A declining market it may be, but the new 508 is good (if not thrilling) to drive, attractive and comfortable

Large Peugeots have had a rocky history. Sharky rear-drive 505s and high-revving 405 Mi16s are fondly remembered, but the catfish-like 407 is better forgotten and if you can remember what the previous-generation 508 looked like you’re a better person than we are.

Things are looking up with the latest Peugeot 508 though. Not only is a high-performance variant in the works, as previewed by the Peugeot Sport Engineered concept at the 2019 Geneva motor show, but the regular, everyday 508 is perhaps the brand’s most serious effort at a conventional executive car since the 406 of the late 1990s.

> Click here for more on the Peugeot 508 PSE Concept

Cars like this are a hard sell in 2019, but Peugeot has pulled out all the stops of late, so if the 508 will succeed at all, now is the time. Sharply-styled, technologically-advanced and based on the same lightweight platform as the agile 308, the 508 certainly looks good in the metal and on paper.

It drives well too, while not quite coming close to dynamic benchmarks in the class like the Alfa Romeo Giulia and BMW 3-series – though it fights back on comfort, and the unique cockpit design will likely win fans, but might be at risk of deterring others. The 508 is one of Peugeot’s best large cars yet, if not (yet) a machine to deliver real thrills.

Engine, transmission and technical details

Where once we might have found a hearty V6 in a mid-range repmobile like the 508, today it’s all about four-cylinders, both petrol and diesel. None are too mean for the job of motivating the relatively lightweight Pug, but some are stronger than others, and strongest of all is the 1.6-litre PureTech 225 as found in the range-topping GT.

1.6 litres doesn’t sound like much, but think instead of this engine as being from the same family as found in the 208 and 308 GTIs, making marginally more power than the former and a reasonable chunk less than the latter. Peak power is quoted as 165kW at 5500rpm, with peak torque of 300Nm from 1900rpm.

> Click here for our review of the new BMW 320d

The 2-litre diesels do make more torque, with 400Nm at 2000rpm, but with 130kW to call upon (slightly less than their pre-WLTP figures) they’re not quite the sprinters the petrols are, and don’t run on to the same maximum speeds either.

A manual transmission is still available in the 508, but it’s limited to the less potent versions of the range – the most fun you’re likely to have with it is in the 110kW variant of the 2-litre diesel. An eight-speed automatic is more widely available and this is the transmission you’ll find in the sportier GTs, actuated by a quirky trigger-style lever on the centre console and plastic paddles behind the small steering wheel. Drive in all models is sent to the front wheels.

Structurally the new 508 is both lighter and stiffer than before. Peugeot says the car is 70kg lighter on average than its predecessor, but also more rigid, beneficial for both dynamics and longevity.

Front suspension is via struts, with a multi-link rear axle, and GT models and petrol models get adaptive damping, otherwise optional on 2-litre diesels. Fastback and estate (SW) versions are available, with estates being slightly heavier than their fastback counterparts.

Performance and 0-100 time

The least potent 508s, the entry-level 1.6 diesels, will manage 100kmh in 11 seconds and eventually go on to the mid-190s kmh, with a slight penalty for heavier estate models. All others will reach the acceleration benchmark in under ten seconds and most will comfortably top 210kmh, with the hottest diesels hitting 100kmh in the mid-8s and reaching up to 234kmh.

Most interesting is the 508 GT fitted with what Peugeot calls the 1.6 PureTech 225. We know it better as a variant of the turbocharged, four-cylinder 1.6 in the 208 and 308 GTIs, and predictably it’s the quickest model in the range, at least until Peugeot Sport efforts arrive.

> Click here for our review of the Mercedes C-class

In fastback form the GT will manage 0-100kmh in 7.3sec, and run on to 250kmh. For comparison, that’s similar performance to the latest 320i SE Auto (7.1sec and 239kmhh), though the BMW does manage its numbers with more weight (1525kg) and less power (134kW).

On the road, Peugeot’s numbers feel accurate enough, though where the smaller (and more potent) Peugeots with this engine feel rampantly fast, the heavier and less powerful 508 merely feels adequately quick. Acceleration is brisk but there’s no real kick in the back, and with the auto ‘box slurring changes the process of gathering speed is more efficient than it is exciting.

Switching to Sport mode does little to enhance things, though if you’re in automatic mode the car will of course select later gearchange points and give you slightly improved throttle response. You actually need to notch the switch on the centre console forward once more from Sport to choose Manual if you’re to use the paddles exclusively – in Sport it’ll eventually revert back to auto if you leave the paddles alone for any length of time.

There’s not much joy to be had using the paddles, though. Gearchanges aren’t as snappy as we’d like and the paddles themselves feel cheaper than the interior’s other touch-points, which is a shame. Most of the time you’re likely to leave the car in auto, occasionally tweaking a paddle to encourage a change. The auto ‘box behaves most of the time with the petrol, even if it’s not as assertive as some, but we’ve found it can hunt around a bit when paired with the diesel.

Ride and handling

Being based on the same EMP2 platform as the 308, you can expect some 308-style agility from the 508, albeit not quite to the same extent. With a minimum kerbweight of 1415kg (and impressively, only 1420kg for the highest-performance 1.6 turbo GT model) it’s not quite the lightest in the class but it’s not far off. There’s also a sense of integrity to the structure and a well-cushioned ride, even in the aforementioned GT.

At the same time, the relatively low weight means the 508 feels fairly effortless to guide down a road. There’s not much roll, and grip levels are strong too, which is useful as the small steering wheel responds quite quickly, and at first you may end up taking a tighter line through some corners than intended.

The small wheel is both a blessing and a curse, for us. In smaller Peugeots like the 208 and 308 GTIs, it’s an essential part of the car’s character, encouraging you to turn in aggressively and ensuring you can make instantaneous corrections as you hustle down a road.

In the 508 though, it perhaps feels out of character with the more laid-back, advanced nature of the rest of the car. While turn-in is quick and the resulting grip levels strong, the chassis sometimes feels like it’s slightly lagging behind those ultra-speedy inputs, rather than immediately following as it would in a 208. The relative lack of leverage of a small wheel means Peugeot has also whacked up the power assistance, which masks any semblance of feel – everything feels a bit remote, even if you never want for precision or response.

The front wheels do seem more than capable of taking everything you throw at them though, not just in terms of strong lateral traction, but also resistance to torque steer. Even accelerating hard out of tighter corners the 508 seems to follow your line faithfully, though some of this can be accounted for by slightly laggy responses through the eight-speed auto. ANTONY INGRAM