Peu­geot 508 Ac­tive

HAS EV­ERY­ONE BEEN WRONG ABOUT THE BIG PUG ALL ALONG?

Wheels (Australia) - - Head to Heaod -

SINCE its 2011 launch, we – as in Wheels, new-car buy­ers and ba­si­cally the world at large – have been largely ap­a­thetic about the Peu­geot 508.

An oddly Ger­manic French mid-sizer, with an al­lure more An­gela (Merkel) than An­gelina (Jolie), the 508 lacks the time­less pret­ti­ness and dy­namic pro­fi­ciency of, say, the 406 of the ’90s. This is a largely for­got­ten car.

But has the world been too hard on the hap­less Peu­geot? Or has the 508 im­proved with age?

The old­est of this group by some mar­gin, a 2014 update brought a squarer jaw, cleaner con­sole graph­ics, more kit and im­proved pow­er­trains. And the re­sult is a car with plenty of plus points and im­pres­sively few flaws.

Let’s be­gin with the cabin, which hap­pily seems larger than the Pug’s pert ex­te­rior di­men­sions sug­gest. El­e­gant, yet com­pletely non-os­ten­ta­tious, and with an ap­peal­ing sim­plic­ity, what the dash lacks in piz­zazz it makes up for in prac­ti­cal­ity. Firm, sup­port­ive front seats, an ex­cel­lent driv­ing po­si­tion, at­trac­tively leg­i­ble di­als, ef­fec­tive ven­ti­la­tion and suf­fi­cient stor­age all sug­gest Her­mann rather than Henri was in charge of lay­out.

Yet de­light­ful details abound: the Saab-es­que re­tractable cuphold­ers (just be­low the vents, help­ing to keep bev­er­ages hot or cold as re­quired); a beau­ti­fully sim­ple head-up dis­play; rear-win­dow blind; proper rear-door hand­grips; and con­trast­ing cabin ma­te­ri­als that could have come from a Nor­man Foster workspace.

Some­how, es­pe­cially af­ter the showy Kore­ans, the 508’s over­all am­bi­ence is akin to the time­less grey flan­nel suit Cary Grant wore in Hitch­cock’s North By North­west. A use­ably large boot is the cherry on top.

An­noy­ances? The rel­a­tively nar­row body means the rear seat is tight for a trio of adults; ratchet rather than su­pe­rior in­fi­nite front-seat back­rest adjustment is rare in a Euro; and a few squeaks oc­ca­sion­ally reared their un­wel­come heads.

But the in­te­rior is qui­eter than most of the oth­ers here, adding to our new­found af­fec­tion. Part of that is due to the smooth, sweet, and quiet en­gine.

Small at just 1.6 litres, it nev­er­the­less makes the most of the avail­able 121kw/240nm, step­ping off the line with lusty in­tent and pulling strongly through the mid-range; to 40km/h it’s only 0.2sec shy of the sear­ing Skoda. Com­par­a­tively low weight and sen­si­ble gear­ing from the newly minted six-speed auto must take some credit, since the 508 never feels slug­gish, ex­cept when steep hills or off-boost turbo lag slow things down. Bet­ter still is ex­cep­tion­ally low fuel con­sump­tion, beaten only by the VW Group tee­to­tallers. Peu­geot is se­ri­ous about re­gain­ing the high ground.

Fluid steer­ing fur­ther adds en­joy­ment, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tive and in­volv­ing han­dling, es­pe­cially as speeds in­crease, when the chas­sis and brakes gel to­gether best. How­ever, de­spite the ride be­ing gen­er­ally comfy and con­tained, it can err on the firm side, and that’s one of the less-de­sir­able char­ac­ter­is­tics Peu­geots have ac­quired this mil­len­nium. There’s also a ten­dency for the front-end to kiss its bump stops over fast, un­du­lat­ing roads.

Reg­u­lar read­ers will know how en­thu­si­as­ti­cally we rate the lat­est 308, but the 508 lacks its sib­ling’s su­perb sup­ple­ness, pol­ish, and panache. Here, more than any­where, is where age is tak­ing a toll.

Still, look past the 508’s con­fused iden­tity and sombre de­sign and you’ll find a stoic, solid per­former of pleas­ing con­sis­tency and depth. The time has ar­rived to fi­nally re­con­sider a mid-size Peu­geot. BM

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