Peugeot 508 VS Toyota Camry
- 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
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|
I've got a line of Camry jokes that stretches to Mars and back, and I'm not alone. Heck, even Akio Toyoda sledged his own company's products when he famously delcared it would produce "no more boring cars". To be fair, the company is still struggling with that promise.
The new version has, sadly, knocked some of the stuffing out of my established Camry repartee. Until today, I had not yet had a go in the new car, and thus it was something of a shock to realise that it doesn't even look terrible any more.
My cruel colleagues, however, muttered darkly that this was still a Camry, just not as we've always known it.
Hmmm. I'm getting too old to deal with change. This Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid had better be boring.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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 a pity families don't buy sedans any more, because this is a terrific family car, particularly if you're not bothered by badge cache or speed, but do like an easy-to-drive, cheap-to-run car. Just a few years ago it would have been almost laughable to contemplate a car this big, for this money, being so cheap to own and run.
I'm also really annoyed that my hackneyed Camry jokes are no longer just not funny, they're not funny because they're not (as) true. No, it's not a super-fun excitement machine, but that's not the point. It is a very good car, with all the Toyota goodness of old, added warranty and the bonus of genuinely feeling good to drive. And you're a mild shade of enviro-green to go with it.
Is it true? Has the Camry shaken off most of its dowdy image?
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.
Some key changes to the design approach on the new Camry means it's not as knock-kneed and simpering as the last, um, six or so generations.
To be fair, the previous one wasn't terrible but there are actual hints of mild bravery, with an angry front-end look, some interesting surface detailing and, even what might be called a "Lexus-lite" look for the rest of it.
The new Camry is lower, has big wheel arches that the 17s struggle to fill but it has some genuine style, rather than looking like the clay modellers knocked off before lunch. The dual exhaust seemed incongruous to me, but is, in fact, a styling win.
Jokes aside, I don't mind it at all. It's no Supra, but it's no mid-90s Camry, either. Yeah, I bet you don't remember which one I'm talking about, either.
I really like the cabin. The dash design is quite something and shows some real flair. William Chergowsky told me last year that this interior was going to be more emotional and memorable. And it really is, along with Toyota's impressive build quality. Even the volume knob feels substantial, the materials are nice but the steering wheel is... well, more of that later.
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.
The new, stretched wheelbase has meant a lot more interior space for passengers, particularly in the rear. The Camry hasn't really been small for a very long time, but this one's generous rear legroom is probably why it's a smash-hit with the Uber crowd. The seats are comfortable too, if trimmed in what appears to be neoprene.
Front and rear passengers each have a pair of cupholders for a total of four, plus there's a deep central console bin and a space under the stereo for a phone. There's even a coin slot. Each door also has a bottle holder.
The boot in the Ascent Sport is a voluminous 524 litres - the Ascent has a full-size spare that swallows up 30 litres of that space. The seats fold down 60/40, but the cargo volume when they are down is not readily available.
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."
The hybrid drivetrain is available on the Ascent, Ascent Sport and SL. I had the $31,990 Ascent Sport for the week.
It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo (with CD player!), dual-zone climate control, cloth trim, with space-saver spare wheel, electric driver's seat, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, reversing camera, active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, an impressive safety package, power mirrors and windows. Did I mention the CD player?
The six-speaker stereo is powered from the 8.0-inch touchscreen and the software is...um...not great. Which wouldn't matter if it had Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay but Toyota Australia stubbornly refuses to include them. The damn Seppos get it in their Toyotas, so it's not like it's impossible. But our version does have a CD player. Hipsters rejoice!
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.
While the standard Camry packs the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder, the Hybrid's ICE output is slightly lower, at 131kW. When paired with a hybrid motor, the total power figure is a pretty decent 160kW, but the torque figure appears to be unaffected, at 202Nm. Toyota doesn't quote combined torque figures, because it's tricky with the type of transmission it uses.
The front wheels are driven by Toyota's favoured e-CVT, with six artifical steps to make it feel like a proper auto, if you're feeling racy.
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 Hybrid's windscreen sticker makes the bold claim of 4.2L/100km on the combined cycle, which is amazing for a big sedan. Reality isn't quite so amazing. In our week with the car, 5.7L/100km was the best I could get, but it was mostly city driving, the weather was really humid and, it turns out, this isn't a bad thing to drive, which means you're tempted to hit the throttle regularly.
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.
All the Camry markers are here. It's easy to get in and out of and easy to get comfortable. The dash isn't too high and, uh, the steering wheel is plastic, which is genuinely disappointing. A Mazda6 (no, not a hybrid, I know) doesn't have a plastic steering wheel. The Toyota one is pretty cheap-feeling.
Pressing the start-stop button, you hear the electrics switching on and, if you're backing out of the drive, you won't hear the engine until you're on the gas driving away. You may not hear anything, but your passengers might hear your tutting. The brakes are very grabby when you're in stealth, I mean, electric mode, whether you're going forward or backwards. No doubt it's something you will become accustomed to, but it's there. Toyota hybrids seem to be behind the game on this particular score.
In every other way, the Camry is exactly as it has always been. Except it isn't. Toyota kept all the good things - it's smooth, it's quiet and it rides well. Everyone is comfortable and everything works. I've already mentioned it was stinking hot the week we had it and the Camry's air-conditioning was super-fast cold.
The bit that's different, though, is that, just like the styling, things are better. Camrys past had over-light steering, marshmallows for suspension and as much grip on the road as Kanye West has on reality. This one has body control. The steering feels good. There is actual grip and you feel like you're driving the car rather than just steering it around.
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 Ascent Sport ships with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, active cruise, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, forward AEB, reverse cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
The Camry scored five ANCAP stars in November 2017.
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.
In news that still has me all a-tingle (okay, not really), Toyota now offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. There's till no roadside assist offered for free, though, so you have to pay extra for it.
The first five service intervals are capped at $195 each so, if you're lucky, five years of servicing will only sting you $975. Intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km.