A few makers are breaking the mould and thinking out of the box by steering away from the expected in an effort to breathe fresh life into the large family car and save it from disappearing altogether.Drive.co.uk
Jonathan Smith drives the latest Peugeot 508 Fastback, which represents a new wave of rakish five-doors that could save the traditional family saloon from extinction.
Amid the desperate battle to pave new ground and find a fresh niche in the marketplace, there ’s an underlying conformity among car designers.
Small cars in Europe are seen as being predominately hatchbacks, while bigger ones are usually traditional three-box shapes with separate rear boots.
Of course, the SUV and crossover trend shook things up a bit and had a life-threatening effect on both conventional saloons and hatches alike.
But now a few makers are breaking the mould and thinking out of the box by steering away from the expected in an effort to breathe fresh life into the large family car and save it from disappearing altogether.
A sleeker hatchback design with an opening tailgate is being adopted and grafted on to larger models – such as the BMW Gran Coupé, Kia Stinger and VW Arteon.
Of course, the fashion for low-riding almost coupe styling was started several years ago when Audi introduced the A5 and A7. And the latest convert is the new Peugeot 508 Fastback, which replaces the old-school saloon by the same name.
Shorter and lower than both the previous model and most of the obvious competitors, with a £25k starting price that goes up to £36k for the flagship, Peugeot are raising their sights to above Mondeo, Insignia and Superb level to take aim at the German premium brands.
For the rep, still pounding the motorway miles and packing carpet samples or whatever, the new car is probably a hugely attractive proposition. Significantly Peugeot predicts 80pc of sales will be fleet.
There are three diesels – 130ps, 160ps and 180ps. And two petrol versions, 180ps and 225ps from 1.6litre turbo engines. All models except the entry-level 1.5-litre diesel, which gets a six-speed manual, come with eight-speed auto gearboxes.
Like the successful 3008 and 5008 SUVs, the Fastback is treated to Peugeot’s radical iCockpit with central touchscreen and tiny steering wheel. Quality is high and there’s a snug feel to proceedings, but the steering wheel needs to be set reasonably low otherwise the dials are obscured.
The set-up generally works well, but there’s some reflection off the row of soft keys in bright sun which obscures their identification.
There’s plenty of space for four or even five people. Despite the rakish roofline headroom in the rear is sufficient for most. Rear visibility isn’t the strongest point though thanks to the steeply raked rear window.
I found the opening glass panoramic sunroof (an £870 extra) a boon during good weather. Apart from making the cabin airier, It also serves to lighten up the rather dark interior.
Although the 508 Fastback is 8cm shorter than the outgoing 508, the boot is larger at a generous 487litres. The rear seat splits and folds making it more useful for families.
In keeping with the racy looks, the new car is good news for keen drivers. Its new platform with greater rigidity benefits handling to produce a far more athletic and dynamic drive. Nicely weighted steering turns in well and body roll is kept well in check.
Best of all, it feels well planted on the road despite furious winds during the test drive. The most powerful diesel – 180ps – has plenty of mid-range clout and the engine is pleasantly muted and near silent at motorway speeds.
Although diesels are expected to take the lion’s share of sales – no pun intended Mr Peugeot – the two new petrol engines are a treat. I particularly like the punchy 1.6litre, 225 turbo which eclipses 62mph in a crisp 7.3secs and goes on to a max of 155mph.
Play with the steering wheel paddle changes on the auto box and an ear-to-ear smile will appear on most drivers’ faces.
All this and an official combined fuel consumption of nearly 50mpg, which probably tallies with a real-life figure of close to 40mpg.
Stunning to look at and possibly the best Peugeot saloon ever to drive, the New 508 Fastback further enhances the firm’s already strong range.
Car reviewed: Peugeot 508 Fastback GT 225 – On the road £35,975 0-62mph 7.3 secs Top speed 155mph Fuel Economy combined 49.6mpg CO2 emissions 131g/km Engine 1598cc 4-cylinder unleaded EU6 Max Power Engine [email protected] Engine Torque [email protected] Transmission 8-speed automatic with manual mode
High quality interior
The best Peugeot saloon ever to drive