Paul Horrell19 January 2011

A first drive of the new Peugeot 508

Peugeot ditches ‘interesting’ styling, creates a dynamic estate that’ll take on the big Germans

Why does Peugeot bother making a new big car? They never sell. Well, apart from the corporate pride in giving French cabinet ministers a ride, Peugeot is a big player in China and will sell 508s by the shedload there.

Having decided to bother, Peugeot has actually bothered rather a lot. The 508 replaces both the 607 - one of the most couldn't-be-bothered cars in history - and the 407. It's as big inside as the 607, but only a bit longer than the 407. But impressively, it's 45kg or so lighter than the 407.

It's got some good technology and its interior quality signals real commitment. While it's at it, Peugeot has abandoned all that 'interesting' styling, and replaced it with something you might actually want to be seen out with.

We're in the top-end GT version. It's got a new 204bhp, 2.2-litre diesel that outperforms the 407's V6 diesel but slashes consumption and CO2 by a third. OK, it's not as refined as a V6. But the good news is that with its smooth responsive auto ’box, it makes a sterling (or Euro) job of hauling this big wagon effortlessly down the overtaking side.

See more pictures of the new Peugeot 508

The old 407 had fancy double-wishbone front suspension. Peugeot decided this was too heavy (adds 20kg) and expensive for most 508s and only gives advantages with big-torque engines. So this GT is the one model to get it - and here there's a weight saving by switching from a V6 to a four.

The rest of the engines, down to a 1.6 HDI doing a super-impressive 110g/km, have straightforward struts at the front. Another pragmatic decision against the technological grain was to retain hydraulic steering assistance. It can't do self-parking, but the feel is better. And hey, they want you to buy it to drive, not to park.

Sure enough the 508 GT is a seriously engaging car, tackling the twisty, bumpy and greasy but quick test routes like it was made for them. Actually it was - we're using some of the French backroads where Peugeot does its testing. You can feel each tyre take the load as you work it through a bend and alter your accelerator load, but there's no torque steer to speak of, which is amazing given how much torque there is. That'll be those wishbones, then.

Over bumps the bodyshell feels stiff and everything's well bolted to it. German, in other words. The supple and quiet ride will help keep it that way.

This top-end car has more dash buttons than a pearly queen, but they're well arranged. Regular versions will be calmer, obviously, but they'll still have plenty of kit - full navigation is there even in the fleet-special SR trim. And you can tell the 508 is a step ahead for a big Peugeot because rather than feeling overdressed, the car lives up to the spec.

The worst thing will be telling your mates you've put 30 grand into a Peugeot estate.

Now share it...

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear's code of conduct (link below) before posting.