Driven, Written: Peugeot 508 SW 1.6 l PureTech 180

On the basis of its scarcity, Peugeot’s large estate ought to be an also-ran. After a week behind its wheel, it’s a minor revelation. 

All images: The Author

Estate cars don’t sell the way they used to. Non-German estate cars even less so, which meant that prior to my pre-Christmas trip to the rental car company, where I was supposed to pick up a VW Passat estate (or similar) that was to take two to three people, one to three dogs and quite a bit of luggage all across Germany and back, I’d seen a grand total of two new Peugeot 508 SWs on the roads.

‘Or similar’ turned out to be a Seat Alhambra, which didn’t set my heart aflutter – to say the least. A bit of haggling eventually resulted in a premature Christmas present of sorts, in the form of the metallic olive green Peugeot 508 SW I’d seen on the forecourt and had hoped to be leaving with. So it was to be.

While I always liked this second-generation 508’s appearance – despite a few slightly too busy details and the superfluous ‘lion’s fang’ DRL, I wasn’t expecting an awful lot from the driving experience. At best, I was hoping to encounter Passat-like competence in a slightly more inspiring ambience, although I was somewhat dismissive of Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, which – on the basis of looks alone – seems to try a bit too hard to be different from the norm.

The first surprise came in the non-round shape of the steering wheel. I typically detest such squared-off items, particularly in ‘sporty’ Audis, where I perceive them as a constant source of irritation. In the Peugeot, thanks to its very fast and well-weighed steering, this design takes on a control yoke-like quality, which felt harmoniously in keeping with the car’s overall mien. The main gauges above the steering wheel also worked fine for me (maybe aided by my lanky 1.91m frame), to say nothing of the centre console ergonomics, which turned out to be the best I’ve encountered in a recent car – by some margin.

Like an evolution of BMW’s traditional driver-focused cockpit architecture, the Peugeot’s center console is inclined upwards, toward the dashboard and infotainment display. On a plane below the touchscreen display, a row of physical buttons allow quick access to any main submenu. Again, my physical built might have helped, but I perceived the i-Cockpit’s ergonomics as astonishingly well thought-out.

For most inputs, I could rest my elbow on the centre console, which isn’t the case with many VW models, just as Peugeot’s far mightier (and better funded) rival has abolished physical buttons for the main submenus some time ago. On top of these boons, the 508 even featured a dedicated button for switching off the dreaded lane departure warning system – this needed switching off before every journey (just like a VW), but no browsing through a number of submenus beforehand, which was most welcome.

The graphics were also surprisingly sophisticated. While the Peugeot’s instrument display also featured an overwhelming number of warning icons, these didn’t pop up in annoying or irritating fashion, but would simply flash. In the case of speed limit signs (which are never read with perfect accuracy by the cameras anyway), the 508 refrained from any acoustic reprimands and would only show the speed limit, with the figures turning red if one was driving any faster. On this basis, I felt less like being at the mercy of an incompetent nanny (as I did in a similarly equipped VW Tiguan) and more assisted on a voluntary basis. Chapeau, Peugeot.

Driving the Peugeot wasn’t as much of a revelation, but in this area too, the 508 performed far better than its poor (German) sales performance would suggest. Noise suppression was very good – and welcome, given the turbocharged four cylinder engine’s lack of aural charisma, as was the agile handling. The steering, as stated before, is excellent by modern standards at lower speeds and only becomes a bit too heavy at high (150 kph+) speeds. It delivers no real feedback, but its weighting and responsiveness are well calibrated to almost make up for this. Damping is the only area where the Peugeot veered towards the harsh side, but even so, it was never unsettled, even at 180 kph. All in all, the car always behaved perfectly predictably and remained stable under any circumstances, with unexpected agility.

The 508 drivetrain’s only truly weak spot is its transmission. The eight-speed automatic gearbox was over-eager to change up, resulting in the car feeling a bit gutless at higher speeds or when immediate acceleration was required. Moreover, when caught at (too) low revs, engine vibrations would be transmitted to the central tunnel in an uncouth manner. This behaviour was likely due to the gearbox’s economy-focussed programming, which makes the overall fuel consumption of about 9 litres per 100 kms (31 MPG) appear less than impressive. In fairness, this 508 had only three kilometres on the clock at the start of our trip, which might explain this mediocre result – and, possibly, the failure of the stop-start system (due to ‘inappropriate conditions’), which remained the only glitch, electronic or otherwise, experienced.

I had to drive the final leg of the trip, 800 kilometres from the Swiss border back to Hamburg, in one go, despite a rather nasty cold. Due to the qualities already mentioned, as well as the very good seats (which are second only to Volvo’s), this drive turned out to be only half as awful as I’d feared. I doubt I’d state the same if we’d gotten that Alhambra.

Not only compared to a full-size MPV, the 508 cuts quite a dashing figure. As stated before, I’m no big fan of its ‘fang’ daylight running lights, but even so, I didn’t mind them a great deal. Their opal glass cover clearly separates them from the headlights, which appear far neater solution than many other arrangements (for example on its French competitor, the Renault Talisman). The Peugeot’s low stance also helps lend it an overall appearance that’s not dramatically, but perceivably more athletic than the norm. The frameless windows and – again – unobtrusively interesting colour and (in particular) trim choices result in the impression of a car that’s special in a very inconspicuous way – as befits a family-friendly estate car.

After having experienced the Peugeot 508 in some detail – and not having come across another example while driving 1800 kilometres through Germany, I ended up wondering what keeps this car from being far more popular.  A quick browse through the ‘net suggests professional car journalists disagree with my assessment, for a start.

Then there’s the elephant/SUV in the room, of course – what with its taller 5008 sibling outselling the 508 in ridiculous fashion. But there’s another factor I was alerted of when I started discussing the Peugeot with relatives during Christmas: ‘That’s not a proper car!?’ being the first reaction elicited by our holiday motor, followed by widening pupils once I explained that it’s ‘really rather good’.

So it turns out the mantra of German automotive excellence has become properly engrained, certainly on these Teutonic shores. This, I’d argue, is the 508’s biggest hurdle around here. Judged solely on its merits, it most certainly is a good car – a surprisingly good car, given the state Peugeot and PSA were in during its development. Not solely, but particularly against that backdrop, I’m left quietly impressed by what Messrs Tavares, Imparato, Vidal et al have achieved: A car that’s not ‘good for a Peugeot’ or a non-German car. But a good car, full stop. A moderately characterful car too.

When I returned the 508 to the rental car company’s premises, I intentionally parked it next to a car that’s not just its competitor, but what my family member would unquestionably have considered to be a proper car: a BMW 3 series. Try as I might, I failed to find the German premium alternative more attractive than that green Peugeot I’d become rather fond of over the previous days.

Which probably says just as much about the car market anno-2020 as it does about me.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

39 thoughts on “Driven, Written: Peugeot 508 SW 1.6 l PureTech 180”

  1. In Germany, more than two out of three cars in the 508’s class go into corporate fleet lease contracts. Therefore, the car has to be sold to fleet managers and not to individual persons if it has to be a success in the market.

    Fleet managers expect a certain level of professionality on the dealers’ side and from my experience with Peugeot dealers they are notoriously off the mark in their understanding of the concept of customer service. Alfa’s lack of success in the market has the same reason.

    1. Thank you for a very insightful hands-on review, Christopher.

      While I still haven’t got around to test-driving the 508, have showroom-sat inside several and do find both its ergonomics and its cabin design (and particularly the interaction
      between those two) to be truly game-changing.

      Might go that far to say that, to me at least, it seems that what they did with the ergonomics / cabin design is they nailed the ‘driver-focused’ theme in an equally striking way
      (for today’s 2020 standards), as the inventor
      thereof (BMW) did in the late ’70s/ early ’80s.

      What is really significant however with ‘the new
      spirit’ of Peugeot, is the combination of steering-wheel
      ‘ergonomic exotica’ and the steering dynamics/weighting,
      that have reached a level of almost emulating (surely not replicating, given many engineering constraints of today)
      the CX’s magickal DIRAVI system, that offered a fingertip-immediate tactility, resistance and precision
      of a single-seater racecar at speed.

      The 508, or any modern Peugeot, is of course far from
      being a CX. Still, the combination of those two factors (revolutionary steering-wheel/instr. binnacle ergonomics
      & a noticably sharper-than-usual steering ratio), all served
      in a dashboard of such a futuristic sense of occasion,
      is a significant automotive event that has to be
      at least honourably mentioned by every true
      driver remaining out there.

      As to its exterior styling, personally I dislike the current
      508 in sedan form. It’s so easy for it to look good simply because the Mk1 508 was a design so bland-looking and incoherent, it made even an Avensis look good in comparison.
      As a SW though, its something else. It’s bursting with
      a palpable ‘dynamic tension’. Needs a passionate
      drivetrain, though, to justify the power
      it visually promises.

      Peugeot seems to be on a winning streak. It just remains
      to see whether the effects of the FCA merger will
      hopefully contribute to the brand conquering
      a position it undoubtedly deserves.

    2. Peugeot’s astonishing recovery is no miracle – it’s the result of talented, ambitious and decisive people banding together. Gilles Vidal is the only member of Peugeot management I’ve talked to, but his frank, no-nonsense attitude came as a breath of fresh air in his line of business. These people know what they’re doing.

    3. Alex: Peugeot also did something very clever with the 308 interior which is original and neat and based on one clear conceit. The 5008 has some fine touches too. Your point about the steering is insightful and makes that vexatious exterior all the more unsettling.
      On a wider point, I find the current range of C-D cars to be a diverse bunch in that there is some considerable choice in the character of these cars. I can´t say the same about the SUV and cross-overs that are getting the sales. I´d probably find that choosing among the fleet of middle-market saloons would be hard; choosing among the CUVs would be a bore. From the Ford Mondeo all the way to the Mazda 6 (do we include the Giulia here?) there are cars with strong identities and pleasant differentiating features. To reject the 508 for its fangs seems cruel given its other strengths; the Insignia has a well-elaborated exterior (and that silly fake side window); the Mazda6 is like a leopard; the Mondeo is an imposing bahn-stormer …. and so on. None of them are bad. This is amazing for a declining segment or perhaps the result of a last push for sales among a dwindling pool of customers. Such a pity given the inherent rightness of the decent mid-size saloon/estate. You don´t need much more and don´t want much less.

    4. Exactly. Also, due to steeper depreciation the non-Germans are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to the all-important Lease payments. In our company car scheme a 3 series is about 10-15% cheaper to lease than an equivalent 508.

    5. Pigalle: this depreciation factor is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a massive supply of used BMW and very few 508s. You´d think supply and demand would cause an adjustment because the 508 is now as rare as a BMW 520 would have been in 1984, say. On a wider level this is living proof of how economics is a social science; it is people´s *beliefs* of the prices that drive them not only the factual matters of utility. If homo economicus existed then the gross difference in the supply of 3s would lower the price of used examples and the reverse for any rare similar car.

    6. It’s an example where rare does not automatically mean desirable…

      In my experience the enormous number of used ‘premium’ cars is balanced by the amount of people who apparently want them, whereas for the scarcer offer of normal cars there are also much fewer prospective buyers. And the ones who want them are glad that they can get them quite new, but with the best part of the depreciation already over. At least that’s what I did.

    7. Simon: what you are saying is that the ratio of the cars available reflects demand new and used. Fair enough. Somehow no matter how few cars the rarities-makers offer, demand is too low to nudge up the residual value. I wonder then how few 508s Peugeot would have to sell so that the used-demand was enough to bring the depreciating up to the same level as, say, BMW. Would it be true that even if there was just a few 508s available the depreciation would be still lower than the same sort of BMW?
      This brings me back to the strategies a firm should adopt to keep residuals high: guaranteed parts availability at moderate prices, long guarantees and affordable, competent servicing. They can´t buy back cars and scap them and they can´t deliberately sell fewer. This residual problem has to do with how much trouble the user-buyer expects from their purchase. On other other side, are the residuals champions able to promise such a good post-purchase life that the difference is so large between them and PSA, for example?

    8. I don’t believe depreciation has a strong correlation with the trouble you expect from a car. It’s higher for a Toyota than for a BMW, for example. This has more to do with perception than with facts: people pay for the image a lot. And they think if something goes wrong with a VW it’s bad luck, but if the same thing happens with a Peugeot it’s those bloody French… So they buy another VW with the hope for better luck.

  2. Thanks for this comprehensive (and very positive) report, Christopher!

    I’m personally rather fond of the 508, without ever having driven one. On your example, I like the exterior colour as well as the nice fabric on the seats a lot. Since Citroën has left this segment, the Peugeot would be one of the first cars I’d be looking into if it had to be a new one, especially as they adopted a fastback layout with hatch for the saloon. Actually, am I the only one who thinks that this is the car that Citroën should have got?

    It’s a pity that our image-conscious society leaves almost no room for really good, interesting and diverse cars. Alas, Swiss people tend to think a lot like Germans when it comes to cars, and I even hear similar things from Italian or French colleagues. Add to this the safe thinking of fleet managers and also of private customers who are conscious about residuals and about not blending in.

    1. Agreed, this cloth fabric that Peugeot is using is really quite nice.

      How did your passengers cope with the rear accommodation? The 508 is reported to be a little cramped back there. However, many MPVs and SUVs suffer from a high floor which makes their seats uncomfortable for those with longer legs, regardless of the headroom or knee space available.

      I wonder if the diesel 508 would be a better match to the gearbox and a better option overall… Autocar are running one and reporting good fuel economy.

    2. Neither the dogs nor the lady occupying the second row of seats ever complained, but neither were of heavy build. Rear accommodation seemed to be decidedly average for its class – when I installed the dogs’ arrangements, I spent a few minutes behind the driver’s seat and didn’t feel stuck between back rests. Then again, I didn’t spend any time there while the car was on the move, so I feel in no position to truly judge.

  3. Thanks for writing this up. Such reviews as I have read don´t convey anything of what this car is like. Now I think I get it and it is more appealing to me now. It is a pity about the exterior: I just can´t warm to it. It´s not bad on the side view but the front end graphics are difficult for me to accept. Also, the detailing is not all that good. If you know the exterior of the second last Honda Accord you´ll know what kind of finish I like for a car like this.
    I had a run as a passenger in the current 208. The ride quality is excellent and the interior very pleasant indeed. I think on balance, Peugeot is in a sweet spot with nice looking vehicles (mostly nice) and pleasing quality. If the other cars ride as well as the 208 then that is probably as much as you can expect these days. I feel Peugeot occupy an interesting if ineffable place in the car culture space. Is the Frenchness? They have recoved the understated classiness of yore. It´s a bit warmer than VW. Question, the question is, Opel had moved back into that space too. The Insignia and Astra were nicely middle class too and also did a good job on comfort. So that makes Peugeot and Opel hawks in the same nest, as they say.

  4. I just wondered about the frameless windows – does it have them on the rear doors too? And how is that solved with the small window at the back of the door, which apparently has a frame?

    Regarding “proper” cars: When one has a bit more special car choices than most of the people, one often hears questions like “why on earth do you drive a Citroën?”. I always like to turn this around and ask them how they came to their outré choice of a VW…
    I also read a test recently where a Peugeot (I forgot which one) was judged to be almost as good as if it came from an established car maker. Now Peugeot has been around for roughly 130 years, so what’s your definition of “established”?

    1. Hi Simon. If you mean the fixed quarter-light on the rear door, I think it is also frameless apart, of course, from the piece that separates it from the moveable glass. Interestingly, the LWB Chinese market 508L has completely different bodywork with conventional framed windows. Here are both cars, with the 508L below:

    2. It’s astonishing to see that while manufacturers are telling us their messy designs are driven by Chinese market demands at the same time they are selling more restrained designs there.
      Of the two cars pictured above, I’d take the Chinese version over the Euro car any time because it has fewer creases and bulges.
      Not that I’d seriously consider taking a car this big and heavy with the moped engines on offer anyway…

  5. On another subject entirely, the question has been asked a few times recently as to how to embed photos uploaded to the Imgur photo sharing app or website directly into posts on DTW. I’ve written out instructions both for Android tablets and Windows laptops. Here they are, appropriately enough as an embedded Imgur image:

  6. Here are the same instructions in text format:

    Embedding Imgur Photos in Posts on DTW

    Imgur offers you different links to your uploaded photo, but only one option works to embed the photo directly in your post. How you find the correct link depends on the device you’re using.

    Using an Android tablet:

    1. Upload the photo to Imgur.
    2. “Touch and hold” on the image for a couple of seconds.
    3. A window will pop up giving you a number of different “Share to” options.
    4. Touch the “Copy URL” icon.
    5. Paste that URL into your post.

    I’m sure there’s a correct technical term for “Touch and hold” on a touch-screen device. What I mean by this is to place your finger on the image and keep it there until the window pops up.

    Using a Windows Laptop:

    1. Upload the photo to Imgur.
    2. Right-click on the image.
    3. A window will pop up giving you a number of different options.
    4. Click on “Copy image address”.
    5. Paste that URL into your post.

    Hope this is helpful! Perhaps this could be “pinned” in some way for easy access?

  7. Nice review this; informative, straightforward and unbiased. I like a lot about the look of this car, albeit agreeing with Christopher and Richard about the silly ‘fangs’ and some of the other detailing – they add nothing but detraction from a decent fundamental design. The new 208 suffers similarly. Peugeot is definitely hitting more of the notes than it misses at the moment, with an odd blip being the recently launched 2008. I can’t get the thought out of my head that its designs are what DS originally set out to achieve, but found that space already occupied by its own sister brand, and so has had to go more extreme (and so, ugly) to create their own warped interpretation of haute couture.

    1. While I could obviously do without the fangs, I find it difficult to criticise them for being two-part items – making them out of one piece would simply be unfeasible for a mass-market car. Most of these vertical DRL units feature a break, but Peugeot’s approach to solve this issue with the ‘frosted’ glass is rather more elegant than most. Just take a look at a Renault Talisman for a rather more incongruous example.

      The 508 features a few lines I could do without, but by and large, I find it an impressive achievement. Peugeot’s designers had to make do with a platform that’s less than ideal for a dynamic stance, particularly when compared to the BMW 3 series’. However, front overhang apart, it’s the French saloon/estate that looks a lot more athletic and ‘toned’. The abundance of shiny plastic decorum, sloppy surfacing and ridiculous lines & creases on the BMW also helps make the cheaper, less ‘thoroughbred’ Peugeot appear more tasteful and restrained by comparison.

      All of which adds up to more than faint praise – despite the caveats mentioned, I find the 508 a genuinely attractive car.

  8. Thank you for your informative review, Christopher. The 508 sounds like a thoroughly pleasant conveyance, but the market’s indifference to such cars is such that it must be difficult for manufacturers to justify the development costs, so credit to Peugeot for persevering.

    Unfortunately, your first photo neatly captures two details of the 508 that would irritate me: firstly, the “fang” DRL is contrived and unconvincing, especially the way it is split into two parts rather being a single, continuous element. Secondly, I really dislike the way the wing to bumper/nose cone panel gap is split around the headlamp and the two parts of the gap are not parallel. It’s not quite as bad as the latest A-class, but a similar issue nonetheless:

    I also note your fruitful negotiations at the car hire desk. I’m picking up a car at Tenerife South Airport tomorrow for three weeks on the island, so I might try my luck and see what I end up with. Unlike you, my starting point, a “Citroen C3 or similar”, is hardly a strong bargaining chip! Based on past experience , I’ll probably end up with a Seat Ibiza or VW Polo.

    Although I’ve never risked it, I rather like the idea of the “lucky dip” option that some US car rental companies offer. Basically, you pay for a low to mid-price rental and are given whatever they have on the lot that’s not spoken for when you arrive at the desk. Knowing my luck, I would end up in a Chrysler Pacifica!

    1. I saw a BMW 1-series (I think) with a rather horrible junction of the bonnet, lamp, wing and nose cone thing. The gist of it is that the corner of the bonnet is “clipped” by a panel gap so you get not one but two opportunities for rat holes. All of that is related to graphics parting company from sculpture. Those DLO “fails” from the last decade were an early sign of this process.

    2. That’s a good observation regarding the 1 Series, Richard. It’s instructive to compare this detail on the latest 1 Series with its (post-facelift) predecessor:

      The earlier 1 Series (top photo) is certainly no masterpiece, but the manner in which this junction is handled is noticably neater than on the latest model. I wonder how much the small downturn of the bonnet leading edge above headlamp helps to minimise the “rat holes” on the earlier model? The panel fit and shut-line gaps on the earlier model look tighter too, at least when comparing these two examples.

    3. I´ll have to go back to check which BMW it was (I did not think to look at the rest of the car so my impression is subliminal). In my Dr Digresso mode, I will say that the way the newest 1-series has the grille draped over the underlying sculpture makes it even more like a superficial graphic. I am thinking of a .25 mm sheet of vinyl stuck on over the bodywork. The fusion of the two circular forms into one is still offending me; the notches are not enough to make the forms properly separate. This is as wrong as Citroens rounded chevrons.
      I suppose we can be accomodating in saying that if one wishes to have very neatly arranged shutlines with no ratholes then one may have less freedom to manage the gross forms. If one wants a lot of freedom with gross forms (by which I mean expressive and complex sculpting and strong angles) then the shutlines will tend to fall out as they do on these cars. It´s a trade-off and for BMW´s and other firms´s designers the need for evidently new styling trumps the wish to be fastidious about fine details. This is not the ethos of the glory days of the mid-century when Ulm aesthetics produced the cool and correct designs we think of as arch-BMW and arch-Benz. They could afford to be fastidious, one could say. I don´t think any of this period (2000- to now) will be remembered for its design discipline. They are not all bad and most are harmless. Nothing stands out for its evident hard work on the “gestalt” (excuse my design-speak).

    4. On further reflection there is no way I´d consider the BMW 1 series over either a Focus, Astra or Golf, 308 or Megane. It´s not that the BMW is very bad, it´s that is so ordinary. Each of the other cars has one or more appealing aspects and I don´t have any problems with their styling that are greater than those that trouble me on the BMW 1.

    5. Well, I got my hire car upgrade, to one of these beauties:

      I’ve only seen and driven it in the dark so far. It’s a poverty-spec diesel, but drives fine. At least it’s different to the usual VW Group fare. Is anybody remotely interested in hearing more about it?

    6. Daniel, I’d like to hear your experiences with the Elysée. All I know about it is that I find it hideous and totally non-Citroën with its large boot, but I wonder how it drives. Theoretically, it shouldn’t differ too much from the Peugeot 208 (previous generation) I had in Greece as a rental car last autumn. This was one of the 3-cylinder petrol engines, though, and it was actually quite fun to drive on the bendy and sloping roads of Crete.

    7. That Citroen looks like a throwback to their 1990s output: take an utterly conventional Peugeot and make it 10% less in every respect.

      If you find a single quirk or element of personality, please report back.

    8. Actually, the C-Elysee may be a DTW sort of car in that I already detect a clarity of purpose in it. Apart from disappointing Richard regarding the (absence of a) rear centre armrest, I’ll keep my powder dry for now as I’ve got three weeks to get to know it properly.

  9. Sorry to continue the digression, but is there a single element on the new 1-Series that doesn’t look cheaper, naffer or less well resolved than the earlier generation, itself no benchmark for greatness in the design stakes…?

    1. Hi Martin. Sadly, I think the simple, blunt answer to your question is “No” and the same would apply to the new 3 Series, Z4 and 8 Series, all of which seem to be explicitly designed to make us regard their predecessors more favourably!

      In fairness, there may well be isolated details that represent an improvement on these models, but the overall impression (which is what really matters to most prospective customers who don’t obsess about shut-line management) is of incoherent shapes overlaid with poorly resolved detailing.

      I think Richard nails the problem in his comments above: if you design the gross forms without any regard to the practicalities of shut lines and panel gaps, regulations governing the position and size of lighting units etc., then try to overlay these details afterwards, you’re almost certain to come unstuck.

      Every time I see one of those cartoonish design sketches of a forthcoming model, usually with massively oversized wheels that completely fill the wheelarches and hardly a shut line or panel gap to be seen, I groan inwardly. They may express a designer’s flight of fancy, but are usually wholly unviable. Car design is always a compromise between the designer’s “vision” and the practicalities of engineering, assembly and use. The best designs are always the optimal combination and expression of these factors for the type of car being designed.

    2. Richard, you are so right about the conjoining of the ‘kidneys’ on the ‘The 1′ grille. On second look, it appears almost
      slightly vulgar. This is especially hard to understand
      given the traditionally massive importance they
      give to their cars’ ‘front-end identity’.

      Perhaps the implicitely announced switch to the ‘diamond-shaped’ “kidneygrille” (hinted by the recent Garmisch
      concept revival) gives a last few years of ‘freedom to play’
      with the old, familiar-shape kidneys, soon to become mechanically/aerodyn. functional.

      As regards the ‘taciturn switch’ towards the disappointing shutline placement, I reckon that the demise of form-
      consistent shutlines must be linked to the instant (Insta-) “gotta-have-it” appeal that the modern
      social media platforms bring: on a small, 7×5 cm photo,
      viewed on one’s hand-held device, shutlines simply do not exist. No matter how hard you look. And a growing percentage of the buying decisions these days are social-media
      marketing induced.

      While, out there, there are still people who, before signing
      the PCP contract, like to look at the car physically
      (at the showroom at least), these tend to be a minority,
      as the majority nowadays do not take their eyes
      away from their “smart” device, even on those occasions.

      Hence, maybe it could be argued that showroom- & street-appeal starts to grow less important for the manufacturers: their priority is to produce a *photogenic* product, not
      a necessarily beautiful/appealing one. If they manage
      to achieve both, then it’s a perfect score.

    3. Alex: good point. I don´t think too much about asocial media but you are correct. The impression gained on a small screen will dominate the real impression of the car. This is analogous to the way the image of a lovely, larger-than-life hamburger on the HD screen in McBurger´s will overwhelm your senses so that you don´t notice the damp, humid, filled-nappy thing which is handed out to you. I would suppose that the image of the car seen on the screen creates a huge, solid and hard-to-dent frame around the user´s actually experience. So, yes, shutlines are so 1992.

  10. ah, thank you you lot above, your thinking goes a long way
    toward illuminating the current dominant malaise in car styling.
    it’s all very sad but starting to make sense. thank you.

  11. Yes, I borrowed one of these for a while. Ran evaluation assessments for a competing manufacturer on another occasion as well. OK for a contemporary Euro product, but not really special. I’m interested that the steering impressed the writer so much. I don’t recall it as being particularly different or outstanding. Perhaps I missed something there. Looking back at the report shows we concluded that the Aussies had set up a superior steering in FG Falcon. Then FG got treated to even further development. There was a Bishop Y-rack variable ratio system in that car. Nice.

    The trouble with Euro stuff is its unreliability. They are so expensive to purchase for what they actually provide. They are expensive to service and they are fabulously expensive to repair when the failures occur. The feeling they generate is that of being built down to a standard hopefully sufficient to last the warranty (if at all possible) or to not generate too many problems until just after the warranty expires. After that it’s downhill all the way. Big bucks. Real nuisances with lots of vexatious niggles. Then a big ticket item expires and things get seriously uncomfortable for the hapless owner. There’s been way too much of that. All the Euros a guilty of it and pretty much at all levels right up to the lux stuff. Disappointing.

    It is not that I dislike Euro cars. In my personal collection there are, among other things, Peugeots. All of them are older examples (605, 406 and 405). I’ve been considering grabbing some others (205, 306). I’ve had a 505 when residing overseas and would have one again should I find a good one. The caveat with Peugeots is as with most Euro stuff. They need modification to a greater or lesser extent in order to get them up to the standard that they ought to have had right from the start. Standard fit out is not sound. For instance, Peugeot body earths are a notable issue (a common cause of difficult to source intermittent troubles). There are sealing shortcomings (water ingress into the cabin). Annoying rattles and buzzes become common. Several important castings turn out to be muck metal resulting in failures to proceed if not replaced soon after purchase (a favourite is the starter motor mount). Still, if you purchase second hand and chase all the bad stuff out, then you can have a good riding car with competent handling. Peugeot were masters at ride and handling (which is not the same as road-holding by the way, although Peugeot were not to bad at that either). You can go further and develop them into something stunningly good if you like. Chassis and packaging are strengths with the Peugeots! They also readily accept more power (much more).

    This all does consume time. Great if you have the time to spare. Well worth the effort. Not too good if you don’t make the time. There are always excuses. Still, if you are up for it, the first step is to thoroughly evaluate a standard car several times, well before you even consider purchase of an example. If it has the potential to be perfected, if it isn’t too far away from where it needs to be, then you are on. Get it. Start work that day. Good times.

    I have evaluated several modern Peugeots. Do they have the potential to be a really great car? Perhaps. I’m not so sure though. Peugeot lost the plot after 406 and everything of theirs since that model has not impressed nearly as much. Funny how the new stuff doesn’t look as good either. Something is going on.

    I had high hopes for 508. I’ll go try it again now. I hope I underestimated it.

    1. Thanks for that. I´ve only driven European and American cars. My Buick Century (1984) was built down to a price though important stuff worked – it never broke down. The craftsmanship was poor and the horrible brand-specific nose cones and tail-assemblies cocked up the panel gap design on the cars ruining a quite nice shape. I run a 2002 Peugeot 406 and have had no trouble with it it at all. I completely believe in this car and am amazed how many of them survice in the horrid Danish conditions. I also ran a 205 which, though featherlight and clearly cheap, was also totally reliable. I think the one thing that failed was a CV joint and one time a bolt fell off the gear change linkage (and landed on a metal spar where I found it resting after pulling over on the side of a Welsh road late at night on the way to a ferry).
      As a counterpoint, which cars live up to your expectations? This is not a gotcha quetstion. I am interested to know where one should place one´s money if one is not interested in fettling a new car direct from a dealer.

  12. Richard

    There are so many to choose from! Whatever you do, do not fettle a new car from a dealer. They’ll void your warranty and in some jurisdictions it may even be illegal to modify a new car. Be careful!

    You are in a strong position since you already have a very good car to start with. Many cars have aspects which are spot on but suffer certain weakness that scream for attention. Others are close in general, only needing a few things put right. Nearly everything I have come across does not have anywhere near the power it ought to have. In most cases extracting more USABLE power is a simple and well worn path. The more challenging areas are steering, NVH, ride, handling and roadholding. Getting the tactile feedback to the driver right is tricky. You have to do this without wrecking the character of the car. When you start getting to this part you have already advanced a long way and will be very familiar with the car you are working with. By the way, pretty much everything has non-ideal steering. It is a fact of life I’m afraid. We know how to avoid the issue but the manufacturers don’t want to be bothered. People just don’t care really. Anyway, other important tasks facing us are to attend to serviceability and longevity. I usually do that on an as and when basis, with the exception of the big jobs (like PSA earthing) which I know WILL crop up one day. I choose to attend to those early. That way, no surprises.

    When I started out with cars I had only one. I soon learned to have more than one. That way I could race about in one while I worked on the other one. I ended up with a pair of XJ-12 cars. They were both series 2. No-one wanted them as they were not considered very reliable (partly true, partly not). This made them cheap to get. Having two identical cars meant I learned very fast what was going on. It is something to consider and I certainly recommend starting in this fashion. Remember to record what you have been doing. Plan and be meticulous about what you do and how you do it. Write down the outcome. Review where you are every so often. Keep an overall understanding of where you are at and where you are going, as well as what your present understanding is (read the last eight words a few times, keep them in mind).

    In brief, a few thoughts on choices.

    Jaguar’s sedans are a sure bet. My preference is for the Series 2 and Series 3 cars with the V-12 (which is an excellent engine apart from the restricted PCV system, rear main seal and the infamous disc-like combustion chambers but there are work-arounds for all these). I also like XJ40 and immediate successors. I don’t really like anything from X350 onwards. Jag’s V-8 is limiting and fragile. Ford has a better one available for less money in a crate if you must use a V-8 in a Jag. The later cars are hard to get the ride and NVH right. Perhaps the X350 can be salvaged, but the effort looks to be very serious and you can get better results from the earlier cars anyway (plus they look better). I’ve kept a S-2 & S-3 and am seriously considering a 40.

    There are several Aussies. Falcons (Cleveland 351 the best here) are good to work with but don’t ever overlook the six as it is very strong and has been developed into the mighty Barra with 1,000 bhp readily available on a reasonable budget. Say Alibaba and a Chinese turbo can appear! Then there are the Holden Commodores. The V-8 is the one to get whether you choose the classic Holden (really nice sound to that one) or the later LS, but I also like my (Australian) Chrysler Charger with its outstandingly brilliant hemi six. Nice that. The last of the Commodores (mine is a 2017) and the Falcons are good. Recommended.

    With earlier Commodores you have to be careful with the semi-trailing arm rear suspension. It is not ideal and can catch you out quite quickly. There are partial remedies for its occasional waywardness and appetite for rear tyres. The complete solution was designed but never placed in production. It would have given the car an active rear steering feature. I have drawings and would like to build it. In the end Holden redesigned the rear end to multi-link and the whole issue went away. Still, I think the 4ws is the go, so I’ll do that instead. It is a bit of a challenge but no-one else has one!

    As aside. The Holden Sunbird was available with an Opel engine. The car was way too heavy for the engine, but the engine was a really nice unit. Put it into something light and it goes very nicely. I do like these Opel engines and their six cylinder variants.

    US muscle is very, very, very good. Easy to work with these. But the really desirable US cars of the late 60s early 70s are getting too expensive and the amount of work involved in building a good one up is serious. I am lucky I started on these before they got so popular and the prices hardened up so dramatically. If you do go down this route you need to purchase after-market alloy big-blocks. Do not bother with anything else. You’ll also need to do a lot of suspension rework and development. It is a fun journey, but don’t think you can do this on the cheap any longer. Still, it is not that difficult to build something which can smoke any BMW (M or not) around a circuit. One reward is the a satisfaction of watching people’s surprise reaction. Along similar lines I recommend the Renegade conversion on the Porsche 911. Use an LS. The Big-Block path is much more demanding to do properly. You can go just about as well with a mild LS (it weighs less than the flat six and is much more reliable as well). Anyway, the reaction when people, especially Porsche owners, realise what you’ve done is…. priceless! If you want to keep it in-house you can put a 928 engine in there instead. I helped a Hungarian friend do this one during a holiday in Budapest. Fun times.

    Alternative US muscle car choices include the Aerobirds (9th or 10th generation Ford Thunderbird). They look nice, have competition pedigree and there are several potent engine packages which fit nicely. Simple cars which are easy to work with. There is plenty of potential there. You could consider the Chrsler LH sedans (choose most carefully as some are much better than others). The Gen 2 Intrepid is my preference, but the Gen 1 Eagle has a certain appeal (it was styled after the Lamborghini Portofino I understand). They have plenty of cabin space. Don’t overlook anything with the Chrysler turbocharged four-cylinder engine. they can be made to go.

    Another one that works out well is to put one of the American V-8 diesels into largish old sedan or coupe. Gearing is an issue and there is a fair bit of fabrication work involved, but all the parts are available and the electrical side is nowhere near as difficult as it initially appears. You’ll need to do suspension work but chassis development is most engrossing, very interesting, a great journey indeed. Best of all the car will have huge range and be quite cheap to run. Bonus is they sound good and if you like you can easily set one up to roll coal in response to sudden accelerator pedal drops (at least until the turbo catches up). Don’t go overboard with this adjustment though as you’ll hurt the exhaust valves eventually.

    There are some earlier Mercedes I do like to work with. I have a 450 SEL 6.9 (modified steering with variable ratio, lowered ride height, wider tyres, ported with three angle valve job, headers, new cams and manifold, revised transmission- visually the car appears unaltered) and did seek to get a 300 SEL 6.3 but those are getting real hard to find now (also $ when you do locate a good one). Instead the go was to fit a Buick 455 V-8 into a W109 and start from there. That one is fun and a daily driver. Both these cars are very quiet externally and internally as well (which is not that easy to achieve with extractors but it can be done with a bit of planning). The first of the S600 (W140) is another goody. I really like those. Later Mercedes have bodies that are not as good and the cars as a whole got flimsier and much less reliable. It was the end of Mercedes quality. My car is in a deep blue colour. It came over from Singapore originally. It has remained almost stock during my tenure and only comes out for drives on special days and family occasions. Do not ever turn off the traction control on one of these on gravel roads (never, ever). A Hungarian guy has done a lot of work with W140. He transplants the twin-turbo V-12 from the later S65. This is a good conversion but the electrical side is quite challenging. As is well known, the newer the model, the bigger the electrical trouble. It is a rule unfortunately. I have a shell from a damaged W140. The engine is toast. I got the whole shooting match for $420 and had the idea of a V-12. transplant. Best of all is that this W140 is one of the short wheelbase ones.

    The very best BMW I ever drove (but did not purchase unfortunately) was a plain looking 3-series coupe fitted with a V-12 by a well known German tuning firm (Harmann). Brabus did similar with an E-class sedan although that looked to be a much more difficult conversion to attempt. When I visited them the technician who carried out the conversion work confirmed he really struggled mightily to make it happen. Either of those cars would be a great project to replicate. There can’t be very many about. I heard tell that Wolfgang Reitzle had the McLaren F-1 engine transplanted into his 7-series. Now that would be fun to replicate. You’d have to use a lesser BMW V-12 engine though as I doubt it would be possible to get the same engine type as his car has.

    I like Peugeots and Citroens but have not been enticed by anything manufactured after the mid ’90s really. The Peugeot 406 is a good choice. Which engine is your one fitted with? Two of mine are V-6, one with auto and one with manual. I’m in the process of converting the auto car to a manual presently. The V-6 auto-box is not a long life device and its characteristics do not really suit the car anyway so out it must go. The remaining 406 has the 2-litre XU. It is also an auto and, yes, I’ll be swapping that out for a manual trans. I have been thinking of swapping the engine also. The 2.2 looks nice and I have a spare one of those, although I had been thinking of sticking that into the 405. Decisions, decisions.

    Just be aware that newer cars are, in general, not built to last. The main areas of concern are electronics- flat screen displays, sensors, CANBUS systems, computers, connectors and earths. All are areas to watch (or replace with after-market stuff as soon as you can). You also have to watch for muck metal brackets. Even the mighty Mercedes W116 had muck metal brackets for its window regulators. These need be replaced with items milled from aluminium slab at the first opportunity else there will be trouble. You have to do the research and you have no alternative other than to do the work. Do it yourself. Learn as you go. Enjoy the journey. It is fascinating and you will come to understand the aesthetic qualities of your car are not merely restricted to how it looks from the outside, but also encompass how it operates and how it was put together (which informs you about the values and the knowledge and the skill of those who designed it). After all how can one be an automobile enthusiasts if one does not spend time working on one’s automobile? Failing to work on your automobile, well,……. that is like claiming to love your wife while doing no more than reading someone else’s web chat about what their love making sessions with her are like.

    Since you have an excellent choice of car already (406) the best thing to do now is assemble your stock of spare parts. The wrecking yard is your friend. Also, you can get wrecks from end-of-life-vehicle auctions and part them out. That is a really fast way. With my wife helping me I can strip out a whole 406 in a day.

    Parts you need to get include lights, electrical assemblies, trim, etc. Definitely make sure you get spare window regulators, especially the driver’s one. Up under the glove box there is an signal processing box which is related to the speedo. It sends data to the instrument binnacle. Make sure you get one of these as they are very, very expensive to buy new. Door seals are reliable enough but you ought to find spares for these as you never know when you might need one or two.

    Beware, the 406 has an issue with the lower door seal. It is mounted on the body sill and runs the length of both doors. Its problem is that when people alight from the car their heels often catch on this seal and eventually pull it away from the car body. The little plastic clips that hold the seal on break and then the seal sort of hangs off the sill, becoming even more likely to be pulled each time someone gets out of the car. Now you have something messy looking and which lets water into the sill. Which brings us to the next issue. The sills have drains along the seams on their undersides right beside the jacking points. Careless raising of the car off the ground during service or tyre changes can distort the drains and then they don’t work. Now the water slowly fills the sills. You’ll learn of this problem when you hear flowing water sounds as you accelerate and decelerate the car. Easy to fix but very annoying.

    If you have air-conditioning fitted make certain you used it often. If you do not it WILL end up with a failed compressor seal. Then you have to fix the compressor and re-gas. That can be costly. I have the rig to do it, but most people do not. Anyway, you still need to purchase refrigerant and if you do that you need an F-gas ticket. So there are a few steps to be able to take. If you are at the beginning of your journey with car maintenance and modification/rectification/improvement/perfection the HVAC system is probably not the ideal place to begin. Best to avoid the air-con problems in the first instance. You can always move into this area once you have good experience elsewhere on the car.

    The 406 already features ride and handling excellence. You do not have to do much, if anything, on that front really. Perhaps a strut change and a damper change, perhaps. I didn’t bother for 406. Do make sure that all the rubber bushes right around the car are in top condition. If not, replace them all. That can transform your car. If you do not mind wearing out your discs a little faster, then you can fit harder brake pads and adjust the slack out of the linkage between the master cylinder and the servo. This yields a nice hard brake pedal with no mushy lost motion. It is much easier to achieve the Citroen like directness of brake pedal on the 405 though. Still, it can be gained on 406 with a little work.

    Fabric seats are the best to have. They won’t burn your bottom on a hot day, nor will they freeze it on a cold day. If you have leather, get some fabric car seat covers.

    I am experimenting with a steering reducer. The objective is to get to a little over a single turn lock to lock (1.33). This does make the car twitchy at highway speeds when going straight ahead. I need to move the rack position a little to get some roll understeer into the car and dial that twitchiness out. I may need to get a variable ratio rack and fit that to get the best of both worlds. This is an on-going job presently and I am not completely satisfied with where I have got to at the moment.

    Behind the dash running the HVAC system there are some little electric motors which operate the flaps for air mixing and directing air around the cabin. The motors are located in small black boxes about the size of cigarette packs. They are fitted with plastic gear wheels which drive the gear teeth on the sectors that actuate the air flaps. The teeth can strip. They strip because the grease on the spindles on which the flaps turn dries out after a decade or two. Then the friction goes up and the forces go up and the teeth strip. Moral of the story is not to wait for the teeth to strip. Get some Delmar grease and have at the flap spindles under the dash. Do it now! Do them all.

    Repair any and all rust immediately. Don’t let that get away from you. And make certain to get the car rust-proofed as soon as you can. Do not hesitate about this. Just send the car in and have it done.

    Your tyre choice is important. If you are in Europe you should be OK. Get Michelins. Go for French manufactured ones (not Thai imports which have a different compound). Align, balance and rotate the tyres on a six monthly basis.

    I forgot about 306! There is a 306 D-turbo model. These are reasonably quick and economic. Any 306 will fit an XUD and the XUD is simplicity to tune. The 306 sedan would be a great candidate for treatment. Perfecto!

    I haven’t even mentioned that Japanese stuff yet. There is so much JDM to work with. I even have a few of them. Trouble is I have been typing for a while and I am tired now. Maybe another time for them, the Koreans and the Russians.

    G

  13. As much I’ve enjoyed this episode and subsequent threads, I’ve sadly found a close up angle of this car I do not like. An exact copy of the car mentioned parked up at work today and from my angle of view, all I could see was the “snow shovel “ look to the front wing forward to the “bumper “ area. Maybe it was the light, maybe the travel staining but it appeared not right to these eyes. It’s the only “but” mind, for the 508SW is one classy looking machine.

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