508 vs S60 vs STINGER
IF SEDANS ARE A DYING BREED, NO-ONE TOLD THIS TRIO OF HOPEFULS. HERE WE PITCH THE REBORN PEUGEOT 508 GT AGAINST THE NEW VOLVO S60 T5 AND FINE KIA STINGER GT-LINE
Peugeot’s pretty liftback gets pitched in with some heavy hitters
If nothing else, the modern mid-sized sedan market is no longer mundane
EVOLUTION, biologist Charles Darwin first proposed, is key to survival. Either adapt to change, or die.
With hatches, SUVs and, lately, dual-cabs squeezing medium and larger sedans inextricably towards oblivion, creating yet another Camry clone nobody wants no longer cuts it.
Peugeot finally gets it with the latest 508 – a front-drive mid-sizer so utterly different from its dowdy, underperforming predecessor that surely a new name is deserved. Shorter by
42mm, 53mm lower and lighter than the 2011 original nobody remembers, it breaks convention with a far sleeker silhouette, frameless doors, a tailgate and a fiercely bold interior. A switch to the company’s lightweight tech-heavy EMP2 platform enhances the makeover’s cred.
Inevitably there is a price to pay for such progress. From $53,990 before on-road costs, the 508 GT Fastback rises some $10K over the Volkswagen Passat 132TSI Comfortline that the old bus bumbled behind, but is also a similar amount under the popular Mercedes C200, placing it in a sort of ‘premiumeconomy’ no-man’s land. Is Peugeot deluded, or is it an Audi A5 Sportback from Sochaux?
We’ll see, but in the meantime, the French fastback is chockfull of features, with few options, to help overcome sticker shock, including stop/go adaptive cruise, auto parking, adaptive dampers, Nappa leather, massaging electric front seats with heating, and a gesture-activated tailgate. Strangely, though, no rear cross-traffic alert. And the engine’s a downsized 165kW 1.6-litre turbo.
Brand spanking, too, is the Volvo S60, now in its third generation and also gunning to reverse a long-term sales decline. For decades, from the Amazon and 240 to the 850 and S70 that came before, the so-called Swedish Holden was all about the sedan, so it’s no surprise that the now American-made (and focused) series is sticking with convention. This time around, it echoes the styling of the larger S90 (albeit with a kinked hip to keep things interesting), and adopts enough upscale XC60 tech (sharing the scalable SPA underpinnings including its Haldexsupplied all-wheel-drive system) to give the formal four-door some premium cache. Ours is the entry T5 AWD Momentum, starting from a keen $54,990; an Audi A4 quattro equivalent is north of $70K. And while this S60 misses most of the 508 GT’s aforementioned kit, there’s AWD, Volvo’s leading safety engineering ethos, a 400cc-larger engine and a posh badge. We’re not talking mere trinkets here.
Based on the Genesis-range platform and shared with the marque’s new G70 (Hyundai’s BMW 3 Series chaser), the likeable Kia Stinger, too, sports a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four. A courageous statement for an economy-car brand, the Stinger evolves the American rear-drive sedan template that formed the backbone of our now-deceased car-manufacturing industry, and so is the closest thing we have to a Holden VF Commodore successor. Complete with the choice of six-cylinder power. Why more Aussies haven’t embraced this lauded low-slung liftback is a mystery.
Except we’ve chosen the GT-Line from $56,290 with its 182kW turbo 2.0L rather than the hammering 272kW 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6, though there are cheaper ‘S’ versions of both (in $47K 200S and $50K 330S flavours). However, they lose the GT-Line’s vented/ heated front seats, toasty steering wheel, head-up display and standard sunroof, as well as the 508-matching adaptive dampers, blindspot detection (BSD), front sensors, 360-degree camera, auto high beams, front bending LEDs, driver’s memory seat function, high-end audio, smartphone charging and more, making the jump to GT-Line worthwhile. BSD excepted, almost all of these items cost extra in the entry-level S60.
A trio of four-pot turbos, then, but with their eight-speed torqueconverter autos differing on which wheels to drive. If nothing else, the modern mid-sized sedan market is no longer mundane.
Obviously, the Peugeot has its work cut out, with just 1598cc.
Its BMW co-developed Prince engine just doesn’t have the cubic inches so feted by Aussies. However, what it lacks in size is made
up for in smarts, since at 1430kg the 508 weighs hundreds of kilos less than the Stinger at 1731kg and the S60 at 1802kg, an advantage it ably exploits.
Eager off the mark with the least amount of lag, and punchy through the gears thanks to a tight set of ratios from the Toyotasupplied auto ’box, the sweet-spinning 1.6T feels – and sounds – up to the task of taking on the 2.0Ts, gaining speed rapidly and reacting to throttle inputs with instant, sizzling conviction. We even eclipsed Peugeot manufacturer PSA’s 0-100km/h claim by 0.4sec, the GT’s 7.7sec reflecting the car’s muscular flexibility. And while a second shy of the soaring S60, in the crucial 80-120km/h the 508 was just 0.2sec off and pulled ahead of the Kia. Only approaching 140km/h does the Pug’s limited capacity show, the French sedan falling behind both rivals by some margin. Otherwise, the lively 508 sizzles and sprints with surprising vigour, yet is also commendably muted and refined as required. Go France!
The 300kg-plus porkier Stinger demands a determined pedal prod to hustle – and finds no assistance from the auto’s lacklustre tune. It’s also comparatively vocal in Sport, due to a fake exhaust resonance droning away. However, once the tacho rises past 3000rpm, the 2.0T really hits its stride, reacting to the right foot without delay. Of its five driving modes – snoozy Eco, languid Comfort, driver-adaptive Smart, owner-configurable Custom and ‘Okay, I’m on!’ Sport – only the latter is up for a fang. Remember, though, that the twin-turbo V6 for forays into the 5.0sec sphere is but a tick-box away.
If the 508 is brisk and the Kia cruisy quick, then the S60’s performance is hungriest across the spectrum, its turbine-like power delivery reeling in the scenery with effortless ease, even from low revs. Not the most melodic of engines, the T5 nevertheless offers immediate, impressive responses, coming across downright rapacious in Dynamic mode, no doubt aided by the eager and slick auto gearbox. Quite an achievement given the Volvo’s nearly 400kg weight disadvantage over the Peugeot.
Ours was saddled with the fewest kilometres of the three cars on test, so fell short of Volvo’s 6.4sec claim to 100km/h by 0.3sec, but a few more clicks should fix that, meaning the figures should match the stirring seat-of-the-pants feel that’s palpably evident the moment you set off in the Gothenburg hot rod.
Though all three deliver a broadly similar performance experience, the Peugeot’s efficiency is revelatory, returning easily the lowest fuel consumption. A nod to the 508’s supermodel diet: achieving an 8.9L/100km average against the S60’s 10.1L and the GT’s 10.7L while being thrashed is quite the accomplishment.
Here’s another. Keen drivers will also likely revel in the Pug’s nimble dynamics, with those EMP2 underpinnings and the newly featured adaptive dampers enabling the 508 to bring a wider bandwidth of capability to explore and enjoy.
Let’s start in Sport mode. Sharp, fluid and full of feel, the steering provides the type of fast, flowing handling that you can really connect with on a favourite ribbon of road, backed up by a neutral cornering attitude displaying minimal understeer. No doubt quality Michelin Pilot rubber helps with grip and control here. A real livewire, then, the GT offers a painless stepping stone from hot hatch to family hack should life dictate.
Conversely, while a level of firmness remains in everyday Normal mode, Comfort introduces a level of plushness classic French car owners would appreciate – as well as associated bodyroll through tighter turns. Great for isolating yourself from the rough and tumble of decaying urban roads. That’s the rich tapestry of choice the 508 offers; having your cake and eating it too. Germany, take note.
After the Peugeot, the Volvo feels markedly detached. The steering is light and easy, without bothering to involve the driver with information overload, while the handling remains accurate and assured in most scenarios, turning in smoothly if a little wide
Above left: Stinger’s rear seat accommodates three adults more in theory than reality