Peugeot hopes that PSE can boost its brand but its business acumen may be forever Sino-tainted
Unsure of whether to revel in Peugeot’s latest launch, or to chuckle at its inherent wit, Iain Robertson questions the logic of relaunching ‘Peugeot Sport Engineered’, which hardly set the heather alight last time around but may even add to its woes.
Factory tuning businesses can be remarkably profitable for their brands. While the potential buyer of a new Ford Focus will be sure to demand a discount on a regular hatchback, the thought would be unlikely to cross his mind, when ordering a Focus RS. It is a practice that Mercedes-Benz has found to be most favourable with its more focused AMG models, as indeed does BMW with its M-cars, Renault with RenaultSport, or Audi and its RS models. It affects both rudimentary, as well as prestige marques.
It all stems from an understanding that some aspects of hands-on bespoke tuning have been carried out on those ‘special’ models; a factor that both raises expectations, as well as list prices, while adding to a perceived snob-value proposition. One brief investigation into the modern classic valuations bestowed upon Ford Cosworth RS models, suggests that they appreciate considerably with age and astronomically with competition history. Just look at M3s, Merc Cossies and even Clio RSs that follow broadly similar patterns.
When Peugeot went world rallying in its Peugeot 205, with tremendous success, it managed to flog a lot of windscreen sun-strips but encouraged the after-market suppliers to bolster their fortunes, mostly without longer term benefit to the brand. Even in its ultimate 205 T16 mid-engined guise, while the French firm’s trophy cabinet was bursting at the seams and the road-going 205 was a strong seller in several markets, notably in GTi forms, the company genuinely failed to capitalise on the exercise. As a further example, the contemporary 405 model gained a one-off ‘T16 Coupe’ variant that conquered the challenging Pikes Peak Hillclimb (in the US, with ‘Flying Finn’ Ari Vatanen at the helm) but was never developed into a commercial success.
The first time that Peugeot talked up its Peugeot Sport Engineered (PSE) tagline was with the mildly modified 208GTi model, followed in fairly short order by the significantly more highly tuned (278bhp) version of the 308GTi, although both models appear to have been subsumed into the rest of the Peugeot line-up, with limited, or zero promotional activities. Hence, heralding the arrival of PSE in relation to the latest 508 hybrid (available in both saloon and estate car forms) could be simply another damp fuse.
It is worth highlighting that Peugeot is very competent at selling its smaller models in the UK new car scene but it seems impossible to exercise similar magic with its larger ones. In fact, with West Midlands Police on its Coventry HQ doorstep, fleet deals are often struck and both ‘jam sandwich’ and ‘plain-clothed’ versions of medium and larger sized Peugeots can be spotted on the upper reaches of the M40 and M42 but seldom elsewhere.
The current 508 model is not only moderately handsome and could be (but is not) a rival to the BMW 3-Series, being both well-built and dependable. As with its predecessors, it has a modest market presence, even though it will not challenge the aforementioned BMW, Audi A4, or even Merc C-Class for overall percentage share and the vast majority are supplied inevitably to the company car sector, which includes the German trio, of course.
Anyway, Peugeot has determined that it will use its ‘cat’s claw’ emblem, finished in a ‘Monster’ energy drinks fluorescent green, as a means of highlighting PSE, which it describes as its ‘new high-performance division’. To be fair, it also describes its enhanced image as ‘neo-performance’, with deference to the company’s pursuit of electrification. There is no denying its heritage, passion and expertise in the field of tuning/modifying and Peugeot has a great history of competition success but is the company, despite its recent repurchase of shares from the Chinese Dongfeng Corporation (around 1.1%), not simply pandering to its Chinese masters, in a country that loves bling and apparent sportiness, even though it cannot quite comprehend it? Its added description of the ‘three clawmarks’ signature as Kryptonite may stretch credibility too far for some markets.
Both Fastback and SW versions of the 508 are available in the fairly subtle PSE trim. Boasting 360bhp and 383lbs ft of torque from its petrol-electric hybrid construction, with an electric motor on both front and rear axles to provide four-wheel drive stability and traction, results in the punchiest road car Peugeot has ever produced. It is enough to whisk the PSE from 0-60mph in a mere 4.9s, allowing a speed limited top whack of 155mph. Yet, it can also cover up to 26-miles in plug-in EV form, which takes the customary seven hours to recharge its battery pack using a domestic socket, or two hours via a 7kW wallbox. CO2 emissions are pegged at 46g/km, with a quoted 139mpg arising from the WLTP assessment.
The balance of the package is certainly full of promise, with lowered and stiffened (adjustable) suspension, a lower driving position in Nappa hide and Alcantara-wrapped and bolstered sports seats, wider front and rear tracks, enlarged (380mm) front brake discs and four-pot callipers, as well as 20.0-inch diameter alloy wheels clad in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. Mild aerodynamic alterations to the body-kit provide notional gurneys at each corner, a gloss black rear air diffuser, purposeful air intakes in the front bumper moulding and black exhaust tips, while five selectable driving modes can range between dynamic agility and cruising comfort, as the driver wishes. The Kryptonite ‘claws’ are located on the rear quarter panel of the well-equipped saloon and the front wing of the equally well-specified SW versions.
If Peugeot behaves as it does usually, another PSE relaunch is likely to prove necessary sometime in the future. While the company’s hope is that this hopped-up hybrid will also hike up the image of the 508, I fear that, as with several Peugeot marketing ‘innovations’, it will soon be ignored and largely forgotten, which is a crying shame and highly cynical really.