Peugeot 508 RXH

There's something awfully familiar about the Peugeot 508 RXH...

Price: £33,695 to £36,000
Engine: 1,997cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 163bhp plus 37bhp electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed auto gearbox, four-wheel drive
Performance: 132mph, 0-62 in 8.8 seconds, 68.9mpg, CO2 107g/km

This is a car with a cheeky name. You might know that Lexus makes an upmarket SUV with a hybrid drivetrain called the RX450h. One of its features is an electric motor to power the rear wheels while the normal engine powers the front ones.

Now consider the car above. It's the Peugeot 508 RXH, an upmarket hybrid SUV with an electric motor driving the rear wheels. Of course there are differences – the Peugeot has a four-cylinder diesel engine instead of a V6 petrol, and it lacks a secondary front electric motor – but the link seems clear.

Yet there are more obvious differences: the Peugeot is much cheaper, and is based on an estate (the Peugeot 508 SW). In this last point it is more like the Audi A4 Allroad and VW Passat Alltrack, with a pumped-up stance, tough-looking mouldings around the wheelarches and along the sills, hefty 18in wheels and a visual feature made of the undertrays.

It also has a nose style different from a regular 508, with a bar across a deeper grille to take the number plate and three vertical bars in each lower-side air intake. These bars contain white LEDS which act as daytime running lights, and are supposed to bring to mind a cat's claws. (The Peugeot logo is a lion.)

Inside, it is a bit more luxurious than the already habitable 508, in keeping with its premium positioning and pricing.

As for the hybrid mechanicals, we've seen them before, first in the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid 4, then in the Citroë* DS5. In brief they consist of a 163bhp, 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine and a 37bhp electric motor. Peugeot will hope that all that power and an official CO2 score of just 107g/km will lure company-car drivers.

This Peugeot's "automated-manual" gearbox seems an anachronism, but there are good reasons for its use. Mechanically, it resembles a normal manual gearbox but it is controlled by electrics and hydraulics. This system has fallen out of favour because of the pauses and surges during the gearshifts caused by the interruption of the engine's power delivery, but in the RXH the electric motor adds extra thrust during gearshifts to keep the acceleration smooth. So you get the efficiency of a manual (fewer moving parts) and the smoothness of a good automatic. At least that's the idea, anyway.

There are four driving modes, selected by a rotary knob on the centre console. These are ZEV (electric-only), Auto, Sport (with livelier engine responses), and 4x4, which keeps the rear wheels powered all the time. That's the one for tricky terrain. Auto works well enough if you're not in a hurry, letting the hybrid system work with maximum efficiency. Just ambling along with busy open-road traffic returned a 56.5mpg average.

But that figure plummets as your driving rises in enthusiasm, especially if you switch to Sport, as you surely will do if you want to get a move on. However, driving with brio soon brings on the dreaded surges, because the motor can't do quite enough to smooth them.

This is a big car and it feels it, but accurate steering makes the RXH easy to place. It grips well and stays level, but the ride can get lumpy over small bumps.

It's extraordinarily effective off-road, though. It might look like a gently pumped-up estate car, but the RXH can climb and descend gradients steeper than 1-in-2 and pick its way diagonally over shocking terrain twists without a single creak from its structure.

The Peugeot 508 RXH is not perfect, then, but it is one versatile car.

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