“Point Counterpoint.” Archie Vicar muses on the meaning of Peugeot’s exciting new saloon, the 505.
Drivers & Motorists Monthly (February 1979). Photo by Crispin Darling. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been employed.
The keenly contested large car sector is very profitable. 2.46 million large cars were bought in Europe in 1976. Manufacturers pick different weapons with which to capture these customers. Ford uses keen pricing and generous specifications to help the set-square Granada find its customers (300,000 a year!). Vauxhall tries to offer reassuring safe handling and predictability. Citroen insist wild-eyed technology and futuristic styling will be the way forward for the CX. Renault offer us mystery and confusion in the form of the ancient 16 or the purposeless 30. Rover suggest brash Brummie modernism with their rakish 2300 and 2600.
Into this hard-fought fray drives the new 505 from the Lion Marque. What is its unique atttraction? It’s a bit early to say.
Attacking it from another angle: the Peugeot 604, as many readers know, is a very fine saloon. We pitted it (October ’77) against the Citroen CX 2400 Pallas, Ford’s Granada 2.8 V6 and the Mercedes 230E and it claimed first prize. It’s more spacious than the Granada, more pleasing to drive than the Mercedes (by a wide margin) and more agile and wieldy than the CX, and cheaper too.
Hence the puzzlement I experienced when looking at the 505 in Orly airport carpark. It’s 6 inches shorter than the 604 but is much cheaper. It would appear to compete with the 604 since anyone who likes that car (and well they might) may find the 505 to be (nearly) the same but better (in some ways). That said, 505 still not as well made as the Mercedes, not as cheap as the Granada and not as daft as the CX (nothing is, to be frank).
The only people who will worry about the Peugeot 505 are the fellows who try to make a living selling the Peugeot 604. Perhaps it would have been better either to fit a 2-litre motor into the 604 and forget the 505 or else make a V6 available in the 505 and pension off the 604. Nobody seems to want it, sadly.
After a hearty lunch during the test drive, I stood under an awning and I stared at the car while enjoying a few filterless Gauloises. I looked at rain drops beading on the 505’s bronze metallic paint (an extra cost option). Pininfarina have styled the car (I wouldn’t let Peugeot near such a delicate job). It doesn’t look very Italian nor very French. Nor very German. Nor British. But it does look as if Peugeot have worked hard to make the car look cheaper than the 604.
Remember that the 505’s predecessor, the 504, had an outstanding ride. I took a British-market model on a hard charging drive across the green lanes of the Chilterns. The impacts were well supressed and the car veritably floated over the undulations and potholes. I concluded that the 505 is as good as the 504 (but no better). One could say that merely by meeting the standard set by the 504, the 505 is still well-ahead of its peers. But in the increasingly competitive world of motoring, it’s hard to feel that good is good enough. And recall that Peugeot owns Citroen who make the succulently-suspended CX which has the softest and most compliant ride of all.
And so we arrive (painfully) at the conclusion. Only by driving this car across the whole of southern Britain that one can understand it. It is not charming. It will not soothe you nor stir your emotions. Nor will it flatter your good taste, for its styling maintains a reserve of deepest inscrutability.
If you wish to enjoy high performance then similarly priced sports saloons from Alfa can best most models in the range. The Lancia Beta offers a more eloquent tiller. Ford can sell you a more comprehensible saloon. If you value French flavour, the CX is roquefort to the Peugeot’s bland port salut. Rover’s Stilton is yet more pungent. Drivers of German machines will assume the Peugeot is not as well assembled (actually it is). The 505 provides a better ride and handling compromise than either BMW´s nervous, over-priced 518 or Benz’s dull taxis (which neither ride nor handle but offer a lifetime of ill-informed self-satisfaction).
And so we are still arriving at the conclusion. For every point there is a counterpoint, and for everything the 505 does quite well (and it does much) there is another car that does that one thing slightly better (or differently). What the 505 does well, it does so imperceptibly, and this particular quality is the essence of the car. Peugeot will still sell hundreds of thousands of examples of the 505 (and nobody will notice).