The D segment used to be a key part of the British car market but its light has been overshadowed recently by the rise of the SUV.
For some buyers, though, the allure of a big, comfy, well-kitted out car that doesn’t sit too high, weigh too much or chew through more fuel than necessary remains. And so manufacturers keep building what are now known as executive saloons.
Into this segment slips the all-new Peugeot 508 with its sights set on a roll call of premium executive models – the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar XE.
Peugeot 508 GT Line PureTech 180
Price: £31,200 (£36,925 as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
CO2 emissions: 125g/km
All of those are well regarded for their quality, luxury and driver engagement so the Peugeot needs to be on its game to compete.
And the good news for the French firm is that while the 508 can’t quite match the driving element it does make a strong fist of the refined luxury.
I tried cars with both the standard passive and optional adaptive dampers (standard on GT) and both rode impressively. The adaptive setup allows you to stiffen or soften things via the drive model selector but the overall feel of both arrangements is one of a well controlled body and chassis with enough ‘give’ to cosset passengers. Only a slight choppiness from the large alloys rears its head on certain surfaces.
The Peugeot’s biggest issue is the steering, which despite having plenty of weight, feels disconnected from what’s going on at the wheels. It will shift between corners neatly but the lack of communication doesn’t inspire confidence. Apart from that it offers a well resolved, refined drive on A roads and motorways.
The refined ride is enhanced by refined engines and interior. Both the 1.6-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel are pleasingly unobtrusive and the eight-speed automatic slips between ratios unnoticed, which is exactly what you want from an auto.
Diesels are expected to account for two-thirds of 508 sales (fleets still love diesel). Even the tested entry level 1.5-litre 128bhp manual feels like a good fit for the car – smooth and torquey enough to meet most demands – but there are 128, 158 and 178bhp versions of the 2.0-litre as well, all with the auto transmission.
Despite having access to the excellent 1.2-litre Puretech engine, Peugeot is emphasising the high-end ambition of the 508 by only offering it with the 178bhp and 222bhp versions of the 1.6 petrol with the auto box. Both are smooth, quiet and quick, although I’m not sure the 222bhp is worth the extra outlay.
Stylistically, the 508 is a triumph inside and out. Peugeot call the fastback shape “radical”, which it isn’t – look at the Audi A5 Sportback or VW Arteon – but it is strikingly handsome. The ultra-low roofline and bold broad shape are the match for any of the saloon-cum-coupes from Germany. Bold feature such as the chequerboard grille, LED running lights and “claw” rear LEDs mean it stands out in a car park.
The i-Cockpit interior is also a welcome change from the staid, simple arrangements common to the segment. It’s a development of the successful setup in the 3008 and 5008 and blends tactile materials with unique touches such as the “piano key” infotainment controls and haptic ventilation buttons.
I-Cockpit remains brilliant to use with a tiny steering wheel topped by a 12.3-inch digital display that offers several useful configurations. Alongside it sits a 10-inch media/nav screen (eight-inch on the most basic spec) which looks good but which still uses the PSA group’s complicated and unintuitive infotainment software. You can at least overlay it with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Driver and front seat passenger comfort is first rate. The front seats have been approved by the AGR group which campaigns for better ergonomics and they’re shaped to offer the comfort and support you need to cover long distances – key in the D segment. Our test car’s £1,850 red Nappa leather also looked particularly striking.
In the back, though, rear legroom isn’t brilliant – a result of Peugeot shrinking the 508’s wheelbase – and the squashed feeling isn’t helped by the fastback’s sloping roofline.
As well as its bold styling, Peugeot are making much of the technology featured in the new 508. The biggest news is probably the night vision system. Standard on First Edition models and an option on all but Active, this uses an infrared camera system to scan the road for up to 200 metres beyond the reach of the headlights. If it detects an obstruction such as a pedestrian or animal it displays it on the i-Cockpit screen.
The 508 also offers the kind of advanced driver assistance you’d hope for in a high-end saloon. All models get autonomous emergency braking and active lane keep assist while higher spec cars get a more advanced lane position system which holds the car in the centre of its lane and adaptive cruise control with stop/go capabilities.There’s also active blind spot assist, enhanced traffic sign recognition and smartbeam assistance that stops you dazzling other drivers.
The 508 starts at £25,000 for a 1.5 diesel in Active trim, which includes dual zone air con, parking sensors, sat nav and auto lights and wipers as standard. Above it sits the Allure, which looks like the sweet spot of the range. It adds everyday conveniences such as keyless entry, active blind spot warning, a reversing camera and larger touchscreen without going overboard with the nice but not strictly necessary kit found on GT Line and GT models.
If you’ve got a spare £37,000 you can opt for the First Edition, which wants for virtually nothing.
There’s no doubt that the 508 has its work cut out. Its pricing and Peugeot’s ambition for it put it up against some of the toughest competition but it has plenty going for it. Driver involvement isn’t its strongest suit and its fastback looks compromise rear space but it’s a stylish, comfortable and quiet place to spend time. Key for its target market, there’s a wealth of technology along with a decent selection of drivetrains and well balance ride that make it an easy car to like.