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Peugeot's latest generation 508 certainly isn't backwards about coming forward. June Neary warms to this boldly styled contender.
When Peugeot's 508 first arrived to replace the old 407, it was instantly one of those cars that turned heads. Now, in second generation form, it does so again. Sitting on my drive recently, it was still creating quite an impression with my neighbours who were frantically twitching their curtains trying to figure out just what had landed. It's certainly different. The front end is especially nice, the sweeping lines of the long aluminium-crafted bonnet sweeping down to a proud Lion badge. One thing it's not is boring and at first acquaintance it seemed a whole lot better screwed together than some Peugeot products I'd sampled.
The 508 may take up quite a lot of road but the passenger compartment isn't the biggest in class. Yes, there's room to swing a generously sized cat up front without doing too much damage to the soft furnishings but knee room in the rear isn't overly generous, especially if a taller driver has bagged one of the front seats. Again, the styling has have taken priority over practicality when it comes to boot space, the stub tail preventing a truly big boot. The solution in this instance is to opt for the low slung 508 SW estate version which has plenty of room astern. Right from the outset, the investment in quality is manifest. The leather seating of our test car felt better and seemed of higher quality than many of the bargain basement leather trims fitted to upper-spec mid range saloons and the seats had both enough lateral grip and were comfortable enough. The steering wheel is trimmed in leather and the dashboard follows the trend for fully-digitalised instrumentation. Quality is the over-rising theme with a centre console stylishly lacquered in black with highlight touches of chrome. The driver's seat adjusts to every contour of your body. And the level of fit and finish is on a par not only with mainstream rivals but even with German premium badged offerings from the compact executive sector. There's usual Peugeot i-Cockpit dashboard design, plus there's a large 10-inch capacitive centre-dash touchscreen angled towards the driver. The cabin also features i-Cockpit Amplify, which enables the driver to choose between two levels of ambience - 'Boost' and 'Relax'.
It feels plush and old-fashioned French to drive - which for me is a good thing. The previous generation 508 was launched here with an all-diesel line-up, but a lot's changed since then and today, a car in this class needs strong petrol provision too - which it gets in this case courtesy of a couple of 1.6-litre turbo petrol units, developing either 179bhp or 221bhp. There's also a 129bhp 1.5-litre diesel and 161bhp and 174bhp 2.0 diesels. Only the 1.5 diesel gets a six-speed manual gearbox; the others must be ordered with an eight-speed automatic. At the wheel, you're positioned in front of a further improved version of Peugeot's i-Cockpit dashboard layout, which not everyone likes but I rather do. As usual, this sees you looking over the rim of the steering wheel at the instrument dials, rather than conventionally through it. And as usual, the leather-stitched tiller in question is a small, grippy thing which gives you the illusion of greater interaction with the car. Peugeot usually specialises in extremely efficient running cost returns and this 508 is no different in that regard. The 1.6 PureTech 225 petrol unit with its EAT8 auto transmission manages 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and 131g/km of CO2. The 2.0 BlueHDi diesel 180 EAT8 variant manages 60.1mpg and 124g/km.
Prices kick off at just under £30,000, but the top variant I tested was up at around £37,000 - at which level there are obviously all kinds of more premium-badged rivals on offer. Still, equipment further up the range runs to just about everything Peugeot could think of, including a superb 'FOCAL' surround sound Hi-Fi system, night vision, fully automated parking assistance and of course full navigation on the 10-inch central-dash HD touchscreen. There's also a 360-degree colour camera system and a wireless smartphone charging plate to keep your mobile's battery topped up during long drives. The wrap-around seats offer five multi-point massage programmes, there's a range of premium and sophisticated trim and upholstery materials and you get a panoramic opening glass roof.
Personally, I'd love a 508 on my drive. The neighbours, however, seem undecided.
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