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Peugeot 508 HYbrid4 review (2012 onwards)
What - Peugeot 508 HYbrid4
Where - Buckinghamshire, UK
Date - August 2012
Price - £31,450
Available - Now
Key rivals - BMW 3 Series EfficientDynamics, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Ford Mondeo Econetic
Superbly economical car on paper, with in-practice allure of both silent EV running and surging drive on demand. But it's expensive, not 'different' enough from a regular 508 and the jury's still out on its actual fuel economy.
We like: EV-only running, potential performance, quality cabin, good ride and handling balance, tax savings, remarkable on-paper fuel economy
We don't like: High list price, lack of differentiation over a standard 508, jerky gearbox, diesel boom when driven hard, question marks about real world economy
Every mid-size saloon car would like to be a match for the BMW 3 Series. Few manage it: even premium rival Audi can't build a car that's as good as the latest F30 3 Series, so mainstream brands arguably don't stand a chance.
But one maker DOES beat the 3 Series in one key area, with an interesting alternative that deserves closer investigation. The Peugeot 508 Hybrid4 costs £31,450, produces 200hp, averages 78.5mpg and emits just 95g/km CO2. That's a combination of power and economy that beats even the £28k BMW 320d EfficientDynamics: throw in some of the famed Peugeot handling prowess, and we could have a fight on our hands.
We could have a fight on our hands
How does it do this? Through mating a 37hp electric motor to a 163hp 2.2-litre turbodiesel. It thus becomes the first diesel hybrid saloon on sale. The diesel drives the front wheels, the battery-powered electric motor drives the rear: it's thus four-wheel drive. Another bonus.
You'll be hard pushed to tell this £31K 508 from an £18k entry-level car, mind. Peugeot's blanked off the exhaust outlets at the rear and fitted a 'HYbrid4' badge in the grille, but it's otherwise the same as other models. A missed opportunity, we feel. Particularly given how impressive, in some areas, it is...
The Peugeot pleases from the off by starting off in electric mode - and travelling with the engine off to much greater speeds and distances than you expect. It's not like a Toyota Prius, where the engine disappointingly cuts in almost immediately, and this effect makes the Peugeot feel special in town.
The engine's 'off' as much as possible at lower speeds: as this is when diesel engines can be at their most unrefined, it makes the 508 stand out even to the uninitiated. Good noise insulation means it's refined enough when you're driving it gently at faster speeds via the diesel motor, but be warned - it booms unpleasantly when you rev it.
In normal mode, performance is adequate, no more. It feels heavy and the diesel feels a bit lightweight. The six-speed automatic also shifts slowly and jerkily. It's not a full auto, but an automated version of a manual gearbox. You can tell.
There is a bonus, though. Switch to Sport with the HYbrid4 dial and performance is transformed. The 508 becomes responsive, full of immediacy and boasts strong depths of pulling power. Why? Because it runs the diesel and electric motor together, thus pairing the immediacy of electric with the big-chested guts of diesel. Combined pulling power is a remarkable 331 lb ft of torque.
It's an alluring combination, making the 508 feel a more powerful car than it actually is. It also means the car can rightly claim three-mode motoring: electric in town (where it's most able), diesel at speed (where it's most efficient) - plus electric AND diesel when efficiency doesn't matter...
Ride and handling
The 508 feels a heavy car on the road, but in a good way. It has fine composure and is very reassuring at speed, with a stable and well-planted feel that mimics a luxury exec. It's been developed by people who know what they're doing.
Remember the extra weight of the batteries
The ride can be a little fidgety in town but it is impressive at speed. It also works well on twisting, undulating roads because the quality of the damping is superb. Body motions are controlled fluidly.
The steering is too light at slower speed but is also both crisp and very accurate. It is also unusually dynamic for such a large car, with the front end responding with impressive alacrity. This makes the big 508 feel very agile indeed.
Handling is a match for this eagerness, with lots of grip and a strong front end. It's an easy and rewarding car to thread across twisting B-roads at speed, thanks to its composure, precision and quality of chassis feel.
Just remember the extra weight of the batteries in the back. If you really start to throw it about, you can feel the effect they have, making the rear end react with some extra roll-induced lean that you don't get in the standard 508.
The well-equipped interior is regular 508 fare, save for a stubby and rather cool gearlever (it reminds us of that on a Mercedes SL 63 AMG). It much higher quality than many expect, with some BMW-like attention to detail. Particularly elegant are the glass-covered dials (a 'power' dial replaces the rev counter) and high-res central display screen (with hybrid-monitoring page).
It's very quiet on the move, both in electric and diesel mode, and large (high-set) front seats ease high-mileage use. The rear isn't bad either, but the boot does suffer - due to the batteries and rear axle electric drive, capacity drops from 560 litres to 400 litres (but the higher lip is at least easier to load...).
Economy and safety
On-paper statistics - the important ones for business uses, as these are the ones they're taxed on - are superb. The 508 HYbrid4 averages 78.5mpg and emits 95g/km. That beat the current class-leading BMW by a huge margin. The 10% BIK rate for fleet drivers should offset the higher list price: this is a genuinely intriguing costs rival.
So why no five-star rating? Because these are on-paper stats. In practice, the 3008 HYbrid4 hasn't returned anything like this. The jury is thus out on how economical the 508 HYbrid4 actually is.
It's safe, though. The electrical hardware is completely isolated and installed well within the structure of the car, out of harm's way. And the basic 508 architecture has already been proven by Euro NCAP.
The MSN Cars verdict
Is this a BMW-beater? No. The 320d EfficientDynamics is a better car to drive and, as MSN Cars itself proved, could be the more economical car in practice.
The 508 HYbrid4 is nevertheless a delightfully different and intriguing hybrid saloon, though. The basic car has the quality and ability that's not too far off the premium sector: with the extra tax-saving appeal of the HYbrid4 tech, could more people be prepared to discover this?
Here's an extra thought too. Perhaps we've chosen the wrong BMW to compare it with? The 3 Series ActiveHybrid3 gives 508 HYbrid4-style EV running - but also cost £40k, emits 139g/km CO2 and 'only' averages 47.9mpg. Alongside this, is the hybrid 508 a winner after all?
Need to know
Engines: 2.0-litre turbodiesel plus electric motor, six-speed semi-auto transmission, four-wheel drive
Power: 200hp (diesel plus electric)
Torque: 331lb ft (diesel plus electric)
0-62mph: 9.0 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
MPG, combined: 78.5mpg
CO2, tax: 95g/km, 10%
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