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The Peugeot 508 sedan and wagon range has fallen through the cracks a little bit in recent times —but not for any perceptible gulf in ability.
Classified as a large car by industry stats but really more of a rival to the mid-sized Volkswagen Passat and Mazda 6 (which is longer), the 508 launched here in mid 2011, and replaced the ill-proportioned 407 and the aged 607 flagship in one fell swoop.
It also marked a palpable move upmarket for Peugeot that the company has since repeated with the smaller new 208 and 308 models.
The results were impressive at first — in its first full year on sale in 2012 it managed nearly 1100 sales and was Peugeot’s single biggest-selling model.
Of course, since that time demand for medium and large passenger cars has been whittled away by the growth in the popularity of SUVs.
As such, the 508’s volume has steadily eroded, dropping to a little under 700 sales in 2013 and to just 357 in 2014. Over that time, it has fallen behind Peugeot stablemates such as 2008 and 4008 crossovers, the 208 light car and the new 308 small hatch and wagon.
But it’s not just the overall market drop that Peugeot pins the decline of the 508 on — it also did not market the entry level Active version well enough to lure so-called ‘user chooser’ business buyers, and customers of that ilk. This is the lifeblood of the segment.
The 508 product pitch at the entry level “wasn’t as strong as it could have been”, admits Peugeot Australia director John Startari, pointing out that only 15 per cent of sales were of the Active. This figure has to change if the 508 is to get its mojo back.
So with that background out of the way, here we take a look at the upgraded version that launched in Australia this week.
The looks aren’t that different, though looks have never been a particular issue for the handsome, though conservative, 508. This MY15 car gets a revised front end with a slimmer grille with centre-mounted Lion badge, and revised tail-lights and bumpers.
It’s really the value and specification equation where Peugeot has done the most work to remind buyers of the 508’s virtues.
The Active now costs $37,990 plus on-road costs, which is $1000 more than before. However, it gets $4000 extra equipment over the previous version, including a seven-inch touchscreen with satellite-navigation, reversing camera, 8GB jukebox, paddle-shifters, LED daytime running lights, rear sun blinds, and rear centre armrests and map reading lights.
See more information on pricing and specifications here.
This makes it better value than before, especially given its 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine has also been improved to meet Euro 6 emissions requirements. It now produces 121kW (up from 115kW) at 6000rpm and 240Nm between 1400 and 4000rpm, and is capable of using a claimed 5.6 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle.
It belies its modest capacity by offering fairly healthy power delivery, and a noticeable slab of torque down low. The turbo can take a moment to spool up, but the engine spins freely and with a lovely deep rasp once you’re up and running. You can go from 0-100km/h in 8.9 seconds.
The Aisin six-speed automatic transmission with those new wheel-mounted paddles is also fairly non-intrusive though it lacks a ratio or two next to some rivals.
Next up the range is the $45,990 Allure diesel, which is a fair jump from the Active sedan given there is no longer an Allure petrol in between the pair. This spec can also be had in Touring wagon guise for $48,990, and we deem it a shame that Peugeot does not yet see sufficient demand for an Active petrol wagon.
Like the Active, Peugeot has added value to counter a $2000 increase in list price over the previous version. These additions are largely the same as the Active. The Allure spec also gets, over the Active, blind-spot monitoring, push-button start, heated leather seats and rear ventilation controls.
The unchanged Euro 5 turbo-diesel engine produces 120kW at 3750rpm and 340Nm at 2000rpm, and is capable of using 5.7L/100km — just 0.2L/100km superior to the petrol. It’s hallmark is excellent refinement, and a relaxed nature than suits high-milers. In sixth gear on the Aisin auto, it will coast at freeway speeds scarcely above idle.
That said, the improved petrol engine almost matches its fuel economy and offers more character and better urban refinement. You also won’t get dirty hands at the bowser. That said, if you want an Allure specification, you have no option.
The range flagship remains the GT, priced at $58,490 for the sedan and $61,490 as the wagon. This is Mercedes-Benz C-Class money, though the unchanged 150kW at 3500rpm and 450Nm at 2000rpm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine offers serious shove.
The revised pricing is $1700 higher than before, though in return it adds — over the old GT — extras such as all-LED headlights, sportier leather seats with red contrast stitching and massaging function on the driver’s seats. There’s also a head-up display fitted standard.
Given tight time constraints on this week’s local launch, we were unable to sample the GT. But we recall its unchanged engine as one that offers a formidable amount of low-down grunt.
Despite the tiered specification levels across the Active, Allure and GT, the cabin design feels fairly premium across the board, with good quality materials — though the mismatched head-lining (beige) and b-pillar inner covering (black) on our Allure was a bit naff.
The new seven-inch embedded screen is a welcome addition, though given the fast-moving world of technology, it already feels outpointed by the Mazda 6’s floating system with its transmission-tunnel-mounted rotary dial.
The 508’s interior is commendably spacious though, with plenty of rear legroom and headroom. You also get rear air vents. Cabin storage is also limited, with iffy pop-out cupholders and a small glovebox. The Allure’s seat-heating dials also eat into the phone holder you get on the Active.
Boot space remains a good 497 litres, and there’s a full-sized spare wheel underneath — on the Active. You can split-fold the seats to yield 1533L. The wagon, meanwhile, offers 612/1817L.
It’s also rather quiet at cruising speeds and over B-roads, with an obvious effort placed on noise suppression. This is especially evident on the Active petrol with its 17-inch wheels and 215/55 Michelin tyres, which is also the pick for ride comfort, given it dispatched what we threw at it.
The Allure, on its 18s with 235/45 Michelins, is the car we spent the most time in. Its all-round independent suspension ironed out the majority of nasties on the roads, though it showed a propensity to get a little jittery over rapid-fire corrugations.
We also caught out the rebound damping on occasion, with the car not quite selling down after a sizeable road dip quite as fast as we’d like. The electro-hydraulic steering is light, though a little too numb on centre to be properly progressive. Body control is kept under control given the focus on comfort.
Where the 508 feels most at ease is exactly where you’d expect. It’s a European motorway-eater, and if you spent a lot of time on freeways, it’s a genuinely fine companion.
From an ownership perspective, the 508 gets five-years worth of capped price servicing with intervals of 12-months/15,000km, and three-years/100,000km warranty cover — half the time length of stablemate Citroen.
It is clear that Peugeot has made some worthy changes to the 508 range, with better value and some good cabin revisions chief among the improvements.
For our money, the $37,990 Active is the clear pick, given the significant price jump further up the range to the Allure, though we still reckon an Active petrol wagon option would be a good option to introduce.
With the VF Commodore a rival at one end, and the Mazda 6, Subaru Liberty, Hyundai Sonata and forthcoming new Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat models as rivals at the other end, the 508 will continue to have its work cut out for it.
There’s no denying it remains a lovely, refined French large-car, however.