Can this svelte-looking plug-in hybrid compete with the big boys in the big-car class?

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Ah, the D-segment. Once, when it was normal for a car maker’s range to consist of five models and having five channels on your television seemed quite the extravagance, the D-segment – large family cars such as the Peugeot 508 – was the dominant force in UK car ownership.

Model ranges and their respective levels of sophistication were glaringly obvious in this company car-focused market. The badge on the back might even have included an ‘i’, standing “for ‘important’”, as a driver on a TV documentary said at the time. There were big players – Ford and Vauxhall, predominantly – and a British Touring Car Championship focused entirely around big family saloons (and one Volvo estate). And, absolutely, Peugeot was part of it.

Full LED headlights were an £850 extra on our Allure test car. We’d be disinclined to tick that option at that price. It’s not like standard headlights don’t let you see anything

These cars are still around but when manufacturers including Renault, Nissan and Toyota have decided that the segment is not really for them, you can see where we are: in a space into which Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have muscled and where mainstream makers are trying to push upwards in terms of price, style and quality to remain relevant and profitable.

Which brings us to the latest Peugeot 508, styled in a department headed by 2019 Autocar design award winner Gilles Vidal. It is a rakish, attractive car that has to do two things: be a competitive everyday estate car and yet take on vehicles with seemingly more alluring badges. Can it do it?

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The 508 line-up at a glance

A big diesel family car seems almost parochial these days but still makes a lot of sense to a lot of buyers. The base 1.5 HDI can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox or the eight-speed auto, but everything else is automatic only. The single 1.6 petrol engine does a lot of heavy lifting, offered in two flavours alone or with the hybrid added (and with a more powerful four-wheel-drive variant coming).

Base trim is Active, which is 1.5 HDI only, then there’s Allure, then GT Line (costing £1750 more than Allure), with top-level GT reserved for the top power outputs only.



Peugeot 508 SW Hybrid 2020 road test review - hero side

To our eyes, there have been a series of great-looking estate cars and fine-looking Peugeots recently. So no surprise that, even in the white that fails to show body curves as well as a bolder, more reflective metallic shade, it cuts quite a dash.

At 4.78m long and 1.86m wide, this shallowly sloping elegant car hits all the dimensions you’d expect of a largely family saloon and estate range. It runs on a PSA Group large vehicle platform called EMP2. You’ll find the same underneath the Peugeot 3008, Citroën’s C5 Aircross, the DS 7 and the Vauxhall Grandland X even before the former GM outlet joined the group.

Shallow window depth means that the rear-view mirror shows what’s outside through a relatively narrow hole – not disconcerting, but limiting and unusual.

The basics of this mean that it’s a conventional, mostly steel monocoque with a MacPherson strut front suspension arrangement and multi-link at the rear. What differentiates it from other car makers’ platforms, and demarks it from PSA’s small car platform, is the method by which it can be electrified. Small Peugeots will be internally combusted or fully battery-electric. The EMP2 structure is internally combusted or plug-in hybrid.

This is the latter, as suggested by its extravagantly long name – the 508 SW Hybrid 225 e-EAT8 S&S Allure. What that means is that in the front there’s a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mounted transversely and driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

It makes 178bhp and 184lb ft on its own but is also augmented by a 109bhp electric motor, integrated between engine and gearbox, to provide a nominal total of 222bhp through the front wheels and an unspecified maximum torque owing to the two peaks not arriving at the same time.

On Peugeot’s SUVs, and the upcoming fast Peugeot Sport Engineered variant, there’s an extra electric motor at the back providing four-wheel drive and more vigorous acceleration than is on offer here.

This car, though, is meant to provide a better all-electric range – some 31 miles, thanks to an 11.8kWh battery mounted rearward under the floor.


Peugeot 508 SW Hybrid 2020 road test review - cabin

Here’s where, a decade or more ago, mainstream car makers had most to do against established ‘premium’ rivals and it’s where it’s obvious, today, that they’ve succeeded. Fit and finish are to a good level.

The plastics look marginally better than they feel but, if you removed all the branding, we doubt you’d be able to tell whether the cabin was from a ‘premium’ brand or a Peugeot – at first glance, anyway. Assuming, that is, Peugeot’s i-Cockpit layout, which it’s wedded to, didn’t give it away.

Peugeot says the hard buttons beneath the touchscreen are easier to use than normal buttons if you have long fingernails. Fair, but the touchscreen surely isn’t.

The thinking behind this is as it ever was. There’s a small steering wheel – quite squared off – with a heavily assisted rack and the idea is that you peer over the wheel, rather than through it, at the dials. Which is fine if you’re not one of the number of people who don’t find that it obscures the view. And in our experience, it does for rather a lot of folk.

Things have been tweaked and improved over the years and in the Peugeot 508, most of our testers found they could see, at least, the important bits of the instruments – though by no means perfectly, and not by moving the wheel to anything like a conventional position. You have to site it low. Like a dodgem.

The instruments themselves are bold and clear, although how useful or busy the information supplied is depends on which layout you pick (one option is customisable, which is what we ran with). That instrument binnacle is backed by a central touchscreen, as part of an apparent effort to purge as many physical buttons from the interior as is practicable. As software and features advance, in some ways this makes sense, but having to use a touchscreen to change the temperature will always be daft in our book.

The 508’s driving position is generally sound. Room in the rear of the cabin is adequate: with sculpted front seatbacks, there’s quite a lot of leg room, though the sloping roof restricts head room and creates only a little space between the boot luggage cover and the roof itself. That the seats-up boot space is 530 litres (a Volkswagen Passat estate’s is 650, even a saloon’s is 586) tells you just how rakish it is. To our eyes, it’s worth it. Whether your dog would agree is a different matter.

508 infotainment and sat-nav

The binnacle instruments are customisable – which is just as well, because there are bits we like about different menus. For example, the ‘minimum’ option is so minimum it doesn’t show you a fuel gauge. If you select ‘dials’ it’s busy, ‘driving’ gives you weird rotary dials, and so on. So tuning ‘personal’ can bring the simplicity you need and is the only way to permanently show the trip computer.

Steering wheel buttons aside, then, the rest of the infotainment system is accessed through the touchscreen. Beneath that, its hard buttons are audio, air-con, nav, car menu (settings), connected apps, and energy use. Each has its value but why have the ‘air-con off’ and ‘air recirculate’ buttons as separate buttons (rarely used), but not the temperature setting (frequently used)?

The menus themselves are fine once you get used to it and graphics good, but we suspect anyone with a smartphone will end up mirroring it on screen.


Every petrol engine fitted to a 508 is a 1.6-litre Puretech 180 unit making 178bhp. The only difference is whether it’s hybrid assisted or not to make the full 222bhp (in a year or so, doubly assisted to around 350bhp).

The petrol unit is very quiet at low revs, if it fires up at standstill or while mooching around at all, and that’s a trait it retains as speeds rise. You can take control of its operation via flappy paddles attached to the steering column, so they don’t rotate with the wheel, but most of the time our testers found the 508 breezed along agreeably without the interference.

Squared-off steering wheel with just two stalks means there’s not much of a clue which way up it is.

This car has a high specific power output for a mainstream family car, of 111bhp per litre, so the motor, as well as providing propulsion on its own, chips in to fill the torque gap while the engine’s turbo is beginning to spin. You can choose to operate the 508 on electric power alone – and as time goes by, in some cities presumably you’ll have to. The claimed range from a full charge is 31 miles, and we reckon you will match it in stop/start traffic. On our typically more rural routes, it would still head comfortably into the 20s.

The eight-speed automatic ’box shifts smoothly, and via a rearwards pull on the lever once in ‘drive’ you can toggle very easily between two braking modes – one a leisurely coast, the other a more severe lift-off akin to applying light brake pressure. That there’s always creep from a standstill means this can’t be a one-pedal-driving car, however.


Peugeot 508 SW Hybrid 2020 road test review - on the road front

The Peugeot 508 has, in our experience to date, shown itself as a genial and relaxing drive companion. And despite carrying an extra 100kg over the conventionally powered car, the plug-in hybrid continues the theme.

It is at its best when mooching around. Our test car rode on £1000 adaptive dampers and the ride was always pliant. Scroll through the 508’s drive modes towards its more performance-oriented ones and you’ll fail to note a discernible uptick in the kind of dynamism it offers. It’s not without agility compared with some cars in the class – it feels more responsive than, say, a Vauxhall Insignia or Volkswagen Passat – but comfort is its primary setting. Which is fine – it matches the mood in which the drivetrain is at its best, too.

We’ve tried 508s on larger wheels than these 17s – 18in and 19in. The secondary ride didn’t bother us here like it did on 18s.

What does contribute to whatever agility it has is its direct, quick steering. A small-diameter wheel necessitates a high degree of assistance, to the extent that there’s precisely nothing fed back here, except a modicum of torque steer from a standing start or out of tight corners. Assume grip levels and ask a lot of the 508, though, and it shows good adhesion, resistance to understeer and good body control for the class.


Peugeot 508 SW Hybrid 2020 road test review - hero front

In Allure trim, the 508 SW has a fairly gulpsome £36,545 price before options (our test car came in at £39,420 with a modest set of options, including a £300 7kW charge capacity that ought, to our mind, be standard).

But as is the way of things, Peugeot will attempt to put one on your driveway for a figure that looks much lower – £370 a month after a £7k deposit and £13,000 balloon payment four years later assuming 6000 miles a year. Your company might have better luck. In which case, the 29g/km rating might be tax tempting.

Allure trim comes well equipped. We’d pick metallic paint and the 7kW on-board charge option, but that’s probably about it.

Assuming the right use case, you might seldom need to fuel the plug-in 508, if your commute is short enough. And if you start with a completely flat drive battery, in mixed driving you should see a return approaching 45mpg – more, the harder you try. But less, in our experience, than you’d see in with VW’s (slower, admittedly) pure petrol 1.5 Volkswagen Arteon.



Peugeot 508 SW Hybrid 2020 road test review - static

Revisiting our road test of the conventional combustion-engined saloon in 2018 sets a tone for the 508 SW that still rings true.

This is a car that looks alluring and rides comfortably, and holds its head pretty high among both mainstream and premium alternatives. It has a cabin that impresses initially, and Peugeot’s i-Cockpit gets a little better every time. Perhaps one day it will impress like BMW’s iDrive. But likely not.

This is a comfortable car that looks smart and feels classy

Being the enthusiasts that we are, though, the Autocar top five in this class remained dominated two years ago by more dynamic alternatives. This is where the plug-in hybrid scores: the nicer cars in the class to drive – like the Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Kia Stinger – don’t offer you the chance to hook them up to a wall overnight. At a stroke, then, the opportunity to burn very little, if any, fuel in your daily commute can take the 508 from interesting alternative to compelling front-runner.

The good news is that, aside from the allure of the drivetrain, which will be irresistible to some, the rest of the 508 package is respectable too.


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.