Peugeot tempts the business car market with its latest 508SW


Just as one Swedish carmaker has created an unrelenting demand for its estate cars, writes Iain Robertson, Peugeot can lay claim to a broadly similar response to its mid-size load-luggers and the eye-catching 508SW might grab wallets with vigour.

Traditionally, the UK is an estate car market. It is an historical relationship that we have with a class of vehicle that dates back prior to the dawn of the motorcar. When the local landed gentry would collect their visitors from a nearby station, another carriage would handle their baggage and, once it reached the house, staff would spirit it into guests’ bedrooms, all with nary a complaint.

When cars arrived on the scene, the estate car was invariably a less luxurious but intentional and practical load carrier. Prior to the days of vans-with-windows, the estate car was the means by which families would venture to the seaside, transporting their picnic gear, windbreaks, deckchairs and the inevitable and colourful plastic toys and beach gear. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the estate car became increasingly luxurious and better equipped.

When Volvo first started selling its much-vaunted station-wagons in earnest, the 145 model became the vehicle of choice for estate agents, auctioneers and antiques shop owners. It continued through the 245 and subsequent models. However, both Citroen and Peugeot also performed strongly in the class, with their cavernous versions of regular family saloons and hatchbacks. In fact, Peugeot had an even stronger hold on the estate car scene than Volvo, its invariably longer-wheelbase, purpose-built wagons becoming spacious market leaders through the 1980s and 1990s.

Let’s face it, you do not buy an estate car, station wagon, or sports wagon for its good looks. However it might be designated, in Peugeot’s case as an SW, it is the space out back that is important and the 508SW provides wide and easy bumper-height access to a completely flat and carpeted floor and 580-litres of space (up to the window line), before folding forwards the rear seats. When needed, they flop down easily and reveal no less than 1,780-litres of load space, a volume matched by Volvo’s enticing V60. The carmakers mentioned are deserved class winners and, despite competition from several quarters, including (more recently) Kia and Hyundai, when you need room, Volvo, Citroen and Peugeot are the go-to brands.

While the hatchback version of the latest 508 is undoubtedly attractive, to my mind the purpose of the 508SW is Peugeot’s core strength. I am also a fan of the firm’s latest cabin décor. It is ‘blingy’, without being self-conscious, its minor controls spread keyboard-like above the centre console and a nice blend of detail finish to the soft-touch mouldings and applications of contrasting shiny trim. It all looks undeniably elegant.

However, for the first time in a while, I found a Peugeot’s driving position to be very cramped for my two metres of height, with the seat on its lowest setting forcing my cranium to clash with the 508SW’s headlining, while the ‘in-yer-lap’ steering wheel ensured that I also suffered legroom issues and the heavily bolstered seats and centre console limit width. As much as I love Peugeot, I am not enamoured by its quite silly ‘quartic’ steering wheel and the strange reverse sweep of its rev-counter needle, when in driver-adjustable ‘dials’ setting. It simply makes no sense and leads to unnecessary compromises. The steering wheel rim is also unfeasibly thick and rather than aiding comfort, it makes holding the wheel anything but comfy.

Okay, the instrument panel layout can be altered from digital versions of conventional dials to a series of bar graphs that also leave space within the electronic display for the infra-red (nocturnal) view that warns of both pedestrians and animals on the loose ahead but it is not a display with which it is easy to become familiar. Despite having made critical remarks about the methodology employed by Peugeot for the past decade or so, for some Gallic reason, Peugeot believes that its i-Cockpit is the best in the business. Sorry, Peugeot…it ain’t!

Powering the test car is the latest 128bhp turbo-diesel engine displacing 1.5-litres. It is a strong unit, kicking out a very useful 221lbs ft of torque, which enables a modest 9.5s for the 0-60mph sprint and a top speed nudging 125mph. It does feel punchier. Thanks to a low 104g/km CO2 rating (£170 year one, £145 annual road tax thereafter) and a superb 67.7mpg fuel return, it is immensely affordable and, once again, underscores that diesel technology is far from deceased. It pulls stridently throughout the rev-range and never feels overwhelmed by the car’s relative bulk. The speedy reactions of the 8-speed automatic transmission are perfectly matched to the engine’s power delivery, with ratios that can be manually selected, if desired. It is a lovely gearbox and works admirably in this set-up and capable of towing a 1.5-tonne braked trailer, which will make seaside, as well as further distant business jaunts an absolute doddle to complete.

Priced prior to obtaining any dealer discounts (believe me, they are available in abundance!) at £31,495 in GT-Line trim, which also means 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels (optional), semi-active suspension, foot-operated tailgate, electric seats and a full complement of driver aids and connectivity options, it is probably the best model from a range that starts at £26,845 and rises to a rather costly £40,944, as it offers the ideal balance between on-costs, levels of luxury and superior driveability. The other trim levels are from entry-level Active, Allure, GT-Line and GT, to a typical, fully-laden ‘First Edition’ variant.

The 508SW’s handling is helped by firm but controlled suspension, fairly quick steering and a satisfying ‘loping’ quality to the car’s gait. The long wheelbase enables easy cabin access, while the car’s cosy build quality is exemplary and makes an equivalent Audi seem overpriced and just a touch too clinical. Although it seems like a bit of a critical mixed bag, there is a lot to admire about the new Peugeot 508SW, as it feels very upmarket and elegant in most respects. Yet, it needs to put a reputation for unreliability behind it and to start making headway in a moderately busy market sector.