Okay, this is the worst thing that can happen to a writer: I am lost for words. And it’s not writer’s block, where you know what you want to say but the appropriate means to express it eludes you. This bout of word vacuum is born of the fact that I just don’t know what to make of the Peugeot 508 PSE. I can’t seem to qualify it. This is surely an epic fail on my part. I’ve let myself down and, above all, I’ve let you down, dear PHer. Or have I? Yes, I have an excuse in my back pocket: of course I do. Is it because the 508 PSE is confused, rather than me? You see, having recently driven the 508 PSE, I don’t consider it to be a bad car. It’s not brilliant, either, but in which direction the old good-bad-ometer needle swings will depend largely on trying to understand what it’s trying to be and then working out how successful it has been. Is it hybrid? Is it a performance car? Is it a premium executive car? Or is it all three?
As a hybrid, things kick of quite well. The transition between petrol and electric is unsullied by jerks, the brake pedal, while soft, is easy to use, and the performance in EV mode is perfectly acceptable when you’re knocking about town. It’s got plenty of torque to get you up and running smartly and the petrol part of the equation kicks in quickly when you need it to, and off you go. Brilliant stuff. But the part that isn’t quite so brilliant is the electric range: 26 miles isn’t massively useful, and well behind the times. Worst of all, if you’re looking at a hybrid for the company car tax dodge, the 508 dodges that with its 14 per cent BIK. Why not opt for something like the Volvo S60 T8 Recharge instead? It’s cheaper, much faster and does 55 miles on a single charge. That’s not only more practical, it knocks your BIK down to a piffling 8 per cent. So, the 508 PSE isn’t really a very accomplished hybrid, then.
Okay, fine, so what about its performance car credentials? Well, the 508 PSE comes with a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that shoves out 200hp – a plucky enough round number. It adds to that another 220hp courtesy of two electric motors: one helping the petrol engine energise the front axle, while the other brings the rear axle into play with the added benefit of all-wheel drive. In total this should equate to 420hp, but with losses and equivalence you end up with 355hp and 384lb ft – figures still not to be sniffed at, and nor is 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds. Except you can buy - again for less money - a BMW M340i xDrive saloon.
Now, the M340i has 374hp and will do the straight-line dash in 4.4 seconds, all of it while sounding like a smooth straight-six and not a buzzy little four-pot. And while the M340i isn’t exactly a lightweight, it disguises its 1,745kg extremely well. It floats down a country road like a proper performance car should, and rewards in other ways, not least its keen-as-mustard steering. It’s a proper thing that’ll even slide sideways out of a roundabout, should you wish it to. The 508 PSE doesn’t do that. I mean, it isn’t a bad handling car, it’s just not in the M340i’s league. Instead of floating down the road it feels like it’s managing more weight, which, at just under two tonnes, it is. It reminds me of someone sucking in their stomach. There’s only so long you can hold your breath for before the potbelly pops out, and every now and again the 508’s dampers can hold on no longer and the excessive body movements burst through. Also, there’s none of the M340i’s delicacy to its steering. It does what it needs to do and no more. It’s an okay performance car at best.
So what about its premium-exec potential - is this where its strength lies? Well, it certainly cuts a dash and marks you out as being different but not obtuse by choosing it. I reckon that’s a win. And inside, there’s a welcome quirkiness to its design, without it descending into a farce of frustration on the useability front. Even the stupid i-Cockpit design (surely Peugeot is sticking with this purely out of Gallic stubbornness, such are the constant cries of ‘what’s the point, exactly?’) didn’t cause me a problem. Unlike some of Peugeot’s current crop, I could see the dials while having the steering wheel in a natural position. Whoopie.
Even the materials are up to snuff, mostly. A good chunk of the surfaces are coated in something soft and pleasing and it feels quite sturdy in the main. But then you start poking around and fiddling with a bit more conviction and, well, it’s no Audi A4 beater that’s for sure. It doesn’t ride like the best A4s, either. The wheel control over potholes is good, so it doesn’t crash, but in the softer damper setting there’s a surprising amount of head toss for a low-slung car. You can get rid of this in the sportier setting, but then it’s just a bit too firm.
There are other frustrations as well. Like the windscreen pillars and B-pillars, which are massive. These create a real issue at a junctions, because you find yourself truly petrified that you’ve lost a bike, or even a small car, in the shadows of its enormous blind spots. Also, forget what the brochure says about the infotainment screen being 10 inches. It is, but that’s including the strip either side that permanently displays the temperature icons. The bit that useable, for actual infotainmenting, is 7.0 inches (yes, I did get the ruler out), which is tiny. Really tiny, and size matters in the executive car world because it denotates power and status. As does the feature count, and it's missing a few items, like wireless CarPlay.
Then there’s the software. Oh god, the software. The best thing you can say about this is it’s a great way to learn the art of patience. On first acquaintance, you press an icon and, you know, expect something to happen. But it doesn’t, so you start stabbing away trying to bring about a result. Well, it turns out it recognised your request the first time, but it likes to think about things for a little while and then decide to act. Then it acts out the other fifteen presses sequentially that you made while waiting for the first, so by the time it’s finished computing everything it thinks you wanted, the sat nav is programmed for Lyon, not Luton, and you’re being directed there in Afghan.
Finally, there’s the space. Now, I am quite tall, but I can fit easily in the back of a Volvo S60 when the driver’s seat is where I left it. And I can fit in the 508 PSE behind myself, too, but only after I’ve origamied my way through the narrow opening only to spend the rest of the time bent double and compressing my kneecaps to a slither against the back of the front seat. It’s really quite small in the back, and pokey, too, with the low roofline and shallow glass area. As an executive car, then, I’d say it’s also not the best.
Consequently, the Peugeot 508 PSE doesn’t quite stack up. But here’s the thing. While I was driving around in a state of discombobulation about what to write about it, I did find myself thinking “I can see why you would, though.” For all its numerous faults, it gets most of the basics right – it’s still quick, plush, a reasonably quiet cruiser and far from uncomfortable – and if you just don’t want to own an Audi or a BMW or a Mercedes, then it has the charm to win you round despite its flaws. It’s an interesting car.
Even so, one thing I couldn’t get over was why you’d pay more for it than a Volvo S60 T8 or a BMW M340i xDrive. That bit of the equation was still too much to overcome. But then I looked at the offers, and it seems that Peugeot has come to the same conclusion. It’s currently offering £4,035 as a ‘Peugeot Customer Saving,’ which I am pretty sure translates to ‘A Hefty Discount,’ and if you buy one on PCP finance, you get another £3,100 deposit contribution thrown into the pot. And that means it makes a lot more sense. Probably means I was right to be confused about it in the first place, too.
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