Peugeot has switched the 508 from saloon to a fastback bodystyle for its second generation, as the segment battles growing SUV sales.
The new 508, which was revealed at the Geneva motor show, gets a new 5-door body style, as well as styling derived from the Instinct shooting brake concept, revealed at last year’s Geneva show.
Prices for the new fastback start at £25,000 for entry-level Active trim cars, with the 1.5-litre, 129bhp BlueHDi unit. Top-spec First Edition is the most expensive, at £37,400. This pricing puts the 508 £2970 above the entry-level Volkswagen Passat in S trim with 1.4-litre engine, or £995 above the entry-level diesel Passat.
The 508 will get a range-topping plug-in hybrid variant post-launch, with the powertrain taken straight from the 5008 plug-in, due later this year, but it will not have to sacrifice boot space or cabin room to accommodate its batteries like some rivals do, according to 508 project design lead Pierre Paul Mattei.
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Mattei exclusively told Autocar that the 508’s EMP2 platform was developed from the very beginning with “tight packaging” in order to enable Peugeot to offer an electrified powertrain from mid-2019 without impeding practicality.
“Our team of designers spent a year and a half, which is longer than usual, with engineers to access the best technology and knowledge for this car’s platform,” he said. “We have been able to break the conventions for design proportions while keeping those performances [such as boot space] unaffected in the architecture.”
The car’s batteries will be located beneath the floor of the boot without impacting load space, although the space for the spare wheel is lost. This has enabled Peugeot to provide the PHEV with enough power to provide a 31-mile pure electric range (WLTP), which is six better than the plug-in BMW 330e offers.
The 508, formerly a staid-looking four-door saloon, is now a now a much more stylish bustle-backed five-door with frameless doors and “sharp and sculpted” lines. It is around 6cm lower than most rivals in its class, and looks low and sleek even though it is about 8cm shorter overall.
Other tech highlights include a raft of driver assistance systems, as well as an infra-red camera integrated into the car’s pedestrian detection system to aid in detecting pedestrians at night. Inside, the 508 gets Peugeot’s second-generation i-Cockpit system, with a 10in central touchscreen and 12.3in TFT display replacing conventional dials behind the steering wheel.
Where the previous 508 sales were almost exclusively diesel, Peugeot expects a higher petrol bias for the new car around a 68/32 split in favour of diesel is expected by the brand.
The range is topped by a 222bhp Puretech petrol-engined variant, although six petrol and diesel engines are available from launch, with the entry-level car getting a 1.5-litre 128bhp BlueHDi unit - the only 508 available with a manual gearbox. 2.0-litre 158bhp and 178bhp BlueHDi diesels also feature, as does a 2.0-litre 178bhp Puretech petrol.
The 508’s renewal is something of a surprise move by Peugeot - the saloon market continues to dwindle due to the market moving to SUVs, while sales of the 508 have never topped the 140,0000 sold in France in 2010. Sales have fallen steadily since then, with 82,000 sold in the car’s home market last year.
With a renewed focus on design and a fresh body style, the 508 marks the beginning of a reaffirmation of PSA’s support of larger saloons, with sister brand Citroën working on a ‘luxurious’ saloon for launch in 2019 or 2020.
The fastback rear is also a departure from its conventional saloon predecessor, and increases boot capacity from 473 litres to 485.
Peugeot's European boss Maxim Picat cites CO2 as his biggest problem. He believes model range, costs, and production issues are broadly in sync with company aspirations, but the 2020 fleet requirement for 95g/km is the tough one. Tougher for others than PSA though, he says. Believes they have the solutions, based on 'the four' - petrol, diesel, EV and PHEV, plus the flexibility to switch.
Diesel demand dropped 5% across Europe between 2016 and 2017, and there's more to come. But 3-cylinder 1.2-litre variants are PSA's defence against the worst of it. A 3-cylinder 508 will appear in late 2018 and 'works brilliantly'.
The 508 plug-in presents Peugeot with a vital offering to the Chinese market, where increasingly stringent emissions limits mean cars with pure electric capabilities are proving extremely popular. Mattei admitted that there would be some minor changes to the 508’s design in order to cater to the unique tastes of Chinese buyers, but that largely, the car would remain unchanged.
“We didn’t design the 508 in Europe and then modify it for China,” he said. “We designed it in Europe with advice from [our colleagues in] China from the very start. In fact, the car’s iCockpit dashboard was shown in China before Europe.”
Picat believes there's a continuing case for big saloons, saying research around 508 has found people who want manufacturers to 'give us back our sense of style'. The reported upcoming Citroen saloon is 'definite' but Picat couldn't be more specific than 'around 2020'.