What are you driving?
Handsome, isn't it? The Peugeot 508 saloon (actually it's a fastback hatchback, but let's not quibble, eh?) was already one of the best-looking cars in the mid-size four-door sector, but I reckon that this SW estate version is better looking again. I often think that of estates, but sadly most of you disagree with me - despite estate sales making up a significant proportion of European car sales in general, here in Ireland it's usually around ten per cent of the mix. That is far too low, if you ask me (no-one does) and this 508 SW proves once again that we should be buying more wagons, and fewer saloons (and certainly fewer SUVs).
Our test car was a 508 SW with the 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesel engine, pumping out 130hp and 300Nm of torque. It's in range-topping GT-Line spec, so it's not the cheapest, and the €42k price tag for this one puts it within striking distance of the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 - can a 'mere' Peugeot ever hope to win such a comparison? We shall see...
Name its best bits
Well, as if it wasn't obvious enough, the 508 SW's greatest asset is the way it looks. From the front, with that deep inset grille and the badge mounted on the leading edge of the nose in tribute to the classic 504 and 505 models, all the way to the neat three-bar LED brake lights, this 508's a looker. The extra roof length and neatly integrated tailgate mean that, to my eyes, it's more handsome than the saloon, and manages to avoid the weird thing that happens to that saloon - when you look at it from the side it suddenly looks too tall for its length.
I love the frameless doors (is this the first estate with frameless doors since Subaru updated the Outback? I think it might be...) and the cabin is lovely too. The low-set wheel, high-set instruments 'iCockpit' layout can be divisive, but arguably it works better here in the 508 than it does in any other Peugeot right now. The low and laid-back driving position means that the wheel sits less obviously in your lap, while the low and lean look to the dash and centre console really give the cabin an enticing ambience. The digital instruments look sharp, and I love the 'piano key' shortcut buttons that make the central touchscreen much less fiddly to use (although they could be mounted a little more firmly in their beds).
I know diesel has had a hard time lately, but Peugeot's 1.5 diesel four-cylinder really is excellent. Peak power of 130hp is pretty good, but 300Nm of torque is above and beyond the call of duty. It's brisk enough through the mid-range (aided by the slick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox) that you don't really feel the need to upgrade to the bigger 160hp and 180hp 2.0-litre HDi engines (although the 225hp 1.6 THP turbo petrol is another matter...). Its fuel economy is good too, so as an all-rounder it's tough to beat.
Oh, and it's also practical. Despite that swoopy styling, the boot is decent at 530 litres. That's not going to impress anyone with a Skoda Superb Combi, I suppose, but it's good enough for most purposes. The rear seats fold flat easily too, with a simple lever pull from just inside the tailgate, so it's simple to maximise the load area when you need to.
Handling-wise, it's not perhaps perfect, but it is good. The small steering wheel can make the front end feel a touch over-responsive at times, and there's more lean - again, especially at the front - when you're pressing on than you might imagine, but on the whole the 508's quite good fun to drive. Find a twisty road with a decent surface and you won't be disappointed.
Anything that bugs you?
Sadly, the ride quality isn't that great, which is a double shame as, really, all the best French cars should have a comfy, relatively squishy, ride. Space in the back seats is only OK - headroom is a fraction better than it is in the saloon, but it's still nothing to shout about - and the seats-flat load space is a little disappointing. And that price tag, for this GT-Line model, does mean that it's far from being the best value. OK, so against a BMW or Audi it's going to be better equipped as standard, but the 508 makes more sense further down the price list, where it's up against the likes of the Skoda Superb and Mazda6.
And why have you given it this rating?
The thing about the 508 SW is that it makes you feel cool. It radiates that 'I'm secretly starring in a moody French police thriller' vibe that the best previous Peugeots have done, but this one does so perhaps a little more emphatically. Can it compete with the German big boys? Yes, just about - it's a more natural competitor to more affordable brands, but it can hold its head high among the premium boys. And it's way, way cooler than any SUV.
What do the rest of the team think?
I adore how this car in this specification looks. That and the design of the interior are almost reason enough to go for it (so long as you can live with the dashboard layout), but this car has a lot going for it, especially when powered by Peugeot's relatively new 1.5-litre diesel engine. Oh, and any family car that has frameless door windows is ok with me. Hope the market agrees with us on all this and Peugeot continues to be daring in its design.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor