Peugeot's intriguing 508 RXH is a go-anywhere estate with a few tricks up its sleeve. It now comes in conventional diesel form as well as in diesel/electric Hybrid4 guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Peugeot's 508 RXH was launched in 2012 to broaden the brand's offering of diesel/electric Hybrid4 power. This go-almost-anywhere station wagon offered 4WD and sported a rugged look that the French company hoped would make it an eco-conscious alternative to cars like Volvo's XC70 and Volkswagen's Passat Alltrack.
Sales though, have been a little slower than the French company would have liked. Hence the decision to broaden the RXH range with a 2WD conventional diesel version using the marque's latest 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180bhp engine. It's the clever Hybrid4 version though that remains the real draw here. It brings diesel/electric power to an all-new audience and shows just how affordable to run a car like this can be.
It seems like only yesterday that any rugged-looking family vehicle with 4WD was automatically seen as being bad for the environment. And pretty bad for your tax return too, thanks to prodigious weight and thirst. So what are we to make of this, Peugeot's 508 RXH? It's a hefty 1.9-tonne family estate with SUV styling cues and can be ordered with go almost-anywhere 4WD. Go that route and you have to have the clever diesel/electric Hybrid4 version, a car delivering running costs that are almost supermini-small.
These days, you don't have to have your 508 RXH with Hybrid4 technology. Peugeot have also introduced a conventional diesel version with their 180bhp 2.0-litre BlueHDi engine fitted. This can be priced to more easily take on rugged estate rivals like Volkswagen's Passat Alltrack 2.0 TDI 177PS and the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer 2.0 CDTi 163PS. It's the Hybrid4 RXH model you'd ideally want though. In this car, we've future motoring strategy made showroom reality, the combustion engine in its most frugal diesel form matched with electric propulsion.
At the wheel in a Hybrid4 RXH variant, there's little of the ground-breaking technology on display. Your passengers won't even notice the almost imperceptible change in engine note as you pick up speed or pass the city limits and the 163bhp HDi diesel engine driving the front wheels seamlessly cuts in to assist the 37bhp AC electric motor that powers those at the rear, making this, in theory at least, a four wheel drive machine. Like virtually all hybrids, this one comes only with an automatic gearbox, with a set of steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles should you wish to take control yourself. This is PSA's 6-speed EGS system, as already used in e-HDi models across Peugeot's line-up, It's a jerky set-up in those cars - but less so here, thanks to the way the electric motor fills in the gaps in the diesel engine's power delivery.
Ah yes, the power delivery. With a combined output of 200bhp and a combined 450Nm of torque, 200Nm of it from the electric motor, that facilitates a towing capacity of up to 1,100kg, you'll be expecting the RXH Hybrid4 to be pretty rapid. But if you are, then you're failing to take account of the 200kg weight penalty that comes with all the batteries and everything else required for hybrid motoring. That's equivalent to the weight of a couple of extra passengers and it explains why this car is effectively no faster than an ordinarily 508 2.0 HDi diesel variant with 50bhp less: rest to sixty takes 10.1s on the way to 132mph. If you go for the more conventional 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 model, the figures are 9.7s and 136mph.
Design and Build
As one of the most expensive and up-market Peugeot models ever built, this 508 RXH needs to look the part. It does. But under all this frippery, you've a shape that isn't much different to that of any ordinary well specified 508 SW estate. Well, it is the same from the B-pillars forwards - and that's what makes the Hybrid4 version of this design so darned clever.
Here, you keep everything standard at the front end of the car, with an ordinary off-the-shelf engine conventionally driving the front wheels. Then at the back, you simply replace the normal rear axle with one that packages in an electric motor, driving the rear wheels. Front and rear communicate electronically depending on the traction needed and power switches seamlessly between engine and battery as required. A brilliantly straightforward solution that enables Peugeot and its partner Citroen to bolt hybrid technology into just about any model they make.
We're also told that the packaging issues have been carefully thought through to ensure that the hybrid system's nickel-metal hydride batteries mounted above the rear axle don't eat too greatly into luggage space. Except that they do - a bit. Raise the rear hatch and you'll find that luggage capacity falls from the 512-litres you get in the ordinary diesel-powered RXH model to 423-litres in the Hybrid4 version. You do though get a useful 11-litres of extra compartmentalised storage capacity under the boot floor. If that's not enough, then you can use side wall-mounted levers to flatten the 60/40-split rear bench, at which point total carriage capacity is revealed at 1439-litres - down from 1598-litres in the standard car.
Market and Model
So, let's assume you've done your homework, you've been through the comparison process and you've made the ownership sums add up into purchase of this 508 RXH. That won't have been too easy in the case of the Hybrid4 diesel/electric version which has an asking price of around £35,000. That's why Peugeot has subsequently introduced a conventional diesel version with 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 power, priced at around £30,000. Go for the top model and you can expect to find 18-inch alloy wheels, a huge panoramic glass roof, auto headlamps and wipers, half-leather trim, cruise control, powered and heated front seats with electric lumbar support, hill start assist, electrically folding mirrors, parking sensors, automatic bi-zone air conditioning, an auto dimming rear view mirror, Bluetooth compatibility for your mobile 'phone, Peugeot's 'Connect' sat nav system and a head-up display that projects key information onto the bottom of the windscreen so that you don't have to take your eyes off the road.
Safety-wise, there are twin, front, side and curtain airbags, along with the usual electronic assistance for braking, traction and stability control to try and ensure that you'll never have to use them. If all should fail and you have an accident, then there's the peace of mind of Peugeot's clever Connect SOS & Assistance system. Via this, you can summon emergency assistance services who'll already know where you are from the car's GPS signal. Should you be incapacitated, the car will itself automatically seek assistance.
Cost of Ownership
Although other diesel electric models in the Peugeot range will doubtless attract more buyers, the 508 RXH is a tantalising glimpse of what can be achieved, especially in Hybrid diesel/electric guise. Here, its emissions are rated at 109g/km, which is a fantastic figure for a car this big and powerful. Aided by a stop/start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it when you're waiting at the lights or stuck in urban traffic, fuel economy is rated at 72.4mpg on the combined cycle, but it's worth remembering that in full electric mode it can operate silently with zero tailpipe local emissions.
Let us be more specific here. Benefit-in-kind for the Hybrid4 RXH model is rated at just 12%, an unheard of figure for such a large, powerful luxurious estate car. Nor will this RXH incur the government's usual 3% diesel surcharge applicable to conventional diesel rivals. As a result, under current company car tax law, this car will cost a typical owner around half the amount in annual tax that they'd pay for a conventional rival, say a diesel-powered Ford Mondeo estate. Companies buying this vehicle benefit from lower Employer National Insurance contributions alongside an allowance for the company to offset 100% (Write-down Allowance) of the list price in the first year against taxable profits. Small wonder that up to 80% or more of sales of this Peugeot will be to business buyers. These people will also appreciate affordably priced servicing and insurance that's relatively low cost (group 33) for a 200bhp estate car. If all this fails to convince you, it's worth pointing out that this car can be had in conventional diesel form equipped with a 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180bhp engine putting out 119g/km of CO2.
Peugeot's 508 RXH has been a rare sight since its launch here in 2012, a time when it was only available with Hybrid4 diesel/electric power. Expanding the range to include a more conventional BlueHDi diesel variant should certainly help. If you can stretch to the clever hybrid version though, you'll be getting yourself a rather unique and go-almost-anywhere eco-conscious all-wheel drive family estate. It brings hybrid power to an all-new audience and shows just how affordable to run a car like this can be.
All right, so this top 508 RXH is hardly inexpensive - but then, the cleverest technology rarely is. And the premium this hi-tech demands over the cost of an ordinary medium range all-wheel drive estate is no more than you'd pay to get a more prestigious badge on your enamelled keyfob. If you can afford to fund such a premium, this is a cleverer way of spending your money, not least because you'll get much of your investment back in lower tax demands and more frugal running costs. You'd be forgiven for doubting that 4WD and eco-friendly motoring could ever go together. This car proves it possible. Which makes it a game changer - and a very clever one indeed.