As one of the most expensive and up-market Peugeot models ever built, this 508 RXH needs to look the part. It does. Following in the tradition popularised by tough all-wheel drive estates like the Subaru Outback and the Volvo XC70, it rides higher (50mm loftier than a conventional 508) and gets tastefully overt plastic body cladding as well as more important under-body protection measures. There's a wider track too, both front and rear, Peugeot extending the width between the front wheels by 40mm, giving the RXH a solidly planted look. And a purposeful one too, thanks in part to a front end illuminated by three LEDs strips on either side that form what the French designers see as a 'lion claw' formation. In case this isn't enough to clear the outside lane, there's also an array of seven orange LEDs that form the directional indicators. At the rear, the lights form an elegant red band that glows brightly when they illuminate.
But under all this frippery, you've a shape that isn't much different to that of any ordinary well specified 508 SW estate from this era. Well, it is the same from the B-pillars forwards - and that's what makes this design so clever. Hybrid engines prior to the one fitted to this RXH you see, were usually enormously complicated things, designed from scratch, expensive solutions for eco-conscious motorists resulting in stand-alone models like Toyota's Prius. The French PSA Group wanted a simpler, more cost-effective approach and with their HYbrid4 technology, they thought they had it.
This approach kept everything standard at the front end of the car, with an ordinary off-the-shelf engine conventionally driving the front wheels. At the back, the PSA engineers simply replaced the normal rear axle with one that packaged in an electric motor, driving the rear wheels. Front and rear communicate electronically depending on the traction needed and power switches seamlessly between engine and battery as required. A brilliantly straightforward solution that enabled Peugeot and its partner Citroen to bolt hybrid technology into just about any model they made in this era.
At the launch of this RXH, we were also told that the packaging issues had been carefully thought through to ensure that the hybrid system's nickel-metal hydride batteries mounted above the rear axle didn't eat too greatly into luggage space. Unfortunately, they did - a bit. Raise the rear hatch and you'll find that luggage capacity falls from the 512-litres you get in an ordinary 508 estate from this era to 423-litres in this car. You do though get a useful 11-litres of extra compartmentalised storage capacity under the boot floor. If that's not enough, then you can use two side wall-mounted levers to flatten the 60/40-split rear bench, at which point total carriage capacity is revealed at 1439-litres - down from 1598-litres in the standard car.
There are no special compromises for passengers though, with a cabin formula unchanged over that of any other 508. So, though in the back you don't get the practical touches you might find on some MPVs - sliding or reclining seats for example - you do get space for up to three adults to be accommodated and two to sit really comfortably.
It certainly feels spacious when you're up front though - something further emphasised by the huge standard cielo panoramic glass roof that floods the interior with light when you retract its electric blind. And it's a cabin well built enough to justify the premium prices being asked. Brushed aluminium and shaded lacquers blend with expensive soft-touch materials and metallic trim around the dash and there are plenty of hi-tech touches like the Head Up display that projects key driving information onto the bottom half of the windscreen so you don't have to take your eyes off the road. There are plenty of practical touches too, with endless cubbies, drawers and pockets collectively offering up to 22-litres of extra oddments space.
We came across plenty of very satisfied 508 RXH buyers in our ownership survey but inevitably, there were a few issues. One owner complained of the wipers hitting the A-pillars. Another had issues with the air conditioning, the wipers, the stereo and the electrics. We came across reports of various interior rattles, so make sure the car you're testing was one of the better screwed-together ones. Another owner found the engine cutting out in cold weather. Otherwise, it's just the usual things. Check the alloy wheels for kerbing damage. And the rear part of the interior for child damage. And insist on a fully stamped-up service record.
(approx based on a 2015 508 RXH excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are between £31-£78 depending on brand. A pair of rear brake pads are between £18-£44. A pair of front brake discs start in the £45 to £60 bracket, but you can pay up to £130 for pricier brands. A pair of rear brake discs start in the £40 to £75 bracket, but you can pay up to £120 for pricier brands. A rear shock absorber costs around £25. Air filters sit in the £9-£11 bracket. Oil filters cost around £4-£6 and a timing belt is around £24. A rear lamp sits in the £160-£180 bracket; a headlamp is around £300.
The RXH will offer a new kind of driving experience, whatever kind of car you perceive it to be. Is it an Audi allroad-style go-anywhere 4WD estate? Then what of the dead silence that greets you when you turn the key? This prior to equally hushed milk float mode progress for up to two and a half miles, provided the batteries are charged, the car's not too cold and you don't exceed 31mph. This kind of thing you expect from an eco-conscious Prius-like hybrid, the kind of car that wears its green credentials on its sleeve. Except that this one doesn't.
At the wheel, there's little of its ground-breaking technology on display. Your passengers won't even notice the almost imperceptible change in engine note as you pick up speed or pass the city limits and the 163bhp HDi diesel engine driving the front wheels seamlessly cuts in to assist the 37bhp AC electric motor that powers those at the rear, making this, in theory at least, a four wheel drive machine. Like virtually all hybrids, this one comes only with an automatic gearbox, with a set of steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles should you wish to take control yourself. This is PSA's 6-speed EGS system, as already used in e-HDi models across Peugeot's line-up, It's a jerky set-up in those cars - but less so here, thanks to the way the electric motor fills in the gaps in the diesel engine's power delivery. The result is better, but still not as smooth as conventional competitors can manage with their ultra-smooth dual-clutch auto 'boxes.
Ah yes, the power delivery. With a combined output of 200bhp and a combined 450Nm of torque, 200Nm of it from the electric motor, that facilitates a towing capacity of up to 1,100kg, you'll be expecting this RXH to be pretty rapid. But if you are, then you're failing to take account of the 200kg weight penalty that comes with all the batteries and everything else required for hybrid motoring. That's equivalent to the weight of a couple of extra passengers and it explains why this car is effectively no faster than an ordinarily 508 2.0 HDi diesel variant with 50bhp less: rest to sixty takes 9.5s on the way to 132mph.
You'll need to be in 'Sport' mode with its quick gear shifts and active 4WD to be going this quickly, this one of four driving settings available via the circular controller down where the handbrake would normally be, were that function not taken care of by a rather fiddly electronic handbrake button. There are three other driving modes - and whichever one of the quartet you choose, you can easily monitor what's being driven by what on the colour screen on top of the dash, there to clearly show which wheels are being driven and how they're being powered.
If the roads are slippery, you might want to select the setting the tough, rugged styling cues most ready brings to mind - the '4WD' option. Here, torque is split 60/40 front-to-rear and both axles are instructed to work together to maximise traction over humps you'll stand a better chance of scaling thanks to a ride height increased over a standard 508 estate by 50mm - to 184mm. Hardly lofty but thanks to an approach angle of 15.6-degrees and a departure angle of 19.8-degrees, this RXH can climb and descend gradients steeper than 1-in-2 and climb diagonally over shocking terrain twists without so much as a creak from its structure.
Which is all just enough to mean that you can also bring this extra grip to bear on excursions into the country. A wider track both front and rear and various underbody protection measures also play their part in making sure that unmade tracks, rutted farm roads and snowy slopes will all be within your compass, especially with a set of winter tyres fitted. But the Serengeti you'll need to leave to Ranulph Fiennes. Pretty much all the off road capability you'd get from a soft roading compact SUV, in other words, and as good - if not better - than comparable SUV-style all-wheel drive estates in this segment from this era like the Audi A4 allroad, the Subaru Outback, the Volvo XC70 and the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack.
But unlike these rivals, this Peugeot has another, more eco-conscious string to its bow, one you're most likely to appreciate when you're in town. Here, providing your batteries are fully charged, you'll be able to select the 'ZEV' ('Zero Emissions Vehicle') setting, which will keep you in fuel-saving electric-only mode for as long as the nickel-metal hydride cells hold out.
So, 'Sport', '4WD' and 'ZEV': they're all fun modes to play with for the first few days of ownership, but after a bit, we found ourselves doing what most owners will: simply clicking the thing into its fourth 'Auto' setting and leaving it to do its own thing. The electronics, after all, are much cleverer than you are and in this mode will always choose the optimum setting for the driving conditions you're in, be that electric or diesel power, two or four wheel drive. It'll assume that you'll want to use electric propulsion whenever possible, but assuming your speed is low enough to bring this into play, that'll depend on the range of the batteries at any given time, something influenced by a couple of factors that are pretty much down to the way you drive.
First, there's the issue of just how much recharging the batteries are getting - the more braking and off-throttle cruising you do, the better. And second, the question of exactly how hard you're driving when you are under electric propulsion. To help you monitor both aspects, Peugeot's designers did away with the usual rev counter dial on the left of the instrument binnacle and replaced it with a power meter.
So how does that work? Well, if you're cruising with foot off the throttle - or better still, braking, the needle will drop down to the blue 'charge' band, re-energising the battery for the next time you need to run in 'ZEV' or 'Zero Emission Vehicle' electric mode. To maximise the range of this setting, you'll need to throttle lightly and keep the needle in 'Eco', the other blue band just above. Accelerate a little harder and the needle will move on upwards, clockwise around the dial, showing the percentage of power being used. A bit like the power gauge you get in a Rolls Royce, but a lot less pointless.
So that's a quick guide to how it all works. But how will it feel when you're out and about? Well let's start with ride quality. With a hi-tech multi-link suspension set-up that was necessary for the designers to be able to accommodate the electric motor in the middle of axle, it ought to be good, but in fact, the ride can be a little unsettled on poor surfaces. On the plus side, refinement in excellent (thanks in part to the laminated side windows), the steering is precise and progressive, grip levels are fine and body roll is very well controlled through tight corners - much better than you'd expect given the increased ride height.
Peugeot knows a thing or two about electric cars, but it also knows that there's plenty of life left yet in the internal combustion engine which despite all odds, still remains the most efficient and versatile way of powering any production vehicle. Combining the two, along with PSA's world-leading HDi diesel technology, makes a lot of sense, particularly when it comes to a large, heavy family car like this one.
All right, so this 508 RXH is hardly inexpensive - but then, the cleverest technology rarely is. And the premium this hi-tech demands over the cost of an ordinary medium range all-wheel drive estate is no more than you'd pay to get a more prestigious badge on your enamelled key fob. If you can afford to fund such a premium, this is a cleverer way of spending your money, not least because you'll get much of your investment back in lower tax demands and more frugal running costs. You'd be forgiven for doubting that 4WD and eco-friendly motoring could ever go together. This car proves it possible.