Recommended. Strong refinement, generous accommodation, higher standards of finish, improved economy and sharper handling advance the 508 over the 407 it replaces - but not all versions convince
Many decades ago, Peugeot's cars were known for being a modest but critical cut above Fords, Vauxhalls and Renaults - their neat, traditional look quietly carrying a proud reputation for sound engineering and subtle refinement.
Now, with its latest models like the 3008, 5008 and the rather more glamorous RCZ coupe, the company is regaining some of that reputation, though in entirely modern style. And this latest pair of 508 saloon and estate, the kind of sizeable family models that were once Peugeot's mainstay in Europe, Africa and even America, is solidly continuing the trend. The modestly handsome machines finished to a standard that would have seemed a distant dream for a model wearing the lion badge a few years back.
Attractive seats, an elegant dashboard, high quality mouldings and, for the most part, classy trim make this 508 a civilised car to sit in, an aura that's convincingly maintained once it's on the move, whether that's at 20mph or 120mph. It's quiet, the body structure feels exceptionally robust and most of the time this car is comfortable too.
The 508 replaces the 407 saloon and estate, but despite being slightly bigger it actually weighs a little less, and backs this fuel-saving contribution with particularly slippery aerodynamics and in a couple of models, a stop-start system too, these achieving CO2 emissions of under 110g/km.
Engines concentrate on a 1.6-litre with and without a turbo on the petrol side, while diesels include a 1.6-litre in two states of tune, the more economical e-HDi mated to an automated manual transmission with stop-start. There is also a 2.0-litre and a 2.2-litre diesel on offer.
The best of these is the mid-range 2.0 diesel, its blend of fuss-free performance and decent economy suiting the 508's character well. And that's at its best on motorways, where its exceptional refinement and comfortable cabin produce a fine long-distance cruiser. It also fares well on twisty roads, its sharpened suspension producing confident cornering that's enjoyable to exploit, even if somewhat numb steering precludes it from qualifying as a sporting saloon.
That applies to the top-of-the-range version too, despite GT badging and more sophisticated front suspension - although it's swift, stable and well-controlled through fast-charged bends, it too lacks sufficient tactile feedback to be considered a keen driver's tool. Insufficient low-end torque from the 2.2 diesel, a sometimes unresponsive automatic transmission and a high price seal its fate as an also-ran. The impressively low CO2 of the e-HDi stop-start diesel is an acquired taste - the stop-start is excellent, but the automated manual is not always smooth unless driven with thought.
Further small disappointments include an annoying lack of in-cabin storage space, an awkward electronic handbrake on some models and a ride that we suspect will prove less than supple on Britain's frost-battered roads.
Of the two body styles the SW is clearly more useful, most versions of this equipped with a vast, ambience-enhancing glass roof. Choose the right version and the 508 makes a fine long-distance family car, its high-speed quiet, stable handling and airy cabins real strengths.
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