Peugeot 508: Nice car, shame about the gearbox

There we were, four motoring enthusiasts, talking in quite animated terms about the Peugeot 508 SW that was parked in front of us. I simply could not imagine the same having happened with the car’s predecessors.

Yes, I said predecessors, plural. The 508 slots neatly in numerical terms between the 407 and 607 and is designed to replace both models.

Peugeot 508 SW

From the first time you inspect the 508 you can tell that Peugeot have tried very, very hard to make this car emerge from the blandness that has overtaken the French marque in recent years. I speak as a former Peugeot owner, having had two of the iconic Peugeot 205 GTIs – one after another.

But, in recent years I have found it hard to feel any joy when picking up the keys to a Peugeot. More often than not, I have struggled to find a comfortable driving position and even when I have headed out onto the open road, the experience has left me less than moved.

Returning to the group of us admiring the Peugeot 508 SW. Apart from one in our group who was apparently unhappy about a little bit of the styling (it seemed to involve the line of the bonnet and the front wing) we gave it a ‘thumbs up’ all round. That SW denotes Station Wagon, or estate car, and particularly in that body the test car looked good.

Same story inside. There are very obvious signs of real determination by Peugeot’s design team to make this a stylish, upmarket interior that distances the 508 from its predecessors. It maybe doesn’t get into the Audi class for distinguished interiors – but, it’s a lot closer than you might imagine from Peugeot’s more recent offerings.

The test car was also a very bright, airy place to be with a ginormous glass sunroof bathing the interior in daylight. It did a good job of letting the sun in and keeping the glare and heat out. But, if it does get too much, you just press a button to cover it up with an electronic blind.

The test car was the Peugeot 508 SW Active 1.6 e-HDI EGC. The SW, as already noted, stands for station wagon, the e-HDI means it has what Peugeot call ‘micro-hybrid’ technology (with stop-start to cut fuel consumption), while the EGC stands for ‘electronic gearbox control”. This six-speed semi-automatic gearbox is mated to the 112bhp 1560cc diesel engine.

Peugeot 508

As a motoring writer I really should have made the connection, but I hadn’t. It was only when I got the Peugeot out on the open road that I realised that this was very much the same powertrain that was fitted to the Citroen C5 I drove recently. Let’s just say it has the same sensation of a huge “flat spot” when changing up a gear. You build up the revs and, as the gearbox goes to change up a gear, all the power suddenly disappears.

The air was a little less blue in this car than the Citroen, because the power loss seemed a little less pronounced. As with the Citroen, I could get slightly less hesitant changes if I used the manual steering-wheel paddles, but smooth it was not.

When they weren’t nodding in sympathy to the gearbox, my passengers were praising the 508 for its space, both front and back and also its comfort and refinement.

What is impressive is the performance and economy that you get from the 1560cc engine. It seems a small capacity diesel engine for such a big car and yet – “ flat spots” apart – it performs remarkably well. Acceleration 0-62 mph feels quicker than the official figure of 12.3 second and the top speed is quoted at 120 mph.

Like the Citroen, the Peugeot is very much at home on the motorway. On the B-roads the gearbox issues become tiresome, which is a shame. Otherwise the Peugeot feels good on these twistier routes. The ride quality is good, the handling is well balanced and the steering is progressive and gives good feedback. Could this have anything to do with Peugeot not following the herd and switching from hydraulic to electric steering?

Peugeot 508 interior

The official combined figure is 62.7 mpg. According to the trip computer, I averaged just under 40 mpg for a mixture of city and country driving, which seems pretty good for a reasonably large estate car. Carbon dioxide emissions are also creditable at 116 g/km, putting the car in Band C for UK car tax.

Summing up, I was very impressed with the Peugeot 508 SW and it would probably have got a gold star were it not for that issue with the semi-automatic gearbox and the power loss when changing gear. At £21,975 it is also keenly priced.
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