2019 Peugeot 508 Fastback review

International first drive

The thought of buying a big sedan just got a lot more attractive.

Who buys a big sedan anymore? In Australia, the answer to that question is... not many.

Private sales of large and medium sedans have been dropping for some time, given the dominance of the SUV. Nonetheless, if your taste still calls back to days gone by, or if you just love the classic design of what a car is meant to look like, there is a new and awfully gorgeous choice heading our way: the Peugeot 508 Fastback.

The good news is that the Peugeot 508 Fastback isn’t really just another sedan. In fact, it tries really hard to be anything but. It’s sleek, and attractive. It’s the sort of car that may tempt you out of an SUV, on its looks alone. Compared to the previous-generation 508 sedan, the new liftback hatch 508 Fastback is 60mm shorter in height, and measures 80mm less in length, giving it a far sportier stance than it has ever had.

It’s the latest of the Peugeot family to get the new design language that has so far featured on the 3008 and 5008, and it seems the company’s head designer, Gilles Vidal, has kept his best work for the 508. The flagship. It’s hard to really see and capture its proportions in photos, but, we can assure you, it’s a striking car from any given angle.

It’s also nice to see the company has revived some of its history with the 508 badge now proudly sitting on the bonnet, paying homage to one of the world’s most iconic cars, the Peugeot 504 and the 504 coupe.

Australia will be getting both the Fastback and the Touring (sports wagon) version of the new 508 next year, so to find out how the latest French 'sedan' will fare, we came to Paris and went for a drive.

Let's talk quality. Here, it must be said: Peugeot's brand positioning can be confusing. The way the PSA list of companies works is that Citroen is at the bottom (think Skoda), Peugeot is pegged at the Volkswagen level, and the DS spinoff (formerly a Citroen sub-brand) is doing its best to take on the luxury segment. But, experiencing the current range, most would peg Peugeot as the flagship brand.

You only need to sit inside the new 508 and you’ll realise: it’s just not at Volkswagen level. It’s a step above.

The interior is absolutely gorgeous, with amazing leather seats and a general cabin ambience that you really can only expect from the French. It would easily qualify as Audi-level, if not better.

The tactile sensation of the surfaces are also first-rate, though to be fair, one of our four test cars had a few loose bits and unreasonably uneven panel gaps inside (the other three were hard to fault).

Peugeot continues with its i-Cockpit interior layout and display system that incorporates a small steering wheel with a 12.3-inch display and a 10-inch touchscreen. You’re meant to have the steering wheel lower than you probably are used to (which is why it’s small), which then allows you to see the instrument display. Some like this setup, but this writer isn’t a fan of being forced to have the steering wheel where it feels unnatural. This isn’t an issue in the 3008 due to the height of the cabin and it’s also nowhere near as annoying as the 208, but it will still get some getting used to. As will the concept of having to use the touchscreen to control the air-conditioning system. Nothing new for Peugeot, but it doesn’t make it right. Give us actual dials, please.

On the plus side, there’s heaps of room inside the cabin, both front and rear. This is a big sedan on the inside, without looking it from the outside. Peugeot’s interior designers have nailed the central control panel, with a piano key-like button layout and the driver-focused screen. It’s worth noting that the screen itself isn’t very well laminated to the glass (like you get from any modern iPhone or iPad) with a big gap between the glass and the LCD, which leads to a fair bit of glare for the passenger in direct sunlight.

The high-end models have wireless phone charging, which worked a treat with my iPhone (though the little bumpers that Peugeot engineers have put around the wireless charging matt may actually be too small for larger phablets) but you still have to manually plug in to get Apple CarPlay to work (unlike wireless Apple Carplay from brands like BMW).

The good news is that Peugeot’s infotainment system is one of the best in the business, so you almost don’t need smartphone mirroring.

The front seats are pretty supple and comfortable (though to be perfectly fair, they have nothing on Citroen’s comfort seats offered in the updated C4 Cactus), made to comply with a practitioner-backed association that champions good seat design to aid backaches.

The rear seating isn't designed for very tall passengers. Yours truly measures 179cm and dare I say, that’s the absolute maximum height of a rear passenger that will remain complaint-free. In fact, given the safety requirements and silhouette shape of the 508 fastback, even for someone always pretending to be 6ft, the roof tends to cave in around the rear doors on the inside, so, while you will likely have no issues with headroom when sitting, getting in and out means you will need to drop your head just that little bit more than you think. If that’s an issue, wait for the wagon, because that has an extra 4cm of headroom in the back.

Peugeot offers two ISOFIX child seat points in the rear that will need the leather to be unzipped to find. It’s a nice way of hiding the often-ugly points if you have no need for them. The boot measures a healthy 487 litres bigger than you’ll ever actually need. It’s also very low to the ground, so getting stuff in and out is pretty easy (tell that to your SUV-driving friends).

We drove two different engine variants that will both make it to Australia. Using the same 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the top of the range 508 GT will get the 169kW engine with 300Nm of torque. Fuel economy is likely going to be claimed at around 6.5L/100km of premium fuel.

If you don’t need that much power, you can always go for the lower-tune version, which has 133kW and 250Nm of torque (6L/100km), and that will be available in the GT line variants and below. Unfortunately, the only way to get the higher state of tune is to go for the top-spec GT model. All models are fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission (EAT8).

On the road the 169kW 508 is seriously faster than you’ll ever need to be in Australia. It gets up and goes with ease thanks to its very light 1420kg kerb weight. 0-100km/h is done in around 7.3 seconds but behind the wheel, it actually feels a lot quicker. We found its power and torque delivery to be very linear and smooth, although the transmission did seem to like holding on and not letting go of lower gears when you start having a bit of fun. This would be fine if it was in Sport mode (ECO/Sport/Comfort and Normal are your options), but we found it really spurred us to keep going fast even in normal mode when we just wished it would pick a higher gear and let the revs settle.

As well as getting a more powerful engine, the GT also gets adaptive suspension (and 19-inch wheels), which are adjusted via the four driving modes. It’s really hard to notice the difference in ride between comfort and sport on a smooth road, mainly because the 508 in general rides pretty well, but if you do happen to find some really jiggered surfaces, it can be jarring regardless of what mode it’s in.

In contrast, the standard car with its 18-inch wheels and base suspension seemed to have a more supple and consistent ride. It’s amazing what a smaller set of wheels will do for comfort.

The 133kW engine is genuinely all you need for the Peugeot 508 Fastback. Yes, it’s nice to have the more powerful engine, but don’t feel left out if you don’t want to stretch to the top-spec model, because this standard tune never felt lacking. It’s by no means slow and, certainly in terms of getting on the highway or charging up to the speed limit, it feels perfectly fine.

As a driver’s car, we felt the 508 lived up to its exterior design. This is a sporty car and one that delivers dynamic levels of competence befitting a brand with an immensely rich motorsport heritage. At times, we did find the steering a little sensitive, almost reacting to our movements before we had made them. It can take some getting used to.

There are some really interesting aspects of the Peugeot 508 Fastback (and Touring). The designers were adamant on the need for frameless doors, so when you open the door, the window is free and unencumbered. That adds a hell of a lot in the looks department, but in this day and age, that persistence of form of function requires a lot more engineering to meet the required safety standards.

One of those engineering feats is the thicker glass that Peugeot has used (1mm more than is common, to help increase body rigidity and safety). Other unique features include the boot and front wings being made from aluminium whilst the tailgate is manufactured from thermoplastic.

In terms of safety, we expect the Peugeot 508 to get a five-star ANCAP score, once it’s rated. Standard features will include autonomous emergency braking and a few other things, however if you’re willing to option up the packs (or go for the GT-line or GT), you will have access to a whole range of other features, from lane keeping, driver attention and high beam assist to adaptive cruise control and even a James Bond-like night-vision system (which you only really need if you intend to drive long distances on country roads at night).

All in all, the Peugeot 508 Fastback is a great option if you simply don’t want an SUV and are after something fun and sporty. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but expect it somewhere between $45-55,000 (a little lower or a little higher is possible). It’s worth cross-shopping with the Volkswagen Arteon.

Nonetheless, if you happen to walk into a Peugeot dealership looking to buy a 508 and end up with a more rational decision and purchase a 3008, you won’t regret that either.

MORE: 508 news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything Peugeot