Today I present a meta-review. I haven’t got around to having a chance to try to drive a 508 so instead I’ll report on two articles, one from Autocropley and the other from the Telegraph.
It goes without saying that I haven’t got an axe to grind for or against the 508. Like any car it deserves a fair judgement and something about these reviews suggests that whatever Peugeot does, the UK is a lost cause. If you read these reviews nothing would lead you to think that Peugeot had done anything except sell death-traps since 1975.
Never mind my opinions, let’s go to the articles and see what they said.
The Telegraph is up front with their prejudice: “Hello both of you. That’s the two Telegraph readers who will, by my estimate, be stumping upwards of £25,000 for the all-new Peugeot 508 when it arrives in the UK this October. This test is for you, you crazy Peugeot-loving fools. Because selling large saloons in Britain is a dying art, particularly if you are not a German brand,” writes Andrew English. That’s called hyperbole and it’s very Clarkson. English here isn’t telling us about the car but about how he sees the car market.
Over at Autocropley Mr Matt Prior begins with some free-association and a reference to The Fast Show in his bid to grab our attention: ” They used to be a really big deal, cars such as the Peugeot 508 and its sort — the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Renault Laguna. You know the type: big D-segment saloons and wagons, doyennes of company car fleets, discounted and flogged out to the sales reps. Nostalgic for those days? Suit jacket in the back window? Sales samples in the boot? Thirty-thousand motorway miles a year? Jumpers for goalposts?” The implication here is that saloons are by their nature yesterday though they are no less relevant than ball point pens are.
Back to the Telegraph with a remarkably wrong summary of the 508’s predecessors: “Peugeot’s best big saloon was the elegant Pininfarina-designed 505, which it stopped selling in 1992. It was the Lion’s last rear-wheel-drive car; indestructible and fine-riding, it was built in Sochaux on the French border with Switzerland. Its successor, the front-wheel-drive 405, wasn’t a bad car, but got successively less good through the 406 and 407 revamps, so by 2011 when the previous version of 508 appeared, we were heartily sick of the same old, same old.”
I can only call that inaccurate because the 405 wasn’t just a “not bad car” but a hit for Peugeot. And the 406 followed a similar path **(as we know here at DTW I am sure). In the end the 508 actually managed to do reasonably well in a declining market and as these reviews show, was quite good. TopClarkson asserted that only the badge stopped UK buyers buying the 508 which amounts, by the way, to TC telling readers what to think about the car as well.
Autocropley does some more scene setting and produces a statistic: “They love a boring big saloon in China, and even though we’ve gone off them in Europe, people still buy 1.5 million of them a year here.” That’s one million fewer of them in comparison with 1976. Also, Autcropley tells us saloons are boring. You could quibble and say it’s only claiming China likes big, boring saloons but it’s hard not to read it as saloon cars being per definition boring.
The Telegraph is on to something positive here, with its estimation of the smaller size. “It just feels as though they’ve had some fun here and with its slightly smaller size, the proportions are more manageable than some rivals.” That’s quite astute on PSA’s part. The Insignia and Mondeo are like aircraft carriers, nice and all as they are.
And the car is 70 kg lighter than the outgoing one too while it still retains the multi-link rear suspension. So, having told us no-one will buy the car, the Telegraph reveals it’s a decent effort. The boot is as easy to load as a Saab 900, they say. Since it’s the Telegraph writing here, this must mean the pre-GM Saab 900. The ‘graph likes the cabin too.
Autocropley’s article, like the Telegraph’s, spent a lot of time considering residuals and even mentioned spreadsheets. I can remember the Car review of the previous 508 also discussing residuals. And I notice the 3-series, A4 and C-Class are spared this kind of gynæcological intrusion.
This is how Autocropley explains the pricing: “While you can have any Mondeo, Superb or Insignia for less than £20,000, no 508 is less than £25,000 in the UK — it goes up to £37,000 — and Imparato thinks most will be bought in the top two trim levels. Given that, and the fact that more than two-thirds of them will still be bought by fleets, residuals will need to be solid. Which, possible though it might be, would be a something of a turn-up for a big French saloon, n’est-ce pas?”
That’s almost half way to interesting but a less judgemental way to say this is to say Peugeot is providing more quality or equipment to justify its higher price. And yes, that is remarkable. The logic here is that in order to make more money, Peugeot is …. charging more for its cars. I wonder how this will go down in Merkenich and Russelsheim. Seemingly Peugeot have cottoned on to the idea that a high price can be a selling point.
The Telegraph concludes by suggesting the 508 might sell better (in the UK) than might be imagined. Three? “So you two buyers, wherever you are, have fun in your 508s, because it’s going to be a rare sight on UK roads – although it’ll be worth seeking out and that number could swell to make the 508 more of a success than anyone imagined.”
Autocropley is more circumspect. Did they drive a different car? “The 508, then, isn’t stacked with reasons you should definitely go out to buy one. But, then, nor does it give you the remotest reason not to. I quite like it. You might not. That’s fine. They’re not going to try to force you, and I like that even more.”
This reminds me of Archie Vicar’s review of the 505 from all those years ago: “…. 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).”
After all that, we don’t get so much reviews of the car from Autocar or the Telegrpaph as a reviews of the marketing and guesses about the buyers’ expectations.
** That long term review of a used 406 is an eye-opener (if you don’t read DTW, that is): “The 406 has proven amazingly dependable, enjoyable to drive, comfortable and perfectly serviceable from day to day. With the exception of a set of new tyres and a couple of bulbs, it’s cost us nothing to run – while a newer car would have been haemorrhaging money daily as it depreciated.”