After the recent lashing of Top Gear on Peugeot, I felt compelled to defend them.
Say Peugeot to enthusiasts and they'll say things like 205 GTI or the T16. Some might even say the 405 MI-16. Growing up, I've read that they make some of the best front wheel drive cars out there. My awareness of the brand grew even more when Marcus Grönholm won the WRC title in 2002. In 2003, Peugeot arrived in our shores and was excited that we'd have some sort of rally car here. Most people here however didn't get what the brand was all about and pretty much whimpered out of our local market without a trace.
The brand returned here in 2012 and this time, I was a little more skeptical. Can Peugeot win the hearts of people who stick to their blandtastic Toyotas? One car though that I wanted to try out was the 508. As a sucker for midsize sedans, I was expecting high hopes for the car. When I got my chance a couple of days ago, I had to clear the less than stellar opinions on the brand that popped up a lot in the early to mid 00's. The 508 was Peugeot's chance for me to dispel qualms about the brand. I also think the 508, launched in late 2010, represented a renaissance for the brand. Now that it's here, how does it go? My experience with it would be an insight to those who don't get Peugeots where they live
You definitely won't mistake it for anything else on the road (at least from where I am). It's also a huge improvement from its predecessor, the gawping 407. Then again, a lot of things look better than it. The 508 does its best of erasing the 407 from memory is by looking like something you would actually like to look at. It's not Euro bland either like, say, a VW Passat or a MK. II Ford Mondeo. Granted, most midsize sedans don't set the world on fire when it comes to design but the fact that Peugeot made a very big effort on its looks and actually succeeding says something. Like most of us, we're tired of seeing Camrys as most people's choice for a midsize sedan. Where I am, almost everything gets mistaken for a Toyota or a Hyundai. Take off the badges on the 508 here and you won't mistake them for either of them.
In a nutshell, refreshing. We're now in an era of more metal than greenhouse in our cars. Yes, cars nowadays have loads of room but you rarely feel it with thick pillars and high beltlines. In the 508, you see the space inside and feel like there's even more of it because there's a lot of light coming in to the cabin. While the pillars are still chunky, it's angled in a way that it doesn't cover a motorcycle suddenly popping out of a corner or an erring pedestrian making his or her own crosswalk. As for materials, loads of soft touch materials. "So what?" you might say. Even basic Camrys have them. In the 508, the padding just feels, well, better. From what I read before, past Pugs had rather flaky interiors. Not this one. The interior also looks more molded into shape instead of being designed in a focus group.
It has loads of kit too. Most of the local cars here don't have navigation or integrated bluetooth systems or anything standard in more developed nations. This has them all and standard. I now feel like I've been living under a rock for the longest time.
It's a 1.6 liter diesel with 115 horses. While it's obviously no Ferrari, the small output is compensated by 240 Nm of torque. Yes, there is lag but it eventually gives you a good shove and enough to get you out of trouble. The highlight here though is the fuel economy. After sitting in standstill traffic, it only lost just 1 kilometer of range from a 4 kilometer long test route. Coming from a region slightly bigger than Singapore but has almost double the population, this is a huge deal for us. The e-HDi is practically a range extender in a heavily congested city like Manila. You save loads of fuel without having to drive something goofy like a Prius.
At least I was able to have a short burst when the road freed up. It's no rocket ship but okay for most people here. A light hybrid diesel really works in this part of the world. If you prioritize efficiency over power though, might as well give it a 10.
It's a manual with an electronic clutch. If you drive it like an automatic, it will be a bit like riding with someone learning stick. Drive it like a manual though (with your left leg not moving) and you can make it smoother. To make it smooth, lift your foot off fully then step again. The e-clutch engages quick enough and doesn't jerk around everyone inside. Perhaps a bit unnatural but all for the sake of fuel economy.
So does the 508 undo the wrongs of the early to mid 00's? Pretty much, yes. It has to be said too that the timing was spot on when the brand relaunched here under a different distributor. They came in at the right time and just at the beginning of Peugeot's turnaround. The 508 represents a breath of fresh air for everyone here. It's better appointed than everyone's chief rival here (Toyota), loads more efficient and way more distinct. To the people here, for the love of God get this instead of the blandtastic Camry. This car shows us what we've been missing out.
The best part? It's priced like a Japanese car.
Special thanks to Peugeot Pasig for letting me have a go in their car
Thanks to my friend Drew Ravelas for the pictures as well