Peugeot chose a couple of obscure locations for the UK launch of the new 508 RXH Hybrid4. A new and exclusive hotel and golf resort near Knutsford was nice enough, but given the car’s target market and tax friendly positioning, I did wonder if the nearby Knutsford Services on the M6 would be a little more apt. I was paired up with David McCourt of Manchester Confidential and given a road route designed to test the car’s prowess. It soon became apparent that we were heading for Manor House Stables, a racehorse yard partly owned by the footballist, Michael Owen. More on this later.
The Peugeot 508 is no stranger to PetrolBlog. In fact, we tested one last year and celebrated the fact that it represented a return to form for Peugeot. So for the basic lowdown on the car, it’s worth checking out the original review here.
But this new 508 is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s the SW estate model, which unlike the rest of Europe, actually outsells its saloon brother. Secondly, it comes with Peugeot’s diesel Hybrid4 technology. which gives drivers the option to choose between diesel and electric power. What’s more, the 4 stands for four-wheel drive, making the 508 RXH a rather interesting car. Perfect PetrolBlog fodder then?
As the flagship 508 model, you’d naturally expect it to come with a flagship price and at £36,000 for our Limited Edition test car, you wouldn’t be disappointed. This represents a £2,305 premium over the standard RXH and gets you such niceties as directional xenon lights, keyless entry, quad-zone air conditioning, leather and Alcantara seats, JBL stereo and motorised tailgate. It also gets you two options that I’d gladly forego, such as the Copper metallic paint. For me, it looks better in Bianca or Pearlescent white. It also gets you the now obligatory LED daytime running lights. Peugeot seems quite pleased with these, proudly proclaiming them to be ‘instantly recognisable iconic claws’. I’d rather look at them as ‘instantly recognisable chintz and annoyance’. Actually, scrub that, I’d rather not look at them at all.
I guess when you’re competing against the likes of the Audi A4 Allroad, you do need to give the buyers what they want and these days, chintz wins prizes. But aside from this, the 508 RXH is a rather handsome machine, especially from rearward angles. Its four-wheel drive promise is highlighted by a 50mm increase in ride height and a 40mm wider track. It also comes with bodywork extensions that run around the entire car. It whispers rather than shouts about its four-wheel drive capability and for some people, this will be an obvious turn off.
On the inside, the quality and layout is every bit as good as I remember in the 508 saloon. Peugeot’s interiors have come so far that I no longer need to look for lapsed in quality. Like many of its German rivals, you take quality as a given. There are still a few issues though. The way in which the cupholders (when being used) obscure the media screen is laughable and the angle at which the compartment between the driver and passenger opens is just silly. For the driver its inconvenient, for the passenger it’s just plain difficult. Why can’t it open backwards like most other cars?
One nice touch is the copper coloured decor panel that runs along the top of the dashboard and centre console. It’s reminiscent of the approach that is found in the Fiat Coupé and helps lift an otherwise plain but functional interior. Not shown in the press image.
But clearly all of this pales into insignificance when you start to consider the RXH’s main selling point – its diesel HYbrid drivetrain. In simple terms, a 163bhp diesel engine delivers power to the front wheels, with the electric motor adding a further 37bhp to the rear. This effectively means that the 508 RXH has a combined power output of 200bhp. The electric motor will power the car when driving away or at low speeds, with the diesel engine taking over once up to speed. Coming to a standstill, the Stop/Start system kicks in and will remain in electric mode until the accelerator pedal is pressed or battery levels run low.
The battery is ‘topped up’ during deceleration and braking which effectively gives you ‘free’ power for pootling around town. But as we found on our trip back to the hotel, although it’s easy to charge the battery, it’s equally as easy to drain it. A few overtaking moves and prolonged periods on the motorway soon saw the battery levels dropping. Displays on the dashboard help the driver to see where power is being diverted to and from as well as given an indication of the battery levels and fuel consumption. At first it’s all rather distracting, but once the novelty wears off, you begin to forget its there.
There’s no rev counter on the 508 RXH and instead you’re greeted with what Peugeot calls an ‘eco-meter’. It indicates the percentage of power used or recovered and is split into three zones. Charge tells you that energy is being recovered, Eco is the optimum operating range and Power tells you how much of the electrical power you’re using. If you’re seeing figures of 90%, you’re basically being very naughty and need to stop it at once. Unlike the Honda CR-Z, there are no virtual trees to grow, but I do like the way the speed readout on the neat heads-up display changes colour depending on whether you’re being eco or not. A nice touch.
A dial on the centre console allows you to choose between four different driving modes. The default setting is Auto, which essentially manages everything to optimise economy and efficiency. The second option is ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle), giving the driver greater use of electrical power. If the batteries are charged to a minimum of 50%, it is possible to drive around town entirely without the use of the diesel motor. You don’t get long, with Peugeot claiming a range of 2.5 miles up to a speed of 40mph. For nipping into town or crawling through traffic, this could prove to be quite a feature.
The third mode is 4WD. It’s not a permanent four-wheel drive mode, with the distribution changing according to the levels of grip and speed. Peugeot set us a challenge to keep up with a pair of racehorses from the Manor Houe Stables. As press launches go, this was one of the most obscure, but good fun nonetheless. On a very wet racecourse, driver David complained of a lack of grip, so I’d have to check this out for myself. In the meantime, check out the opportunistic video captured on the day (above).
The final mode is Sport, which sets out to do exactly what it says on the button. A ‘sprint’ to 62mph is achieved within a disappointing 9.5 seconds and the 508 RXH will accelerate from 50 to 70mph in 6.6 seconds. It never feels tremendously fast and at times it feels rather sluggish, but then outright pace isn’t really the point of this car. The overriding impression you get is that the car will do everything it can to stay frugal and maintain efficiency and it’s hard to criticise it for this.
But criticism is mostly certainly due when it comes to the subject of the 508 RXH’s transmission. I’ll put this as politely as possible, but in my view, the six-speed EGC sequential gearbox is a bit rubbish. In so many respects, the 508 RXH presents a convincing case for being a genuine rival to the Audi A4 Allroad or Volvo XC70, but its woeful transmission is bad enough to ruin an otherwise excellent car. In automatic mode the gear changes are slow, sluggish and uncomfortable. There’s a noticeable delay in the shifts that is felt even by the passengers in the car. Hard acceleration only goes to compound the issue. Things aren’t much better in manual mode either, with the ‘box slow to react to changes from the steering column mounted paddle shifts. The transmission is big fly in the 508’s ointment and inspires little confidence when conducting an overtaking manoeuvre.
But strange as it may seem, I don’t know if it will matter, because the 508 RXH has one more trick up its sleeve. And it comes from the unlikely source of taxation. The combination of a CO2 figure of 107g/km and no diesel surcharge means the benefit in kind (BIK) rate is just 12%. Those who earn a living within the 40% tax rate will pay just £135 a month for the standard 508 RXH HYbrid 4. Compare this to the 27% BIK rate to say a Ford Mondeo Titanium X, which results in a monthly bill of £273. That’s quite a remarkable difference, especially when you consider that the Peugeot could return a combined MPG figure of 68.9.
It gets even better, with a £557 national insurance contribution in the Peugeot, compared to £1,132 in the Ford. Still not convinced? Well how about the fact that a fleet manager can write off the entire cost of the 508 RXH against company profits in the first year, compared to just £3,038 in the Mondeo.
It’s facts like this that lead me to believe that the 508 RXH could be quite successful for Peugeot. I honestly don’t see it stealing sales from Audi or Volvo, but against the likes of the Passat and Mondeo, both key fleet players, it makes a lot of sense. I could even see it pinching sales from other 508 models. It offers company car drivers something different, with the 4WD capability and HYbrid4 technology being the standout features.
Private buyers will be put off by the prospect of high depreciation, with other 508 SW model losing around 50% of their value in the first year alone. Figures for the RXH HYbrid4 have yet to be released, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar rates of depreciation. Those paying for the car with their own cash will also be turned off by the disappointing transmission. I’m sure it’s something you’ll get used to, but on a car that commands a price such as this and with the level of competition so high, you must try it before you buy it.
But if you’re about to draw up a shortlist of company cars, you’d do a lot worse than the 508 RXH. The quality is excellent and the HYbrid4 set-up is both clever and highly efficient. Look out for them, appearing at a motorway service station near you soon. Available from May 2012.
Peugeot 508 RXH HYbrid4 Limited Edition
Details of scoring can be seen here.