Peugeot 508 1.6 THP 156

Price: £20,050
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Consumption: 44.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Best for: Returning former Peugeot fans
Also worth considering? Citroën C5, Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia

With the arguable exception of Mercedes, Peugeot has the oldest and simplest system of model designations in the motor industry. This is how it has worked for more than 80 years. The first of three digits gives a rough indication of the size of a car – a one or a two at the beginning means a small car, five or six means a big one – while the final digit indicates model generation changes; the 305 was the direct replacement for the 304, for example. The middle digit is always a zero, or at least it was until a system of double zeroes was introduced for people carriers, such as the 3008, and 4x4s.

Not all of the number combinations get used. There was no 501, 502 or 503, for example, but Peugeot more than made up for that with the wonderful 504, introduced in 1968 and produced in the millions in saloon, estate, pick-up, coupé and convertible forms. Its unusual trapezoidal headlamps gave it a distinctive face that influenced the Peugeot look for the next 30 years. The 505 enjoyed similar popularity.

But Peugeot never made a 506 or a 507 to follow up on that success. Now the company has put that right with the introduction of the new 508 – the five tells us it's a big car, while the eight tells us it's a member of Peugeot's latest generation of models. But things have changed since Peugeot's Famous Fives ruled the roads, so despite its size, the 508 is offered mainly with small engines.

Don't worry, though, they're up to the job; the 1.6-litre THP petrol engine, for example, turns out 156 horsepower, which is only a little less than than the most powerful 505, fitted with a 2.9-litre V6, had in the Nineties.

The 508's space, comfort and dynamic qualities live up to the high standard set by its illustrious predecessors, and it's a handsome machine as well.

Little touches suggest that Peugeot has reconnected with some of the things that made it great in the past. Some, such as the tail-lights recalling those of the 504 Coupé, are superficial, while others are more fundamental; the fastest 2.2-litre diesel version has a different front suspension system to other 508s, an echo of the four different rear suspension layouts used in various versions of the 504, when Peugeot's near-legendary reputation for ride and handling was at its height.

Five, zero and eight may add up to unlucky 13 – but, for Peugeot, I think they spell success.