Large family cars from the likes of Ford have never looked better but sales continue to fall as buyers succumb to the lifestyle allure of real or fake off-roaders or the attractive purchase plans for the prestige brands.
Ford’s Mondeo and Vauxhall’s Insignia are remnants of models which once were high up in the Top Ten. Renault no longer imports its large cars. Peugeot continues with faith in its all-new 508 series, giving us at the turn of the year the gloriously stylish and sweet mannered 508 Fastback on a chassis 70kg lighter than the old model.
Tested here is the estate version, called the 508SW, where SW is for Station Wagon. It looks the part, with a long load bay and protective floor rails on some versions to facilitate sliding cases, boxes, bullion and school trunks in and out.
Prices are on average £1,500 higher than the Fastback, giving a starting price of £26,845. There are three choices of diesel power, two of petrol and at the end of the year a petrol hybrid with plug-in electric battery charging – aka a PHEV.
The diesel offerings suggest that Peugeot has faith in the fuel. On its own figures – using the new “real life” testing methods which give a more accurate MPG estimate, the 180 horse power 2-litre diesel automatic SW is just seven or eight MPG better than the 180hp 1.6 litre petrol automatic and gains only a couple of g/km in the emissions ratings. There’s not much difference in acceleration, with the petrol model having a slight edge on the 0-62 sprint.
These 180hp cars can’t be bought in the same specification so an exact price comparison is elusive. However, the 160hp diesel is slightly cheaper than the 180hp petrol while the 225hp petrol model is slightly cheaper than the 180hp diesel, which in GT trim is the most expensive version at £38,245. (Bar the 75 First Edition models which may well be gone by the time you read this.)
The only engine offered with manual gears is the 1.5 litre 130hp diesel, from £26,845 in the Active entry model. This is also offered with automatic gears and a CO2 rating of just 101g/km at £28,445. The entry price for petrol is the 180hp Allure automatic at £31,495.
Coming in October 2019 will be the PHEV version, using the same 1.6-litre PureTech 180 engine and a 110hp electric motor.
Peugeot started the move to electric power with the Partner electric van and its hybrids, aiming at electric or hybrid power for all its vehicles by 2023. The 508 plug-in hybrid electric vehicle will have a combined 225hp from the 1.6 petrol engine and the electric motor. It, and the 508 and 3008 PHEVs, arrive in late autumn, as yet unpriced. The first totally electric Peugeot is the e208 later this year. This is not a bespoke electric model but an electric version of the new 208 to keep the price down, a bonny hatchback which should sell well.
Peugeot was showing one at the UK press launch of the 508SW, held in the archives library for the sumptuous Waddesdon Manor Rothschild estate in Buckinghamshire.
We negotiated the baronial parkland and let loose into some very expensive Bucks landscape, driving the 180hp petrol model in GT Line specification and lustrous pearly white paint.
Its USP over the Fastback body is substantially more load volume. I’ll be putting the 130hp diesel model to heavy duty later in the year but this time it was just me and a co-driver and no baggage and petrol power.
This petrol engine pulls well and didn’t give me a reason to want the 225hp version. In any case the two engines are not offered in the same trim. The 180 peaks at GT Line while the 225 comes in at a higher price band in GT trim.
The Allure and GT Line ranges offer most engine choice: the 130hp diesel with manual and automatic gears, the 2-litre 160hp diesel and the 180hp petrol.
Allure has active suspension, blind spot detection, powered front seats, a 10-inch touchscreen monitor and a wide angle reversing camera. The GT Line adds full LED headlamps, 18-inch alloys, and variable cabin lighting and engine note tuning, heard through the speakers.
The high output turbo engine works discreetly, as does the eight-speed automatic gearbox. The main aural intrusion, other than from my chatty Lowlands co-driver, was a hum from the Michelins.
Neat details include frameless door windows — allowing easier entry and exit and a lighter door action. You can make the tailgate open by waving your foot under its rump. The rear seats fold forward by pulling a latch inside the cargo area.
I have yet to love touch-screens but the Peugeot also has a set of toggles for navigation, ventilation and so on. The marque’s low-slung steering wheel and high-slung main instruments make sense in theory but in practice need, well, practise.
Verdict: A practical, affordable modern French classic.