The life of a photocopier toner salesman can be a lonely existence. The seemingly endless days spent negotiating Britain's A-roads and motorways in search of that elusive order. The result is that the hapless salesman will invariably see more of their car than their own home and his children will recognise the postman before they recognise him. But he does have a unique and unrivalled knowledge of the road. He'll be on first name terms with the waitresses in the Little Chef and he'll have his own named parking space outside the Travelodge at Toddington Services. The photocopier toner salesman isn't the king of the road, he is the road.
For the photocopier toner salesman, image is everything. He wants his peers to know that he's a man on the up. By shifting more toner cartridges in a month, he'll gain more commission. And more commission means more treats. Not for him the primo cappuccino in Costa. No, no. The photocopier man wants to drink massimo. He also demands the latest Bluetooth headset. Nothing says 'successful man on the move' more than the sight of a blue LED flashing away in your right ear. Photocopier man is at his happiest when there's a massimo cappuccino parked in the cupholder and a sales call comes through on the Bluetooth.
But all of this pales into insignificance compared to the subject of the car. For the photocopier man, his car is everything. Having the right car can mean the difference between parking outside the door at the Little Chef or hiding the car behind the toilet block. 'Man about outside lane' needs a car that shouts 'success'. "I am a photocopier toner salesman god and this is my chariot".
Once upon a time, you could tell how successful a man was by the badge on his car's boot. A lowly 'L' signified that the sales push was stalling. A 'Ghia' badge on the other hand meant that this was a man on the up.
Today, the choice is more complex, with the Germans, Italians, French, Japanese and Swedish jockeying for position. The default choice is quite clearly a black Audi A4. You can see them up and down the country, usually tailgating a hapless individual in the outside lane of the motorway, most probably with a set of retina-burning LEDs. But the BMW 3-series still holds a tremendous amount of appeal. Mr photocopier man may not be able to stretch to an M3, but with his rear wheel drive beast, at least he can pretend to be on the Col de Turini as he navigates the Reading ring road.
If the Mondeo, Insignia and Passat are the safe choices for the copier man, those who like to display some individuality may opt for the Volvo S60 or Alfa 159, with the C-Class still a tempting proposition for those who see the three-pointed star as a sign of status. In fact, once you've thrown in the cars from the Far East, you can understand why photocopier man may yearn for the days when a Cavalier or a Cortina were the only options.
Somewhat surprisingly, the recent offerings from our friends across the Channel have been a little lacklustre. Citroën's C5 is the only shining light in an otherwise dim line-up of cars, with even Renault's once evergreen Laguna no longer presenting a viable offer.
But what about Peugeot? Can the lion reach out to our photocopier man and divert his attention away from Toner Monthly? Well, having killed off the 407 and 607, it's going to be up to the new 508 to deliver the goods. But is the car a full colour reproduction of a great car or merely a mono toner-saver executive saloon. I tested the GT HDi 200 to find out.
At this point it's worth considering what matters to our photocopier man. His needs are unique to him and his car therefore needs to deliver. This set of needs is called TRICEPS, an acronym for Toys, Ride & Handling, Image, Cup holders, Economy, Performance and Space. For the copier man, these are the things that matter, so he swears by the TRICEPS test. How does the 508 score?
I tested the range topping GT HDi 200 model with its 2.2 diesel engine and 6-speed automatic gearbox. At £29,050 plus options, the GT model isn't cheap, although 508 ownership starts at £18,450 for the basic 1.6 Access model. By emitting just 150 g/km of CO2, the 508 will cost only £130 per year to tax and has a combined MPG figure of 49.5. It will accelerate to 60mph in a little over eight seconds and will go on to a top speed of 145mph. The safety conscious will be pleased to know that the 508 achieved a maximum 5-star Euro NCAP rating, including a 90% and 87% rating for adult and child safety respectively.
But what about our photocopier friend? How does the 508 score on the TRICEPS scale? We'll start with toys.
The Peugeot 508, in GT mode at least, is overloaded with bells and whistles. The photocopier man could be forgiven for feeling like a kid in a sweetshop and I'm struggling to think of anything he'll have to go without. The GT adds the excellent Connect Navigation RT6 multimedia system, heads up display, 18" Electra alloy wheels, Nappa leather, xenon directional headlights, LED daytime running lights and the clever Peugeot Connect SOS system to an already generous level of kit. This latter option includes an automatic SOS feature that, in the event of the airbags being deployed, contacts the emergency services and pin points the exact location of the accident. Safe!
In short, the 508 is loaded with kit. Keyless this, automatic that. I challenge anyone to be disappointed with the 508's gadgets.
Ride & Handling
A bit of a surprise this, but the 508 is a genuinely good car to drive. It's more of an A-road cruiser than a B-road weapon, but 99.9% of the time, this is what will be demanded from it. The ride is perfectly set up to suit the driver and passengers, with the handling very good for a front wheel drive execution saloon. Steering feedback is actually better than I found in the RCZ and puts me in mind of big Peugeots of yesteryear. I'll whisper this, but the 508 GT could be a latter day 405 Mi16. Shhh...
The 508 gets off to a bad start because it doesn't have a BMW, Mercedes or Audi badge on the front grille and for some people, this is an obvious disadvantage. But for the enlightened and open minded copier folk, the 508 presents a strong case for kerbside appeal. During my week with the car, I was amazed by the attention it attracted. Admittedly, the test car's optional Pearl White pearlescent paintwork at £655 helped to give the car standout, but the 508 genuinely received more head turns and glances than the RCZ. My theory for this is that the 508's styling is a real departure for the brand, perhaps more so than the RCZ, which is ironic considering the different sectors the cars will play in. But if you're a photocopier dude who likes being looked at by other Peugeot and Vauxhall Insignia drivers, the 508 is completely and unequivocally the car for you.
I'm going to get straight to the point on this one. The cup holders in the 508 are rubbish. They single-handedly manage to demonstrate that French cars still have some way to go before they'll match the quality of the Germans. Not only do they feel flimsy, but when they're being used they render the in-dash display completely redundant. This won't please the copier man when he's using the sat nav for directions to a toner exhibition in Nantwich.
The poor cup holders highlight other failings too. On the face of it, the 508's interior is well made and does a fine job of mimicking other, more expensive rivals. But dig a little deeper and some surfaces are rather scratchy. You'll also be disappointed with door on the glovebox, which feels flimsy and plasticky. There are other areas too and whilst they aren't deal breakers, they do highlight where some savings are made.
The 508 GT isn't a cheap car to buy, but the ongoing running costs should be quite attractive. The road tax is only £130 per year and if my experience is anything to go by, the 508 is an easy car to drive economically. The combined MPG figure of 49.5 seems easily achievable and I often saw figures knocking on the door of the claimed 64.1 MPG. For a car that doesn't set its stall out to be green and considering the level of power sapping kit, the 508 GT needs to be applauded.
Perhaps the achilles heel for the 508 will be depreciation, with the car expected to retain just 33% of its value after three years. Compared to a more palatable 42% for the BMW 325d SE, this is something that needs to be considered into the decision process.
The 2.2 litre diesel engine is one of the quietest and most refined diesels I've recently experienced. When coupled with virtually zero wind and road noise, the 508 GT is almost whisper-quiet at motorway speeds. This hides the fact that it has the ability to push the car along at quite a rate, helped in no small part by the 450 Nm of torque. With the engine mated to the automatic 6-speed 'box, you effectively have three ways to drive the 508 GT. The default setting is automatic mode, with a 'Sport' button available should you want the revs and engine noise to rise. But push the lever to the left and you can change gear WRC-style by pressing forward for upshifts and back for downshifts. It's a lot of fun and very precise. Should this not be enough for you, then you can use the steering wheel mounted paddle shifts. This is by far the best way to drive the 508 and as I found in the Skoda Fabia vRS I drove last year, it can be a great way to drive. It's not for everyone I know, but when paddle shifts are good, they are really good.
Photocopier toner takes up a lot of space, so this is an area where the 508 simply must deliver. Fortunately, the boot is cavernous, with a whopping 545 litres of space with the rear seats left up. Fold the seats down and you're presented with 1,581 litres, with a completely flat floor. This all bodes well for the 508 and should ensure it is a prime contender for the prestigous 'who can fit the most toner cartridges in the boot' award that is held following the industry's annual conference. Rear legroom is also good, even with the front seats pushed right back. In fact, the 508 saloon is so practical and spacious, you question the need for the prettier SW version.
So there we have it. On the TRICEPS scale, the Peugeot 508 GT HDi 200 emerges rather well. It's loaded with a level of standard kit that shames the likes of Audi and BMW and it has a high level of presence on the road. I'll caveat this by saying that the gleaming white paintwork and relative newness of the 508 helps to give it a standout quality. In a few months time, with more 508s on the road, many of which will be lower spec than the GT, the lustre may have worn off.
But the 508 GT is a genuinely satisfying, if not fun car to drive and is a sure signal that Peugeot is once again back on form. If the RCZ was a sign that that the lion is waking up, the 508 signals that the cat is back on the prowl.
I was somewhat surprised when it won my award for SMMT Day car of the show award. Who knows, perhaps it'll pick up the award for PetrolBlog Car of the Year 2011? Now that would be something.
In the meantime, if you're a photocopier salesman and you're currently perusing the BMW and Audi websites, do yourself a favour and have a look at the 508 GT. You'll be the envy of your peers and will be the belle of the ball at the toner cartridge conference.
What's more, you'll be able to park close to the door at the Little Chef again. If nothing else, Judy the waitress will be impressed.
Do you copy?
Little Chef image courtesy of Margaret Clough. Thanks to Andrew King for the Peugeot image retouching.