The Peugeot lion isn't asleep tonight. He's sunk his teeth into a French styling revolution that threatens to take a hefty bite out of the German market.
Peugeot is actively changing its image, as was evident with the RCZ. Those credentials have been underlined by the fine 508 we put through its paces on the highways and in the hills around Alicante in Spain. Nothing beats a pleasant surprise…
OK, there hadn't been any mega-news about in this part of Spain the week we drove the 508 line-up. Brit satellite TV was sure a runaway villain was holed up somewhere around Alicante (what else is new?) and Christopher Columbus' floater (a replica, of course) had docked in the harbour where we parked our cars. But the fleet of 508s definitely got the town talking and heads turning.
One positive thing the credit crunch did was rip a lot of so-called brand loyalty out at the roots, including in the UAE. Nowadays, it's not just about the badge on the keyring when you do the latte scene at the Marina in Dubai. Punters look to product quality first, plus a sticker price that makes it easier dealing with the bank around the corner.
You can see where Peugeot is heading with the nomenclature here as the 508 isn't replacing anything.
It's all change at the front where the 508 gets the new face of Peugeot with a distinctive but more restrained grille replacing the gaping mouth of the current models, along with a more prominent Lion badge on the sculpted bonnet. The XXL-sized headlights have also been replaced by sharper and sleeker LEDs that look a treat. The streamlined side profile and the extra length of the 508 give it excellent proportions that lead to a nicely rounded rear that is dominated by three striking LED "claw" taillights.
The 508 has a lot to offer, particularly with the cabin. There's plenty of storage space and headroom, and comfy front and rear seats. Your tester needs a bit of room to stretch and favours the approach of this mag's fellow scribe Tim Ansell, who spends a fair chunk of any ride-and-drive in the back. Fit and finish is well up to that of German rivals. True — no speaking with forked tongue here at wheels. The dash isn't revolutionary; it's just done pretty much right. There's nothing groundbreaking about brushed aluminium, chrome and piano-black trim, yet it's the attention to detail that impresses.
The 508 chassis is basically the same as that of sister company Citroën's C5, but with different suspension, and every time we grabbed some tapas someone mentioned, "We're known for doing a lot of work with our chassis." But fair play, Peugeot used to be a byword in chassis engineering and it's clear that it's back on track in that regard.
Petrol engines comprise a naturally aspirated and turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder, with six-speed manual and robotised manual transmissions. The 1.6 is definitely refined and quiet, and dynamite on the corners.
I'm OK with the "automated manual" gearbox although some feel it moves slower than rivals' double-clutch operations. I did sometimes wonder which gear I was in as it shifted. I do have a gripe with the manual though, which was awkward to change. But it's pleasing we'll get the manual in the UAE and it's likely to be substantially cheaper so it's got ‘fleet' written all over it.
The 508's sector is a toughie — you need the right product at the right dosh. Jamal Sahl, Peugeot's regional chief, has made no secret of the fact he'll be going in hard when it comes to keeping the readies down. He didn't just mutter "we'll be competitive" like so many clones in the industry. "Extremely affordable", is how he describes it and if you've checked Peugeot sticker prices over the recent years you'll know what we mean.
Key 508 plus points include that Peugeot really worked hard on the road handling aspects and it shows. The panoramic roof is larger than the 407, the stop-start vibrates when it, er, stops and starts. Steering is quick and accurate, brakes don't dither…
But I had difficulty reading the writing above the shifter in the centre stack as the font was too small and some numbers are a tad tiny on the dash too. I did mention this to the experts and was told it had never been raised before. I then went off to get my eyes tested.
Peugeot wants to be a leading producer of niche vehicles. It's clear who the 508 is going after but Sahl wants his vehicles to do the talking.
"We don't really speak about the competition — except in good terms. We have a product plan. We'll continue with our strategy," Sahl told wheels.
Peugeot isn't messing about. The 508 is part of one of the biggest product offensives in the brand's history.
Sahl says, "From now to the end of 2012 Peugeot will maintain a rapid rate of product launches. By the end of 2012 we will launch 14 new products. Peugeot has had holes in the market. These will be filled."
Any competitor assuming this latest offering is some sort of taxi-in-waiting for the UAE is making a serious mistake. The timing is right and the 508 is able enough to do a serious number on the competition.
Specs & ratings
- Model 508 THP 156
- Engine 1.6-litre four-cyl turbo
- Transmission Six-speed auto, FWD
- Max power 154bhp @ 6,000rpm
- Max torque 240Nm @ 4,250rpm
- Top speed 217kph
- 0-100kph 9.2sec
- Price NA
- UAE friendly
- Plus Fantastic interior, great road manners
- Minus No V6 engine option