Peugeot’s new-car efforts in recent years have been hit and miss, but the new 508 GT Sportwagon aims to turn that around. David Thomson gets behind the wheel.
The second generation of the largest conventional car that Peugeot makes was launched in Europe last year and has now made its way to New Zealand in four-door fastback and five-door station wagon guise.
It’s the first 508 to be built on Peugeot’s latest EMP2 platform and will — in due course — become the first 508 to feature a plug-in hybrid model.
For now, though, New Zealand gets just one, conventional, engine choice: a 169kW/ 300Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine which drives the front wheels via a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Badged as the GT, the new 508 is priced from $55,990 in fastback from and $57,990 as a wagon, as tested.
What comes as standard?
Fans of extensive features lists will find little to complain about with the 508 GT, which has safety, comfort, convenience, in-car entertainment and communication bases well covered.
Active safety features include adaptive radar cruise control with stop go, active lane keeping assistance and lane departure warning, driver attention monitoring, auto wipers, auto dipping LED headlights, and active emergency braking and collision warning systems. Along with a 360-degree camera system, the 508 provisions active self-parking assistance for both parallel and perpendicular parking.
Key comfort and convenience features are dual zone climate control, hands-free entry (including a hands-free power-operated tailgate), wireless phone charging, heated and power-operated front seats, and artificial leather upholstery.
Focused on a centre-mounted 10-inch HD touchscreen, the 508 GTs ICT suite includes a 10-speaker premium sound system, satellite navigation, voice activation, smartphone mirroring and both Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Other standard items worth noting are adaptive suspension and customisable interior lighting. A slim extras list allows a panoramic sunroof ($2500), Nappa leather ($3000), and a night vision system ($3500) as options.
What’s it like to look at?
The 508 is one of those cars that looks better as a wagon than a four-door sedan.
Sitting proud on alloy wheels and 235/40 zr19 tyres, with smart black mirrors to contrast its white paint, and neatly decked with roof rails and a twin exhaust, the test car looks great from any angle. I wasn’t alone in appreciating its svelte lines and clever detailing either; only one other car I have tested this year — the Jaguar I-Pace — garnered as many positive comments from strangers as the 508 wagon.
What’s it like inside?
There’s further good news for style aficionados inside, as the cabin is every bit as attractive as the 508’s exterior.
Featuring a lot of flat surfaces, soft-touch finishes, contrast patterning and subtle brushed metal highlighting, the interior combines modern elements with a traditional elegance.
Modernity is most obvious up front, where the Peugeot i-Cockpit appears in its latest version. The i-Cockpit features a small steering wheel, which has the twin benefits of being more compact to handle, and allowing the main (fully digital and customisable) instrument display to be viewed over the wheel — in head-up display fashion — rather than through it. An ultra-wide centre screen with piano-like buttons (keys?) running along its base and a futuristic gear lever complete the set-up.
As well as creating a visual stir, the front of the cabin is practically equipped with a good-sized centre storage bin that doubles as an armrest, twin cupholders, another lidded centre console bin, a handily compartmentalised glovebox and reasonable door pockets. Nestled out of site under the gear lever there’s a small tray that contains the car’s wireless charging pad as well as USB plug-in ports.
Second-row seating is a little knees-up, but otherwise quite roomy, and the fold-down centre armrest reveals a ski-flap for longer load-through items. Featuring adjustable tie-down points, the boot’s 612-litre capacity is almost trebled by folding the rear seat backs down. Folding one or both of the 60:40 split seat backs down is a simple matter, and when the rear seats are folded down a flat boot floor is maintained.
What’s it like to drive?
The driver’s seat is a pleasant place to spend time, and the combination of eight-way seat adjustment and a steering column that moves for rake and reach makes it easy for drivers of different statures to find a comfortable driving position.
There’s much to like in the 508’s design and its driver-configurable digital instrument cluster, but the car is not without its quirks in the placement of key controls. The cruise control, for example, is tucked out of sight behind the left hand steering wheel spoke. Drivers with smaller hands may also find the placement of the paddle controls — mounted on the steering column rather than the wheel itself — awkward.
Forward visibility is fine, but views to the rear three-quarters from the driver’s seat are hindered by the car’s relatively high waistline.
Dynamically, the 508 GT matches its sporty looks with a nicely balanced mix of refinement and performance.
Thanks in equal measure to ample low down torque and a very slick transmission, it is mechanically smooth when driven with gentle to moderate throttle pressure, yet also quite responsive. Operating in eco, normal or comfort mode, it rides very comfortably, albeit with some road noise on coarse-chip surfaces, and without the suspension suppleness that was once such a Peugeot hallmark. These characteristics make it a very accomplished vehicle around town and on the highway.
Dialing up sport mode to traverse tighter stretches of tarmac, th1e engine is characterful as well as decently peppy, and selecting the manual shift protocol allows the transmission to shine. Sport mode firms up the suspension and adds heft to the steering. The former change gives extra agility to the 508 GT’s already well-balanced handling, while the latter makes it easier to place and adjust the car accurately through bends.
Peugeot’s new-car efforts have been hit and miss over recent years, but with the 508 GT Sportwagon, the French company has hit the mark. As well as being great to look at and fun to drive, it is hugely practical and very well equipped. And while it carries a price tag that aligns it with mid-class brands, the quality and feel of its interior endow it with a premium feel.
Photo: David Thomson