James heads to France (again) for a wedding (again) and drives a Peugeot (again) - this time the 508 Allure.
Another year, another wedding in France, and another Peugeot to spend some quality time with – this time the lion’s large car, the 2015 Peugeot 508 Allure sedan.
If my life was a movie (Affleck rumoured for the role #TMZ), then this would be European Vacation 2, or 3… To cut a long story short, one of the bridal party from the wedding we attended last year loved it so much, she decided to have her wedding in France too. A different part of France mind you, so totes original.
So after a solid 30 hours of travelling, the family and I found ourselves on the final leg of the John Candy ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ trifecta, behind the wheel of the big Pug heading to a Châteaux in Provence for the impending nuptials.
It was lovely. In summary; champagne, cheese and wine flowed freely, and everyone had a great time.
The official part of the French visit over, we were to spend the next couple of weeks enjoying the cavalcade of delights that Southern and Alpine France has to offer, the Peugeot our trusty steed to aid the journey.
Recently facelifted, the 2015 French market 508 Allure is ‘pretty’ similar in specification to its Australian counterpart. In fact, my French car was the exact same colour as the 508 sedan we had in the Melbourne office a few weeks prior (strangely the colour name changes across the timezones – Bourrasque Blue in France, Egyptian Blue in Australia).
The new nose, with sharper lines and classy LED running lamps, lifts the appeal of the 508 and certainly gives a more premium look to the Peugeot. The rear features new LED lamps and a slightly modified rump, but catch it at the wrong angle and it can still look a bit bulbous and dumpy.
It’s a bit less French than it used to be (a good thing), and while not quite at the level of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, it’s bringing a good fight to the likes of the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb - perhaps think of it as a French Volvo.
There are a few other discrepancies in terms of equipment between the French and Australian cars (more on that later) but the Normandy plated 6-speed manual 508 was to make an excellent base for comparison, and also to see if we truly had passed ‘peak displacement’ – requiring a big car to have a big engine to work well.
Peak displacement isn’t some new term you have missed (I’ve just made it up now), but it’s my way of describing the movement away from three-litres and above, to two-litres and below for powerplants in large cars.
It used to be assumed, that anything over ‘medium’ designation, particularly in Australia, would have at least a 3-litre V6 heart pumping away under the bonnet. Anything smaller was for milk, juice and compact cars.
But things are changing.
Case in point, Tony recently awarded the 2015 Audi A6 1.8 TFSI a 9/10 rating. That’s an A6 with an engine the same size as I used to have in an A3 – and I remember deliberating for days on whether to buy the 2.0-litre for the fear the plucky 1.8 wouldn’t have enough oomph.
The Peugeot 508 has a 110kW / 370Nm 2-litre turbo diesel, slightly different to the 120 kW / 340Nm output in Australia, but the French car is mated to a six-speed manual transmission, a choice not offered in our market.
Now these numbers aren’t exactly stratospheric, and European sedans with 2-litre diesels are nothing new, but when it comes to fully loaded, mixed-mode touring in comfort, is it enough?
With bags, soft friends and family all loaded up, we were going to find out.
Calling the 508 out as Peugeot’s ‘large’ car is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, it is the ‘largest’ car in the range and it is ‘larger’ than the popular 308, but at 4,830mm long the 508 is shorter than the Volkswagen Passat and Holden (Opel) Insignia – placing it firmly in the medium-sized camp.
This too feels like a bit of an unfair assessment when zipping along rural French roads in lanes that feel thinner than the car’s 1,828mm width, or worse yet, when negotiating a multi-story underground carpark – it’s all relative though, so while the Pug felt big around the scores of Renault Twingos and Fiat 500s, it’s still no Commodore.
That said, the 497-litre boot was able to swallow two full-size cases, two backpacks, two carry-on cases and a bunch of other accumulated kit. There wasn’t much room left over, but getting all of that in and stored away from prying eyes was important and handled very well by the Peugeot.
On the boot though – once you find out how to open it without the fob (it honestly took me the best part of ten-days to figure it out) – by pressing the ‘James Bond’ like button in the center of the 0 in the 508 badge, there is a strangely thick load lip over the rear bumper that makes the trim susceptible to frequent scuffs and marks.
What is nice though are the gutters for the gooseneck hinges, meaning you cannot pack the boot to only have the hinges squash your bags when you close it up.
The seats can fold, plus there is a ski-port behind the center arm-rest in the back seat – which allows six year-old arms to easily sneak in and raid the croissant supplies you were saving for that picnic in the park…
The back seat has ample room all round, and the inclusion of air vents and big door pockets make it a comfortable space for both big and little people.
Up front, once you get used to sitting on the left, the cabin is pleasant and spacious and essentially identical to the Australian version – steering wheel change not withstanding.
It’s actually interesting to see what alters and what doesn’t in the switch from left to right-hand drive. The infotainment selection buttons that are used the most – volume, navigation and media – are all now closer to the driver, as is the menu function on the seven-inch touch screen itself.
The French specification includes a colour heads-up display that folds up in behind the instrument binnacle. I’m already used to a heads-up in my BMW X5 and found this one excellent for not only speed reminders but noting where the cruise control was set or the distance to my next navigation waypoint.
It meant too, that the primary screen could be moved off the navigation map to show audio (there are lots of fights about whose songs are playing on our family road-trips…), without causing any extra stress, grey hair or general angst from the driver.
While on the touch screen, it could be slow to react some times and would randomly change music input from the radio to the iPod (when charging a phone) – but this might have been the cable getting repeatedly slammed in the center console, where the USB charge points are located.
Adjustments for the heads-up could be made from the switch panel within the switch panel, which now actually made sense – as on the Australian car with no HUD, opening this tricky drawer with a symbol for the lights on it, allowed you to just adjust the light angle and seemed like an awful lot of overkill for a minimally used function.
The coin tray – Peugeot call it a phone tray, which it really is, but if you’ve ever travelled on European toll roads, you need a bankroll of Euros at the ready so the cavity became a mobile piggy bank – has a nice sliding cover, as well as a couple of coin-slots on the side.
There are buttons that link to Peugeot’s SOS driver support and information service, but neither were working in our car (they are linked to an owner account).
Materials are nice and feel upmarket, and overall the cabin is a pleasant place to spend time. The leather/cloth combination seats were typically Peugeot comfortable, with the lumbar support on the driver’s seat helping to seal the deal.
Ergonomics are ‘mostly’ European rather than French (no crazy extra dongles on the steering wheel for cruise or audio this time!) but the placement of the cup holders – which extend out form below the screen – are a bit silly as anything in there blocks the centre screen from both vision and touch interactions.
One side point on the cup holders, though – they sit right in front of the air vents so on a hot day, you can keep a can of Orangina chilled by adjusting the vent slightly. The more you know!
Driving along the stunning rock-lined roads of the Alpilles in Provence, the Peugeot showed excellent composure and direct turn-in through the winding hills. Peugeots have long been known for their excellent match of ride comfort and precise handling, and the 508 is no exception.
The mixture of freshly surfaced B-roads to cobbled city streets and narrow rural lanes, the Pug soaked it all up in its stride. The steering is weighted just right for a car like this and it responds exactly how you expect it to.
Parallel parking was usually a simple affair – with rear sensors helping maximise those tight spots, but as mentioned earlier, tight underground car parks were sometimes challenging for the 508. It may not be large on paper, but it feels it in those spots.
Further east and heading down the winding hills from La Turbie into Monaco, on the roads made famous by the film Ronin, the Peugeot still feels wider than everything else, but again performs admirably. I couldn’t imagine how it would be piloting an old 450SEL 6.9 through these corners – you’re a braver man than I, Jean Reno.
The manual shift isn’t the smoothest in the business, something likely amplified by having to refamiliarize myself with sitting on the wrong side of the car, but the Pug dealt with regular changes up and down the ratios just fine.
Heading up hills, the Peugeot needed to be kept on boost to maintain response in your chosen gear. Sit a little too long behind a Picasso towing a caravan up an alpine pass, and there was regularly a need to drop back to first, and essentially start the ascent again.
None of this was really putting the 2-litre diesel to the test though. Two tanks of diesel, 1,587km and an average of 6.4L/100km down (much higher than the claimed urban cycle of 4.4L/100km), we hit the Autoroute and headed south.
Driving on the freeway in France is a wonderful experience. Signs ‘recommend’ speeds for the weather conditions, speed cameras have warnings (which… ah, I might have missed on one occasion…) and everyone moves back to the right after overtaking. The roads are well maintained, there are regular rest stops, and the scenery is stunning – it is as close to ‘road trip Utopia’ as you can get.
You pay heavily for the privilege though and can easily see toll charges creep to the hundreds of Euros if you use them frequently – but there really is no better way to eat up the road miles quickly.
This is where my ‘peak displacement’ point comes in. Running at speeds up to 110km/h, the 508 settled in to regular consumption of about 3.8L/100km – up on the impressive claim of 3.4L/100km, but with a loaded car and air-conditioning on, I’m not too fussed about that extra 400mL per 100km.
It’s no rocket ship to get there, but pull out of the Péage toll station like it is an old-school LeMans start and you’re at cruising speed soon enough. Plus the couple of times I needed to overtake quickly, from 110km/h up to 130km/h and back again was simply a matter of dropping back to 5th and the response was there.
Creep the average pace up to around 130km/h and the consumption climbs accordingly to around the 5L/100km mark. Sit on 150km/h and you’ll be sipping over 6L/100km in no time.
Now, let's be clear here, a 110kW, 2-litre diesel, 1500kg, four-door sedan barreling along at 42-meters per second using just 6L/100km is pretty impressive. It’s not relevant for Australia, but it’s still impressive, and more to the point – it was extremely quiet and comfortable at this speed.
Slowing to ‘Australian’ speeds and watching the consumption drop showed me how far we have progressed with the efficiency of modern engines. After one fill up, the trip computer suggested a 1160km range. That’s like driving from Melbourne to the Queensland border on one tank!
This economy from a ‘normal’ car really is quite staggering, particularly considering a Holden Commodore SV6 claims 9L/100km, but in the course of the journey, I passed not only nuclear power generator but solar, hydro and wind power farms. Europe is years ahead of us in terms of efficiency and environmental impact for industrial power, so why are we so surprised they are with cars.
While our national speeds aren’t the fastest, they resonate with modern economy figures. Knowing that you have plenty of ground to cover and can do so in comfort and in all likelihood, sub 5L/100km – without having to resort to expensive and heavy hybrid components, it’s a wonder more long distance touring in Australia isn’t done with just a big jug of milk under the bonnet.
In a medium sedan - you really don’t need more.
In all, we covered 3,120km with an average of 6.3L/100km at 60km/h. While that included plenty of Autoroute cruising miles, there was a lot of stop/start city congestion and low-gear mountain passes in the mix too. The car was usually laden and the air-conditioner was always on.
The Peugeot 508 was a comfortable, capable tourer – with just the right level of premium feel, but here’s the best bit…
The 508 is built in France and the Allure costs €34,650, or about AUD$52,000. As I mentioned earlier, there are some minor specification differences, but in general the Australian market Allure has more goodies (full leather interior, quad-zone climate control, reverse camera, blind spot detection – all optional on the French car) and now costs just $44,990.
So yes, to all those people complaining that cars cost more in Australia – the 2015 Peugeot 508 Allure is actually cheaper and better equipped than in the country of its manufacture. Factor in the cheaper toll roads and fuel costs and the big French sedan makes an excellent value proposition.
We know that French cars aren’t for everyone. The excellent new Volkswagen Passat, when it arrives in Australia later this year, will no doubt be the ‘sensible’ option for many mid-sized executive buyers. But it's not the only option.
The smaller Peugeot 308 has been successful in presenting a very viable, and just a little bit more ‘French’, alternative to the Volkswagen Golf, so with a fresh look and more value on its side, can the quality all-rounder Peugeot 508 do the same?
If you don't mind a croissant and prefer d'affinois to sauerkraut, then the big Pug is most certainly worth a look.