2018 Peugeot 508 GT Review – International First Drive
Paul Horrell’s international first drive 2018 Peugeot 508 GT Review with performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL Peugeot’s renaissance continues. Here’s a five-door hatch with great looks, fine quality, lots of tech and decent road manners.
2018 Peugeot 508 GT (European spec) Specifications
Price N/A Warranty 5 years/unlimited km Engine 1.6L petrol or 2.0L diesel Power 165kW at 5500rpm (petrol), 130kW at 3750rpm (diesel) Torque 300Nm at 2500rpm (petrol), 400Nm at 2000rpm (diesel) Transmission 8-speed auto Drive front-wheel drive Body 4750mm (l); 1847mm (w exc mirrors); 2098mm (w inc mirrors); 1404mm (h) Turning circle 10.8m Towing weight 1600kg (petrol) 1800 (diesel) (braked), NAkg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1564kg (petrol) 1683kg (diesel) Seats 5 Fuel tank 62 litres (petrol) 55 litres (diesel) Spare Space saver Thirst 5.7 l/100km (petrol) 4.7 l/100km (diesel) combined cycle
PEUGEOT HAS built a good reputation in France and over here for its new generation of crossovers, the 3008 and 5008. But years ago the company was known for great saloons – the 404 and 504 were robust, high-quality and well-regarded Mercedes rivals back in the day.
Nowadays the French realise there’s no point in building a conservative-looking machine. Instead, to get noticed the new 508 has striking fastback looks, and a version of the unusual but effective cockpit design that works well on those crossovers. It’s been executed to a high quality.
Pug likes to say it’s a rival for the Audi A5 Sportback, and in most ways it is: sleek looks enabled by frameless door windows and a low roof, a hatchback, plenty of tech, but slightly tight rear-seat space.
From the mass brands, the obvious rival is the slightly bigger Commodore. Which is ironic because Peugeot’s parent company PSA last year bought Opel from GM. And as you’ll know, the Commodore is a rebadged Opel Insignia. So PSA owns the factories that build both the 508 and the Commodore. Bizarre.
What’s the interior like?
In a word, unusual. Well, in broad terms it has a lot in common with other Pugs, especially the 3008 and 5008. Pretty well everything’s made of high-quality stuff, and the choices of materials are interesting too.
The angular dash and seats look avant-garde and give you lots to explore. The two screens – one for the driver’s pod, and one for the rest of the infotainment – give you lots to chew over too because they’re so configurable. Fiddle with those options and in the end it’s possible to arrange things to a set-up most people are at home with.
The front seats are plush and adjust in all sorts of ways, with massage on the upper trim versions. Good for de-stressing on a long trip, or on the commute home after your boss has been giving you a hard time.
In the back, that swooping roof line does rob some headroom. I’m 1m80 and my bonce grazes the roof-lining. But there’s decent legroom provided the front seat is raised a notch or two off the bottom to give foot space beneath. Out back are two USB charging points and vents and LED reading lights, plus cup-holders in the fold-down armrest.
The boot is a nice boxy shape. The hatch door can of course be had with an electric opener/closer – pointless and slow I say, but I realise many people disagree.
Opinion is also divided over the spacial relationships in Peugeot’s cockpit. First thing you notice is the steering wheel is small, and flattened at the top and bottom. Why that shape? Because it’s mounted unusually low, so the bottom is flattened so’s not to rub your thighs. The top is flat because the instruments are set high on the dash and you view them over the top of the rim rather than below it.
I get on fine with it, because I tend to have the seat-back upright, which raises my eye-line. People who sit more reclined than me sometimes grumble they can’t see the dials too well.
The central touch screen is mounted lower than the tablets on many new cars, with the vents above it. On a hot day you’ll be glad the air-flow aims at your face not your breasts.
The touchscreen is fast-responding and has sharp resolution. The navigation is a TomTom system with good live traffic info connected via the car’s built-in data SIM. Below that is a lovely row of seven high-quality harpsichord keys that shortcut you to important screen functions. That helps mitigate the fact there are very few hardware buttons for the climate control and stereo.
The sweeping centre console carries the transmission lever, but a wide tray beneath that inclined section houses an inductive phone charge pad. Alongside the lever is another little covered bin, with rim-lit cupholders behind that, plus an opening armrest.
What’s it like on the road?
A 1.6-litre petrol engine might not seem like much, but in the top 508 it’s got the turbo gumption to do a handy job – the 0-100km/h figure is a brisk enough 7.3 seconds. Mostly it’s a smooth and refined powertrain, whether on the highway or in towns.
But ask it to give its all and things get ragged. At low revs there’s turbo lag, and homing in on the red-line it’s a mite thrashy. Not that it ever goes to really high revs – that red zone starts at just 6000rpm. So if you’re trying to extract maximum performance the auto transmission is busy to the point of being hectic, dithering ceaselessly between ratios. I found myself using the over-ride paddles to keep it doing what I wanted.
To an extent the same transmission has the same issues in the diesel, but it’s happier to ride the mid-rev muscle. As diesels go, this one is comparatively refined, but even so a petrol engine is more fun – even the imperfect one in the 508.
The small steering wheel helps make it feel agile. Concise movements of your hands have the 508’s nose carving confidently into and through bends, but it doesn’t feel twitchy or hyperactive on the highway. That’s a nicely judged compromise then, aided by progressive and relatively minor body roll and good damping. Understeer is seldom an issue unless you’ve floored the throttle and it’s slippery under the tyres.
It’s a decent cruiser too. Despite the frameless glass, wind noise isn’t an issue and the tyres are subdued too. So it’s peaceful, stable and smooth-riding. Only at low speed does the ride get unsettled and a bit shuddery.
What about safety features?
The 508 is too new to have been independently crash-tested, but the NCAP score for the closely-related 3008/5008 is five stars. The 508 gets six airbags, and three Isofix brackets, two in the back and one in the front.
The available driver-assist menu is strong, although Peugeot in Australia isn’t yet saying which will be standard. Active safety brake works at all legal speeds and beyond, and it’s designed to act to save cyclists and pedestrians, day and night.
For highway driving, an adaptive cruise control system combines with active lane centring. This follows even quite pronounced freeway curves pretty well, but you still have to keep your hands on the wheel because like all these systems it can lose the plot with zero notice.
There’s an attention alert that uses the forward camera to check you’re not steering erratically, and if you are it gives a warning. Blind-spot warning, cross-traffic reversing warning, and surround-view camera are available, but that’s pretty much industry standard these days.
In contrast, the option of night vision is a first for cars this price. This uses an infra-red camera to spot living things and other heat sources up to 250m away, putting its image into the driver display unit.
So, what do we think?
Over the past few years the mid-size saloon or hatch market has become a scary thing for the mass-brand makers. They’re having trouble because there’s not just loads of crossovers pulling buyers away, but also more premium arrivals, including the Jaguar XE and Alfa Giulia. The Peugeot doesn’t drive as well as those two, but it’s a hatchback and very stylish, with an interesting cabin. There’s also an estate on the way.
Really, it all depends on the prices when it arrives here in 2019: aiming at the premium makers might be a slight stretch, but as an alternative to a Commodore or Mazda6 or Passat it’s really appealing.