This pair offers European style and sensibility by the bootload, but very different designs make for curious competitors.
Don’t believe the numbers – large cars in Australia are more popular than ever.
The term cars is a loose one, however. While family-sized SUVs and work-or-play dual-cab utes dominate the market, the once conquering sedan and wagon market is a shadow of its former self.
There’s life left in the traditional large car, still, and no better reflection of how good things get than with these two five-door family liftbacks. Not the traditional family car of a decade ago, but all the better for it.
Both have a strong sense of Euro prestige about them despite coming from mainstream (if slightly left of centre) brands.
Both supply impressive levels of space and practicality, but the Peugeot 508 GT and Skoda Superb 162TSI tread divergent paths.
Pricing and specs
There’s no close price match for this pair at first glance. In its most basic trim, a Superb 162TSI starts from a high-value $43,990 before on-road costs and options. Meanwhile, Peugeot puts its hand out for $53,990.
Peugeot’s plan is to go in fully loaded.
There’s only one high-spec GT trim level for the 508 in Australia, and metallic paint and a sunroof are the only optional orders.
Skoda tempts with a lower entry price for its single-spec Superb, but allows a greater array of options.
Comfort, Image and Tech packs are available alone, or in combination, as is a sunroof and metallic paint, pushing a fully loaded Superb close to the price of a 508.
To break it down further, the 508’s $53,990 would grow to $57,540 with $1050 paint and $2500 roof options added. The Superb would grow to $53,990 with Tech ($4300), Comfort ($1500), Image ($1800), paint ($700) and sunroof ($1700).
Neither of the cars we tested was sunroof-equipped, but otherwise all other options were ticked.
Under the bonnet of each you’ll find a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, and the Superb’s is a 2.0-litre making 162kW at 6200rpm and 350Nm from 1500 to 4400rpm.
The 508 runs a smaller 1.6-litre engine, but manages similar outputs of 165kW at 5500rpm and 300Nm at 2750rpm.
Power is sent to the front wheels in each instance, with Peugeot delivering via an eight-speed torque converter automatic compared to the six-speed dual-clutch auto used by Skoda.
Note, too, Skoda expects to roll updated MY20 Superbs into Australian showrooms at a date still to be confirmed, though around mid-year seems likely at this stage.
As high-specced aspirational models, neither is short for equipment. Within both you’ll find standard fixtures aplenty.
Automatic climate control with two zones in the 508 or three in the Superb, auto lights and wipers, leather trim (real bits and imitation in the Superb, nappa in the 508), powered driver’s seat with memory, and front seat heating are some of the features in common.
To bring the Superb closer to the 508, you’ll need to add the option packs with interior ambient lighting, powered passenger seat, and proximity key with push-button start accounting for some of the Peugeot's standard fare that Skoda offers as add-ons.
On the infotainment front, Peugeot’s 10.0-inch screen plays Skoda’s 9.2-inch display real estate, both feature touch interfaces, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, inbuilt navigation, Bluetooth, and USB inputs.
Skoda is alone in offering a CD player, while Peugeot counters with digital radio and a wireless charge pad for mobile devices.
Neither features a projected head-up instrument display, but Peugeot refers to its high-set standard digital cluster as a HUD. Skoda sticks with traditional dials, though it is possible to add a digital version via the options list.
In terms of operations, Peugeot has stripped its cabin almost completely bare of buttons and runs all interior controls through the touchscreen.
There are shortcut keys along the base of the screen, which are easy enough to use, but perhaps not as convenient as physical controls for things like climate and radio.
Peugeot also masks laggy load times with animation sequences for both the digital display and instrument cluster. Skoda’s system, meanwhile, features much sharper graphics, crisp contrast and snappier load times.
The Superb has more buttons throughout the interior and feels more natural to use as a result.
Style is really key to the 508, while the Superb hangs its hat on practicality. You drop down into the low driver’s seat and duck under the swept roof of the Pug, whereas you simply open the door and sit in the Superb.
The 508 wraps around you, feeling more cockpit-like from the driver’s seat and more intimate in the rear.
The Superb has a much more relaxed feel, with a more open-plan layout that feels airy, spacious, and plays in the available interior space.
Skoda’s interior is far and away more conservative, but still pushes a somewhat premium look and feel via the materials chosen. Rear seat tablet holders, rear seat footrests, manual sun shades, and plenty of storage provide passengers with more items of interest, too.
Peugeot has developed a neat habit of late with premium and interesting-looking materials used throughout its cabins.
Even though it’s the sleeker of the pair, low-set seats try to offset the less capacious cabin. The lower hip point requires a little extra effort to extract yourself from, and in the rear the lack of head room and toe space will stand out for adults, though leg room is still decent.
Peugeot includes massaging front seats, but Skoda does without.
Cabin storage is smaller just about everywhere, the console, glovebox and door bins have all been downsized, and there are no rear sun shades, though both cars pipe face-level fresh air into the rear.
Once again, Skoda takes the lead on practicality with a huge 625L of storage. The load lip is high, but the versatility of seat-release levers, sturdy bag hooks, tie-down points, and even a removable torch make the Superb more useful.
There’s a still healthy 487L of room under the 508’s tailgate and power opening is standard (it’s an option on the Superb).
The opening is wider and lower, but there’s a long bumper to clear, and the boot itself lacks levers and offers only one hook, from which we couldn’t successfully hang anything due to its design and positioning.
It may well be that the Superb is the more practical and sensible of the two, with the 508 honed in on sporting style, but pitting the two side-by-side didn’t separate them as much as expected on the road.
There are differences. The most obvious being the 508’s more feelsome steering, with more prominent weighting, and a real sense of feel and feedback from the front end compared to the lighter and more insulated Superb.
From there, though, the Superb overtakes the 508 with a more eager engine. While the smaller Peugeot tries to hide its capacity disadvantage, it feels less eager to rev cleanly and quickly, and feels just a touch short on torque.
There’s no such issue with the Superb, and in concert with an impressive dual-clutch automatic and its more crisp and rapid gear changes on the go, the Skoda is an impressive driver's machine.
In contrast to what you might expect, the 508 is actually the friendlier and more cosseting car to drive around town.
More relaxed from gear to gear, and crucially more pliant over lumps and bumps in the road, the 508 GT is, indeed, a fantastic grand tourer – be that in and around the suburbs or out on the open road.
Skoda’s adaptive cruise control and speed limiter are a little more intuitive and user-friendly if you use them often, with Peugeot hiding the controls from view and forcing drivers to commit the controls to memory (you’ll get it with time, but it may take longer to learn).
The Skoda as tested, with larger 19-inch wheels and adaptive suspension, also lacked low-speed ride comfort and tended to fidget and firm up over little bumps in the road surface – at odds with the otherwise limo-like ambience.
Out of town, the ride settles and at speed the pair are equal parts comfortable and agile, though the Skoda’s lane assist nibbles at the steering constantly, whereas the Peugeot feels more natural.
There’s a touch more tyre noise at high speeds from the Superb, too, but without running the pair back-to-back, you’d be hard-pressed to call it out as a failing.
With a matching drive loop (for test purposes, a 51km circuit at an average of 41km/h in the Superb and 40km/h in the 508), the difference was utterly minimal.
The Skoda, a car that is both heavier (around 90kg) and has a larger engine, returned 7.4L/100km compared to 7.1L/100km from the 508.
Officially, the Skoda claims 6.6L/100km and the 508 promises 6.3L/100km, which makes both acceptably close to their claimed figures.
Service and warranty
On the surface, both of these family-sized five-doors look about equal with five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranties taking care of any unexpected faults or defects that may arise.
Both also lay out their service pricing with capped-price programs. In Skoda’s case, five years or 75,000km of servicing comes to $2736, while the Peugeot would require a more extravagant outlay of $3507.
Both service plans include all scheduled filters and fluids, and annual intervals, but for high-distance travellers the Superb needs to come back to the dealer every 15,000km, while the 508 can make 20,000km.
Skoda also offers pre-paid service packages with three- or five-year terms. A five-year package for the Superb costs just $1700 or the equivalent of the first two services free – staggeringly less than half of what the 508 would cost to keep on the road through official channels.
There’s really not much point dragging things out here. The Skoda Superb 162TSI is a clear points winner – it’s larger, more flexible, more versatile, and really demonstrates that Skoda understands how real people use their cars.
The Peugeot 508 GT doesn’t walk away completely humiliated, though. It takes a sleeker and more style-led path. It suffers on the space and utility fronts, a little not a lot, but it does feel like a more bespoke luxury automobile inside and out.
Neither fails when it comes to performance or handling, but the Superb is a dedicated family car and can’t hide those origins for better (usually) or worse. The 508 is more of the things coupés of old used to be, albeit with easier rear seat access and a more useful boot.
As an outright statement of style, the 508 is hard to go past.
It is packed with standard features and Peugeot’s one-for-all spec approach removes unnecessary complication.
On the other hand, Skoda manages to not only support value, but does so in a way that’s still big on premium and prestige features with an opportunity for buyers to mix and match some of the more top-end toys.
As an all-rounder, the Superb impresses, as a driver’s car it more than meets the mark, and as a luxury automobile there’s nothing left wanting. The 508 puts up a fair fight, but can’t topple the Superb in this clash.