New Peugeot 508 HYbrid prototype review
We try out the new plug-in Peugeot 508 HYbrid in prototype form ahead of its official arrival
This plug-in hybrid powertrain is critical to Peugeot as it will become commonplace in all of its larger models. We’d like to have seen a longer electric range, but even so, the preliminary numbers available on the prototype 508 HYbrid - and the likeable dynamics and virtually uncompromised interior packaging - do impress. Pricing will make or break it, but get that right and Peugeot has a car that will appeal to both the head and the heart.
The Peugeot 508 is hard to miss, really. Complete with the trademark, oversized LED fangs, a sleek hatchback body, and fit-for-purpose dynamics and engine range, we rated it highly yet not top of the class when we drove it in 2018.
This new plug-in hybrid model, then, could transform the 508 from a decent car that you buy primarily because you like the way it looks, to something that also makes cold, hard financial sense. After all, with a pure electric range of between 25 and 30 miles, and CO2 emissions of around 42g/km (precise WLTP figures are yet to be confirmed) then it will deliver fuel-free daily commuting for a huge swathe of the motoring masses, as well as low company car tax for business types.
When you’re out of electric running, the front-wheel drive Peugeot 508 HYbrid’s 177bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine kicks in and, of course, gives you the freedom of any normal petrol or diesel car. Charging will take around 7 hours from a standard three-pin domestic socket, while a 7kW AC fast charger will do the same in 2 hours. The 508 does also offer the option to hold the battery charge for later in the journey.
We had a go in a couple of prototype vehicles, which promise a decent balance of neat handling and composed comfort despite the added weight of the 508 HYbrid’s 11.8kWh lithium-ion batteries.
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Select ‘ZEV’ pure electric mode and it whirs along with minimal transmission whine and tyre noise, helping to keep things impressively quiet.
The brake regeneration force can be turned on by pulling the gearstick back, meaning that the car applies the brakes when you lift off the throttle in order to harvest the added energy, but the system isn’t jerky or hard to predict. Sure, with slightly vague and occasionally inconsistent brake pedal response, it takes a bit of time to master smooth braking in the 508 HYbrid, but that’s symptomatic of just about every plug-in hybrid on the market.
Default Hybrid drive mode allows the electric motor and petrol engine to trade efforts as the car sees fit, which all happens smoothly, with the slight noise and vibration of the petrol engine kicking-in kept to an easily-ignored background noise. One niggle is that the eight-speed automatic is sometimes clunky in responding to the steering wheel paddles or to a heavy prod of the throttle; engineers suggested this was one key development area that’s still being refined.
Adaptive dampers will also be standard fit on the 508 HYbrid but the differences between modes feels fairly marginal on the prototype cars. Comfort mode takes the edge off the slightly choppy low speed ride, but otherwise the standard setting will be more than cushy enough for most buyers. Sport has a more dramatic effect on the steering weight than ride comfort, and emphasises the edge of fun to be had in the 508.
It shifts along with a hefty hit of acceleration in its mid-range, and the small steering wheel (still something of an acquired taste) emphasises the sense of the car’s nose tucking in as it swings into a corner. As long as you’re wary of the tweak of torque steer that you can get if you hop on the throttle too eagerly, the Peugeot 508 HYbrid flows down the road in a pleasingly punchy and slick fashion.
Peugeot has gone to some lengths to keep the standard 508’s interior practicality. Passenger space stays the same, meaning loads of room up front and enough in the back for two leggy passengers – if less headroom than you’ll enjoy in conventional rivals like the Skoda Superb. The big touchscreen and generally excellent look and feel of the dash, which is barely changed from the standard 508 but for a few select mode buttons and efficiency readouts, is another huge incentive to opt for the 508.
The boot, too, loses only 30-litres of space over the ‘normal’ 508s. Plus, that lost space is actually given over to eminently useful cable storage underneath the boot floor, so by any standard you get an impressively massive and functional boot in both the hatchback and the SW estate version.
This technology in this car isn’t significant only to Peugeot. The 508 HYbrid is just the first model from PSA (parent company to Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Vauxhall portfolio) to get the new plug-in hybrid powertrain, but it will pop up in models across all of the brands this year so it’s critical stuff.
And, overall, the Peugeot 508 HYbrid feels like a hearty start in the right direction for the brand and for the buyer. We’d like to have seen better pure electric range estimates, but its real-world performance remains to be seen, and otherwise it’s a car that feels both logical in the efficiency it offers and also “unboring”, as the brand would put it.
There’s a fizz of interest to the way it drives, the way it looks and the general polish of the 508 that compliments the innate potency and efficiency of the plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Pricing, however, will be critical. Peugeot isn’t willing to even estimate what the car will cost in the UK yet, but if the 508 HYbrid (which will be offered in three trim levels) starts to step on the toes of the forthcoming BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class plug-in hybrids, then it’ll be hard to justify. Yet, if Peugeot manages to undercut the premium executives and keep the 508 in a similar price range to alternatives like the £34k Kia Optima PHEV, then the 508 HYbrid could well feel like a lot of car, and a lot of common sense, for the money.