In the aftermath of the RCZ sports car, which ended production in 2015, Peugeot declared it wouldn’t create a dedicated sports car again. Not because it was a bad car, but because it was resource-intensive in a shrinking market segment.
Fast-forward to today, however, and the new 2020 Peugeot 508 GT looks more like a successor to the swoopy coupe that came before it, than the staid sedan of the same name that is technically its predecessor.
Obviously, the new 508 isn’t the RCZ’s replacement, but visually it is every bit as eye-catching, and as rewarding to drive, if not more so.
In Australia, the new 508 sits as Peugeot’s flagship model, and befitting that halo status it comes in one single fully loaded ‘GT’ trim level. There’s no optional engine, transmission or driveline layout. Apart from a choice of wagon or the five-door fastback sedan seen here, that’s it.
It plays the Euro-prestige card somewhat, meaning a $53,990 start price for the sedan (before options and on-road costs) equipped with a 165kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, eight-speed torque converter automatic and front-wheel drive.
That puts it in a heady market position. Cheaper yet more powerful than a Mercedes-Benz C200 or BMW 320i, but matched for torque. Way ahead of the Audi A4 for engine outputs, but only a touch cheaper (note, a base A4 has the same power and torque as a Volkswagen Golf). Or, behind the front-running Volvo S60 T5 when it comes to outputs, but squeezed by that car’s impressive pricing.
While those market similarities exist, and seem like perhaps the most logical comparison, the Peugeot 508 is officially classed as a non-premium large car in Australia, not a prestige mid-sizer. That puts it in the shark tank with cars like the Holden Commodore, Kia Stinger and Skoda Superb.
Where Peugeot really makes its presence known is with its styling. Chiselled angular looks, squat proportions, dramatic lighting treatments. You’d almost believe it was a concept car were it not for the somewhat sedate 18-inch wheels at each corner.
These haven’t always been traditional Peugeot brand anchors, but with each new model the brand is cementing itself as a design powerhouse, it seems.
That design nous continues inside with a further refinement of what Peugeot calls iCockpit – an interior layout that puts instruments above a tiny steering wheel and wipes most of the cabin clean of buttons, shifting functions to the central touchscreen.
To top it off, what remains of the centre stack is angled towards the driver, the console is high creating a driver-centric feel, and there’s low-slung seating to preserve some head room under the dramatically chopped roof.
Perhaps a little disappointingly, the brand has stuck with traditional materials for the interior: leather, quality plastics, faux carbon and gloss black trims are much as you’d find them in other brands. In the past, Peugeot has shown felt and textile alternatives to set itself apart (both in concept and production), but hasn’t extended their use to its flagship model.
The 508 successfully treads the line between plush and sporty, with seats that grip yet come with soft-grain nappa leather and a massage function up front to take the pain out of long-haul trips.
Rear-seat passengers will find space to stretch out in most directions once they are in, but the trick will be clearing the low-cut roof line to get in, followed by fairly trim head room that taller occupants are sure to fall out of love with very quickly.
A fully stocked equipment list sees heated power-adjustable front seats with memory recall, auto lights and wipers, blue LED accent lighting, dual-zone climate control, proximity key entry and start, front and rear parking cameras and sensors, and privacy tint all included as standard features.
Of particular note is Peugeot’s 12.3-inch digital driver display, placed in lieu of a projected head-up display, along with a 10.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus embedded navigation, digital radio, car settings and control menus, and climate functions. Audio reaches your ears via a crisp and clear 10-speaker audio system designed by French hi-fi specialist, Focal.
As with other Peugeot and Citroen vehicles, having to switch screens to go from changing the radio to altering the temperature seems to put too much emphasis on the touchscreen system. And while it keeps the interior streamlined, there are times you’re left waiting as screens load – despite resolution that’s a long way from the crispest available.
Safety and driver tech are equally well represented with six airbags, autonomous emergency braking at city and highway speeds, with vulnerable road-user detection, fatigue detection, lane-keep assist and departure warning, self-parking capability, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise control linked to traffic sign recognition, highway lane positioning, ISOFIX child seat mounts, and a pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet.
On the road, the Peugeot 508 GT lives up to its GT credentials. Riding on adaptive suspension, the general attitude is comfort-biased, but still well-controlled enough that errant body movements are kept in check.
Cycling through drive modes brings more weight to the steering and makes the suspension firmer, though never brittle or aggressive The transmission’s sport mode livens up shifts, but as novel as it may be, the default seems to be the 508’s happiest fit.
Although the engine’s moderate outputs are unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of fellow cars like the V6 Kia Stinger, the Peugeot holds its own alongside entry-level premium cars. For commuter duty in and about town, the 508 has what it takes.
If you are after dedicated performance, the big Peugeot is less likely to fit the bill, but as a balanced all-rounder it’s more than up to the task. The engine has to work hard when pushed, but the rewarding steering feel and settled and secure ride are impressive across a broad range of conditions.
One aspect of the 508 you won’t feel, see or hear while driving is its inclusion of a petrol particulate filter to reduce emissions. For reference, a similar system has been used in diesel exhaust systems for years.
Other brands have shied away in Australia so far over reliability fears tied to local fuel quality and sulphur levels. Peugeot is confident in the tech and cites the need for ‘cleaner’ premium unleaded (95RON) as key to making a PPF work without issue.
Official fuel consumption quotes 6.3 litres per 100km, while on test we recorded a still decent, if slightly higher, 7.1L/100km.
Comfort is one of the Peugeot’s big drawcards. The supple ride works on damaged road surfaces, the seats are supportive and comfortable for long drives (with extendable thigh support an added bonus), and road and wind noise are low.
Although they look slightly undersized against the 508’s angular body, the 18-inch wheels mean there’s a touch more sidewall to deal with rough roads in a more forgiving way (running 235/45R18 tyres), but if aesthetics take priority, 19-inch wheels are available via Peugeot’s accessory list.
If you’re travelling with friends or family, the 487L boot should easily tackle golf clubs or a weekend or more of luggage, though it’s far from the most generous in the class. There’s little in the way of utility features inside the boot, just one low-down bag hook, but the aperture is wide and low to make loading easier.
Peugeot runs capped-price servicing with 12-month or lengthy 20,000km intervals (whichever comes first) tallying $3507, which puts it on the high side amongst similarly positioned vehicles. Warranty spans five years with no kilometre limit, giving Peugeot points ahead of most prestige brands.
As a refreshing alternative to staid sedans from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, the Peugeot 508 GT has the design and specifications to cut through; however, it’s unlikely to resonate with buyers who value badge cred above all else.
A lack of recognition is bad news for Peugeot, especially with a sales battle made all the more difficult by better-known mainstream models from Mazda, Volkswagen and Skoda, all of whom are also trying to stake a claim on the mainstream prestige market.
Through no fault of its own, the 508 faces an uphill battle. It’s a well rounded and complete offering with genuine touches of luxury and some advanced engineering baked in, and destined to remain a niche player, but one that warrants investigation for buyers interested in dynamic, dramatic and exclusive motoring.