First drive: Peugeot 508
Space, refinement, interior finish, some modest weight-saving and excellent aerodynamics are what this new Peugeot family saloon and estate are about – and fuel-saving too, the most economical models scoring CO2 emissions of just 109g/km.
The company has also had a go at reinstating some of the agile cornering power for which its cars were once fabled, and the 508 also wears Peugeot's new look, its grille no longer a gurning, gaping orifice big enough to ingest medium-sized mammals whole.
Climb inside and first impressions are pretty good – there's a neatly crafted instrument pack set into a facia of high quality, a neat and classy-looking centre console, and an inviting set of seats. And if you're sitting in the SW (Peugeot speak for estate), upper-end versions get a vast glass roof that spreads spills light on you and soft furnishings in a very agreeable style.
Our first drive, however, was in a saloon equipped with a 204bhp 2.2 litre HDI diesel and Peugeot's revised six-speed automatic transmission – you can't have it with a manual, although it does have paddle shifts. This powertrain comes only in top of the range GT trim, which besides a small amount of extra kit including a head-up display, gets you a more sophisticated double wishbone front suspension in the quest to fulfil this model's sportier mission.
But this is no sports saloon – steering that suffers too much tactile disconnection, a diesel motor lacking the kind of forest-felling low-down torque that we've come to expect from modern oil-burners and a sometimes jerkily uncertain transmission see to that. This is disappointing, not only because this model doesn't earn its badging, but also because the chassis shows promise.
You'll immediately be impressed at the brisk, confident way the 508 noses into bends, its fine body control and promising grip encouraging you to up the pace if the corners keep on coming. Which will uncover excellent roadholding, very good balance, little roll – and have you wishing that the steering felt a little more in touch with the road below. Eventually, you'll find that you don't feel like hustling this car quite as keenly as it's capable of.
Another impediment is the drivetrain. Most modern diesels hit their torque peak usefully below 2,000rpm these days, hooking you up to an almost instantly available wall of pulling power. But this 2.2 litre motor's peak arrives at 2,000rpm, and that's enough to matter, the GT 508 failing to advance with the pile-driving authority that many of its competitors manage.
Couple this to a transmission that even in sport mode often seems to be in the wrong gear for twisting back-roads, and you end up with a car in which it's easier, and more rewarding, to sit back, relax and merely cruise.
And cruising the 508 is good at, especially on motorways. It's very quiet, comfortable and at these higher speeds gathers pace more easily. As a device to pound the motorway network – and that's what cars in this class are mostly about – it's excellent. The cabin's a roomy and almost luxurious space to occupy too, even if some detail cheapness ensures that you won't be confusing it for a (costlier) Audi. More annoying will be the lack of anywhere to put a phone and the awkward location of the electronic handbrake and the head-up display controls.
The manual 1.6 THP petrol, a turbo motor shared with the Mini Cooper, does a good job of pulling this big car along once you've got it moving and makes for a more rounded drive, although the suspension doesn't provide quite the body control of the GT. And both versions will probably ride Britain's lumps and bumps a bit firmly, though the roads here in Spain were too smooth for a definitive judgment.
So, a mixed bag – it's a step-up from the 407, this 508, and definitely better looking, but Ford's Mondeo is a more satisfying drive and carries far fewer flaws.