Road test: Peugeot 508

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WITH so many car makers taking a global approach to sales, it’s no surprise perhaps that Peugeot’s Mondeo-sized 508 looks and feels far more like a German-built rival. Which is no bad thing, but the French manufacturer has also ensured that there are enough reminders of its own personality to make certain that this is a car with a character that stands apart.

Peugeot wants the driving experience to be as dynamic as the class-leading Mondeo’s, yet the reality is that his car will likely spend most of its time on motorways where it must be able to munch miles economically and comfortably. It’s a difficult balance to strike but in an attempt to manage it, weight has been saved with touches such as an aluminium bonnet and plastic boot lid (more robust in reality than it sounds here), plus other weight savings like a much lighter front axle.

A good start, then, but more important to the handling balance has been the adoption of a multi-arm rear suspension set-up across the range and an all-new McPherson-type front axle. Steering is via rack and pinion which is operated through an electro-hydraulic system. This boosts input at low speed to make parking easier, then reduces input at higher speed to maintain steering feel.

Under that lightweight bonnet can sit a wide range of HDI diesel engine options. The range starts with a 112bhp 1.6, progresses to 140 and 163bhp 2.0-litre units and culminates with a 204bhp 2.2-litre offering a prodigious 450Nm of torque, which should make it brilliant for towing. The petrol range includes two 1.6s, a 120bhp 1.6 VTI and a turbocharged THP variant with 156bhp and 240Nm of torque. A choice of transmission takes in five and six speed manuals, as well as a six speed automatic. The 120bhp 1.6 VTi sees 0-62mph come up in 11.8 seconds in the manual model (you’ll go about a second slower in the auto variant) on the way to a top speed of 127mph. The 204bhp 2.2-litre diesel will cover the 0-62mph sprint in under nine seconds, with a top speed of 145mph.

The saloon and SW both are examples of Peugeot’s new ‘design language’. Purposeful and stylish, this gives the car great presence on the road, with streamlined looks. The SW in particular mixes practicality with a distinctive appearance. Both bodystyles have the length to offer space in abundance, the saloon being 4.79 metres nose to tail, the SW marginally longer at 4.81m. In both cases, the front and rear lamps are especially striking, the three red ‘claws’ to the rear of the saloon that mask three rows of six LED tubes being particularly eye-catching. As well as the extra load space in the rear, the SW variant gets a panoramic glass roof of 1.62 square metres, which floods the interior with natural light.

Peugeot could see the Lion roar again with the 508. Both saloon and SW estate versions look sleek and desirable, yet retain the practicality that both family and business buyers will need. The interior is especially classy, put together with taste and restraint.

It will also help that this car should be equally pleasing on the balance sheet, with a wide range of engines that are economical and eco-friendly. The overall result is a design that thrusts this Gallic brand back into contention in the Mondeo-sized medium range sector, with a car that may even interest lower-order BMW and Audi buyers in its plusher guises. Business and family buyers in this segment need to return Peugeot to their choice lists - and not before time.

CAR: Peugeot 508 range

PRICES: £18,150-£29,975 - on the road

INSURANCE GROUPS: 20-33

CO2 EMISSIONS: 109-154g/km

PERFORMANCE: [1.6 litre petrol VTI 120bhp] 0-60mph 11.8s / top speed 127mph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.6 litre petrol VTI 120bhp] 34.4mpg (urban) 45.5mpg (combined)

STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side & curtain airbags / ABS / ESP

WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: [4dr] Length/Width/Heightmm 4792/2068/1456