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£24,500 when new
This is a very big year in motoring. The first wave of proper all-electric cars is reaching the market, alongside more hairy-toothed supercars than you can shake a stick at. Slim chance, then,for a modest French saloon to make much of an impression. But what might appear to be yesteryear’s news is, in fact, a rather vital automotive moment: Peugeot, bringing up the rear in Europe for so long, has launched the quintessential ‘average car’ in the 508, and guess what? It’s remarkable. This is important for the majority of us, who will neither be going green nor supersonic in 2011. The 508 saloon is the car that Cameron’s squeezed middle will spend countless hours in, pounding the nation’s highways and byways with only Chris Evans and Costa Coffee for company. And it’s going to be easy motoring. For starters, the 508 heralds a new era in perceived quality and class for Peugeot. Gone are the brittle plastics and flimsy switchgear (or most of them, anyway), to be replaced by the now-mandatory soft-touch dash and a general impression of assured solidity. Inside, it’s roomy, light and exudes that air of executive transport that not so long ago only came out of Germany. Underway the 508 rides superbly too, with an unexpected suppleness and reasonable, if not outstanding, level of refinement. The steering feels precise, and the saloon manages to corner with precious little body roll. Combining genuine comfort with dynamic ability is the Holy Grail of chassis design, and the 508 is definitely crusading in that direction.
Another boon for the resurgent Peugeot is its engine line-up, with 1.6, 2.0 and 2.2-litre HDi diesels offered alongside two 1.6-litre petrols. One of which is the excellent 156bhp THP from the RCZ. The 1.6 e-HDi, with stop/start technology and 109 g/km CO2, is £19,050 basic, while the all-singing 2.2 HDi in GT spec is nudging £29k. However deep you dig, though, the 508 is competitively priced across the range (undercutting its sibling C5 for starters), and there’s a performance/economy equation to suit almost anyone here. On top of all this, it’s not even bad to look at. The 508 has that convincing if slightly homogenous styling that you see now from Volvo to Lexus and back again. A really nice-looking car, but in an indifferent sort of way. Which means it may not last long in the memory, but it’ll fit right in right now. Much as it does in every other facet, in fact. The 508 is an average car, when average has to be excellent.
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