By Andy Enright
Has there been some sort of unwritten rule that dictates that if a country borders the Mediterranean, then the small cars it produces will, by default, be better than its big cars? For years, that seemed a reasonable maxim to guide buyer behaviour, with Italian, French and Spanish companies in particular doing most of their best work with small cars. Peugeot is a case in point, with its best loved vehicles being the 205, the 106 and the 306. It seems that, of late, Peugeot is attempting to set this historical precedent aside. The 508 is a key component in this move. Here's what to look for when buying used.
Peugeot's 3008 and 5008 MPV models paved the way for British buyers to start taking the concept of a good, bigger Peugeot seriously and the 508 saloon, which was tasked with the job of replacing not just the reasonably successful 407 but also the chronically underperforming 607, also looked promising. Launched into a sector that seemed to be drying up, the 508 struggled at first, not through any inherent failing in the product, but just because this was a very conservative market where buyers tended to stick to what they knew.
An estate version appeared alongside the saloon with a ruggedised RXH hybrid estate and HYbrid4 saloon the following year. An RXH Limited Edition of just 30 units kicked the model off. The 2014 model year 508 received a raft of changes that gave it more visual impact and a better perception of quality inside.
What You Get
At 4.79m long, the 508 saloon is quite a big unit, adding almost five centimetres to the length of the old 407. This doesn't tell the whole story though, the 508's massively longer wheelbase ensuring that the cabin genuinely does feel like a class above, especially when it comes to rear seat accommodation. The boot is a good size at 473-litres and with the rear seats in place, it in fact offers more carrying capacity than its 508 SW estate sibling.
Even if a thief gets into the vehicle, it may well be more than the work of moments to find your gear, given the sheer amount of cubbies, drawers and pockets inside the 508. Those in the cabin alone total 22-litres and include door pockets that can hold 1.5-litre bottles. The level of fit and finish is easily on a par with mainstream rivals and after getting out of a new Volkswagen Passat and straight into the 508 at a recent driving event, I had to set preconceptions aside and admit that the French car felt a smarter and more upmarket place to be.
Compare the Peugeot to most German rivals and it demolishes them on the value front by packing in way more standard equipment for the price. This used to be motoring journalism shorthand for saying that the company was trying to divert you with gadgetry but in the 508's case, it's just the spur that could convert many wavering buyers. The key trim level in the line up is the SR model, which targets business buyers and includes satellite navigation, cruise control, dual zone air conditioning and 16-inch alloy wheels. Another feature that's sure to become more widespread in years to come is the SOS system, which alerts the emergency services to your whereabouts in the event of an accident.
The range opens with the Access trim, which features daytime running lights, air-conditioning and electric windows all-round. Then there's the SR and the Allure models which include half-leather electrically adjustable and heated seats, rear parking sensors, keyless go and a panoramic sunroof. Fork out for the top GT and you'll receive the aforementioned upgraded suspension, full leather upholstery, a colour heads-up display and xenon directional headlights.
What to Look For
The Peugeot 508 isn't exactly thick on the ground. Since it appeared on sale, the 508 has been outsold by the Mondeo by around 3.5 units to one and by the Vauxhall Insignia by 6.5 units to one, so if you're very picky about colour, trim, body style, mileage and condition, you might be in for a long wait. Thus far, the 508 has been a reliable choice with none of the front suspension woes that so afflicted the 407. Make sure the car has had the updates to the software carried out so that it can interface with the latest iPod and iPhones. There was also a recall to check that fuel lines in the engine compartment weren't crimped during the build process. Check the headlights and the satnav are working properly, that the air conditioning runs cold and that the car pulls cleanly throughout the rev range.
(approx based on a 2012 508 1.6 HDI) Parts prices are affordable. In terms of consumable items, an air filter is around £15 with an oil filter retailing at approximately £20. Spark plugs are £10 each with a timing belt weighing in at the £60 mark.
On the Road
The prime expectation of a larger French car is that it should ride well. If it can't overcome this obstacle, then it's up against it from the get go. The 508 passes this test with one qualification. While the mainstream models ride superbly, if you go for the 204bhp 2.2-litre GT range-topper, you get uprated fully independent front suspension and big alloy wheels which create a slightly busier ride quality. This is odd given the GT variant's 'grand touring' pretensions. Spend less and you get a vehicle with great ride and more than acceptable body control.
Plump for a petrol engine and you'll select from either a 120bhp 1.6 with an EGC sequential gearbox or a 156bhp 1.6 turbo unit fitted with a manual transmission. Go diesel and the choice is a little wider, with the 112bhp 1.6 e-HDI (with EGC and FAP particulate filter) marking the entry point, with the models then progressing through a manual non-FAP 112bhp 1.6-litre diesel, plus 140 and 163bhp 2.0-litre HDi units. The 156bhp petrol engine is a gem and the 2.0-litre diesel units are also good, well worth the incremental cost over the 1.6-litre.
The headline economy and emission figures for the 508 are all sourced from vehicles fitted with the EGC gearbox. Unfortunately, this transmission is far from the best example of its ilk, managing to be slow-witted and jerky on many upchanges. Yes, you can learn to drive around its foibles by feathering the throttle when you sense it's about to execute a gearchange but we're strong believers in technology adapting to us and not vice versa. Should you instead decide on a traditional manual 'box instead, you'll find the six-speeder is a sweet-shifting unit. One recurring comment many owners have made is that there's a bit more wind noise around the mirrors and A-pillars than they would have expected in a car optimised for motorway use. Oh and a word about the RXH: despite its all-wheel drive and macho body styling, don't subject it to anything more rugged than a modestly rutted track. It's not a proper off-roader.
The Peugeot 508 deserved better than it got. It drove and rode well, was decently equipped and had a certain elegance to it. As a used buy, it's perhaps a better bet than when new, but make sure you have a look at a few cars because quality seems to be variable. Some examples have been metronomically reliable while others have been plagued with the sort of low-level electrical issues that would have you pulling your hair out. As an alternative to a Mondeo or an Insignia, the 508 has a lot going for it. The HYbrid4 might just be the most underrated of all the models. Wait a couple of years and that'll be a genuine bargain.