Peugeot yesterday provided a sneak preview of the new 508 model which will be launched at the Paris Motor Show next month.
There's a lot riding on the 508. The 508 is the most recent in a long line of medium-large saloons and estates that have provided the backbone of the Peugeot range since the 403 was introduced back in the 1950s. The car it will replace, the 407, didn't quite capture buyers' hearts in the way that popular fore-runners such as the 404, or even the 407's immediate predecessor, the 406 did. That's probably as much to do with the availability of new vehicle categories that provide practical alternatives to mainstream car types as with any shortcomings on the part of the 407, though.
SUVs and people carriers in particular probably now attract lots of buyers who, a generation ago, would have been natural customers for the 504 and 505 estate. The 508 SW (station wagon) therefore does without a seven seat layout in favour of a slightly sleeker "life-style estate" look, although it is still pretty roomy, with a maximum luggage capacity, with the rear seats folded down, of 1,865 litres.
But now, big demand for saloons is opening up in China, where the 508 is expected to find many owners; in fact some 508s will be manufactured there, and Peugeot's interest in the Chinese market for classic "three-box" cars is confirmed by the recent launch of the smaller, China-only 408 saloon.
The 508 is a sleek and handsome design, which follows the new Peugeot look introduced by the company's recently-appointed design chief, Gilles Vidal, and foreshadowed by the SR1 concept car displayed at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. It seems to mark a conscious effort to get away from the big mouthed grille and slightly dumpy proportions of some recent Peugeot cars, and reconnect with the more elegant designs that the company produced in the days when customers coveted hot models like the 205GTI.
That said, the 508 isn't actually a retro design, although its "signature" rear lights (a big current obsession with car designers, by the way), which have a distinctive pattern when lit that is made up of three slightly sloping vertical strips, are inspired by past glories. When I asked him, M.Vidal confirmed that these are intended to recall the distinctive rear lights of the 1969 504 coupé, one of the best-looking Peugeots ever made.
The engine range of the new car will include 1.6, 2.0 and 2.2 litre diesels, the most economical of which features e-HDi stop-start technology. That helps it achieve CO2 emissions of 109g/km on official tests. The fastest, the 2.2 litre Hdi, has a six-speed automatic transmission as standard and 204 horsepower; it betters the performance of the 2.7-litre V6 diesel fitted to the 407, but with far superior fuel consumption and Co2 emissions. The initial range of petrol engines includes a 120 horsepower 1.6 and a turbocharged alternative with 156 horsepower, which is also available with an automatic transmission.
Probably the most interesting option is likely to be the HYbrid4, set to be introduced in 2012, which will have a front-mounted diesel engine and a rear-mounted electric motor producing a combined 200 horsepower; Peugeot expects that this will achieve CO2 emissions of just 99g/km on official tests. The 508 HYbrid4 won't be the first diesel hybrid to make it onto the market, however; that honour will go to the 3008 Hybrid4, which has a similar drive-train, instead. The rest of the 508 range will go on sale in the UK next spring.