.
Room for front occupants is also good, as the seats are set low in the body, but knee room is limited due to the wide console and overly thick door cards.
The iCockpit design is perfectly suited to someone my size, but if you're particularly short you won't be able to see over the dash elements, and if you're particularly tall it will get uncomfortable quickly, with the wheel blocking elements or simply sitting too low. Seriously, just ask our resident giraffe-person, Richard Berry.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
Price and features
An impressive specification is completely standard, including a 10-inch multimedia toucschreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, built-in navigation and DAB+ digital radio, a 12.3-inch digital dash cluster, modestly sized 18-inch alloy wheels, full LED front and rear lighting, adaptive dampers, which respond to the car's five driving modes, and a thorough active-safety suite, which includes adaptive cruise control.
The black fully leather interior trim is included, as well as heated and powered front seats.
The only two items that reside on the options list are a sunroof ($2500) and premium paints (either metallic at $590 or pearlescent at $1050).
While all of those options, including the 508, are not budget buys, Peugeot makes no apologies for the fact that it's not going after the volume end of the market. It hopes the 508 will become the brand's "aspirational flagship."
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
Engine & trans
Peugeot has made this department easy, too. There's just one drivetrain.
It's a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which punches above its weight on the power front with 165kW/300Nm. If you think about it, there were many V6 engines that wouldn't have produced that kind of power, even just a few years ago.
The engine drives the front wheels only via an also-new eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. There's no all-wheel drive and no diesel as part of Peugeot's simplify-and-conquer strategy.
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
The 508 is rated to consume an impressive-sounding 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle, although in my recent test of the 308 GT hatchback, which shares the same drivetrain, I scored 8.5L/100km.
While our countryside blast at the 508's launch event would be an unfair representation of this car's real-world fuel consumption, I'd be surprised if most people scored below 8.0L/100km, given this car's extra kerb weight over the 308 and the nature of its entertaining drive.
We should stop for a moment and appreciate that this engine is the first one on sale in Australia featuring a petrol particulate filter (PPF).
While other manufacturers (like Land Rover and Volkswagen) have been vocal about the fact that they cannot bring PPFs to Australia due to our lax (high-sulfur) fuel quality, Peugeot's "totally passive" system allows for higher sulfur contents, so 508 owners can rest assured they're driving around with reasonably low CO2 tailpipe emissions of 142g/km.
As a result, however, the 508 requires you to fill its 62-litre tank with a minimum 95RON mid-grade unleaded petrol.
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
The 508 matches up to its swoopy looks by being a whole lot of fun, but also surprisingly refined behind the wheel.
The 1.6 turbo isn't wildly powerful for something this size, but it's easily grunts enough, with peak torque easily lighting up the front wheels from a standstill. It's quiet, too, and the eight speed is silky-smooth in most driving modes
Speaking of which, special attention should be given to the driving modes. In many cars you'll get a 'sport' button, which, nine times out of 10, is basically useless. But not here in the 508, where each of its five distinct driving modes alters everything from engine response, transmission map and steering weight to the mode of the adaptive dampers.
Comfort is best for plodding around town or in traffic, with a smooth engine and transmission response to inputs and light steering, which makes it a cinch to move around.
The prime B-roads we were on around Canberra's countryside periphery, however, demanded the full-fat sports mode, which makes the steering heavy and instantly responsive and the engine far more aggressive. It will let you ride each gear all the way up to the red line and switching to manual gives impressively snappy responses, via the flappy paddle, wheel-mounted shifters.
I was taken aback to find that no matter which mode I chose, the suspension was excellent. It was softer in comfort but even in sport it wasn't as brutal as the 308 GT hatch, soaking up the larger bumps without shaking up the occupants in the process. This is partially due to the 508's reasonably sized 18-inch alloys.
The wheel itself feels great in your hands, with a small radius and slightly square shape making it easy to wrangle. My main complaint is directed at the the multimedia touchscreen, which is seated so deep in the dash it requires taking your eyes a bit too far off the road to adjust anything – including the climate controls.
With no all-wheel drive and modest power, the 508 is hardly a proper sportscar, but it is still a great balance of refinement and fun where it counts.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
The 508 comes loaded as standard with an impressive suite of active safety items including auto emergency braking (AEB – works from 0 – 140km/h), lane-keep assist (LKAS) with lane-departure warning (LDW), blind-spot monitoring (BSM), traffic-sign recognition (TSR), and active cruise control, which also lets you set your exact position within the lane.
Thanks to the 508's AEB also detecting pedestrians and cyclists, it already carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The expected suite of features include six airbags, three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points as well as electronic stability and brake controls.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
Peugeot currently offers a competitive five-year unlimited kilometre warranty promise, which includes five years of roadside assist.
The 508 only has to be serviced once every 12 months or 20,000km, which is nice, but that's where the good news ends. Service pricing is steeper than budget-brand peers, with a fixed-price program costing between $600 and $853 per visit. Over the length of the warranty it will cost you a total of $3507 or an average of $701.40 per year.
It's almost twice the price of some competitors, but Peugeot does promise that the service visits are all inclusive of expendable items like fluids and filters etc.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.