Peugeot's likeable 508 SW estate has been comprehensively revised. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
The vast majority of Peugeot 508 customers choose the SW estate version - and you can see why. It's sensibly practical, yet very good looking. And of course it also benefits from the range of mid-term updates that have kept this MK1 model current in an ever more competitive medium range market.
The humble station wagon. No longer quite so humble these days. In fact, estates have become something of a fashion statement in recent years. You'd choose one over the ordinary saloon model even if you didn't necessarily need the extra carrying space. Most Peugeot 508 buyers do. Here's the 508 SW model, here updated with more efficient BlueHDi diesel engines to keep to current against a raft of tough rivals including estate versions of models like the Ford Mondeo, the Vauxhall Insignia and the Volkswagen Passat. And it must also hold its own against a tough in-house competitor. The brand's 308 SW model is supposedly smaller yet just as spacious.
There are now no petrol options offered in the UK but the diesel range is boosted by the PSA Group's latest BlueHDi technology. Most business buyers will be looking at the entry-level 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 unit, which makes 62mph from rest in 11.3s en route to 124mph. It's offered with a 6-speed automatic gearbox option. Just as clean and frugal though, is the pokier 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 powerplant, which improves those figures to 9.1s and 130mph. This unit also comes in 180bhp form at the top of the range. Peugeot's HYbrid4 all-wheel drive RXH estate model also continues. The 163bhp 2.0-litre BlueHDi Diesel engine combines with a 37bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels and they can operate either alternately or together, in a way that is transparent for the user. The four selectable driving modes (ZEV, 4WD, Sport and Auto) allow the driver to alter the feel and response of the car. On the move, Ford hasn't been surpassed as the driver's choice in this class but Peugeot has managed to run the Blue Oval close with a more refined car that's a more relaxing haven for longer journeys. There's a quality here that feels premium German - and I'm not just talking about the fixtures and fittings. The standard-fit acoustic windscreen, the dampers fitted on the front axle to reduce vibration and the suspension set-up that even in its simplest form, rides pot holes with disdainful ease yet is also able to offer confident cornering. It's all enough to create in this car a better medium range model than any Peugeot has offered us for the last twenty years.
The latest front end certainly gives this 508 a bit more visual clout, with a chromed grille that's more assertive and which is framed by 100 per cent LED light units. The bonnet looks flatter and more imposing, while at the rear there are new bumpers and light assemblies. As for practicality, well with a 660-litre boot, this car doesn't actually have any more space than the brand's supposedly smaller 308 SW model - at least with the rear seat in place. Drop the rear bench though and the figure in question rises to 1,865-litres, which is a useful improvement over the more compact car. A slick floor netting system allows you to secure gear quickly and easily without it getting battered should you take a roundabout a little enthusiastically. There's also a 48-litre compartment under the boot floor to keep valuables well hidden. Even if a thief gets into the vehicle it may well be more than the work of moments to find your gear given the sheer amount of cubbies, drawers and pockets inside the 508 SW. Those in the cabin alone total 22 litres and include door pockets that can hold 1.5-litre bottles. The level of fit and finish is easily on a par with mainstream rivals, even matching the quality of the game-changing Vauxhall Insignia.
Prices start at just under £24,000, so you're looking at a premium of around £1,200 over the saloon model. The key trim level in the line up is the 'Active' model, which will target business buyers. Further up the range, there's a choice of 'Allure' and 'GT Line' trim, while those wanting the top BlueHDi 180 auto model can get the top 'GT' spec. Where the 508 SW scores over its key rivals is in building in plenty of equipment at modest prices. Even entry-level 'Active' variants get LED daytime running lights, rear parking sensors, auto headlamps and wipers, tinted glass, power-folding mirrors, an ultrasonic alarm and 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there's automatic dual zone air conditioning and the 7-inch multifunction colour touchscreen from where you can control a DAB digital radio, satellite navigation and Bluetooth for your mobile 'phone. Oh and, thank goodness, a proper full-sized spare wheel. Most though, will want to upgrade to the plusher 'Allure' spec we tried, which adds niceties like the full LED light set at the front with its front foglights, plus half-leather seat trim, a keyless start system, the dubious pleasure of an automatic electric parking brake and, on SW estate models, a panoramic glass roof. Tempting options include full leather trim, a sunroof, a thumping upgraded JBL HiFi system and a motorised tailgate.
Although Peugeot isn't ignoring the needs of private buyers, it freely admits that by far the majority of 508 sales are coming from business customers and inroads into this market are impossible without a range of fuel efficient, low emission diesel engines. Most will be drawn to the 1.6-litre BlueHDi 120 variant, which can deliver 67.2mpg on the combined cycle and 104g/km of CO2. Curiously, the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 unit though, does even better, recording 72.4mpg and 102g/km of CO2. Those figures take a knock if you go for the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 version of this engine, as it must be ordered with automatic transmission. The figures here are 64.2mpg and 114g/km. Best of the bunch for cleanliness is the diesel-electric RXH HYbrid4 model, which can put out as little as 109g/km and manages 72.4mpg on the combined cycle. We''ll mention to the green-fingered that 85% of the mass of a 508 is recyclable and 95% is bio-degradeable. On a more practical note, residual values won't of course be like those you'd get from the premium German brands (or even as good as those from Volkswagen or Honda), but they have proved to be firmer with this 508 than they were with its 407 predecessor thanks to a reduction in dealer discounting. Insurance might be slightly more expensive than some rivals but lengthy 20,000 mile service intervals will be welcome, as may be the Optiway service plan that helps you budget for routine maintenance.
Not all mid-term facelifts are significant but the one delivered to this 508 SW certainly has been. It's smarter, cleverer and better equipped. In other words, we're talking about a very complete package. And one in which the frugal BlueHDi engines offer a big step forward in performance-minded efficiency. Stylish space and consummate long distance comfort remain the strongest selling points for this Peugeot though. Would you really want the kind of stripped-out, basic BMW 3 Series Touring or Audi A4 Avant you'd have to pay more for in preference to one of these? More pertinently perhaps, would you rather have a more ordinary-feeling Vauxhall Insignia Sport Tourer or Ford Mondeo estate? These are key questions if you're in the market for a conventional spacious station wagon of this sort. Try a 508 SW and you might well find that answering them is a little easier.