Bigger, not always better.
The Peugeot 508 THP was one of the biggest surprises of 2011 for me. It was utterly brilliant, a great use of an admittedly overused turbocharged petrol motor by employing it to drive an executive saloon easily capable of standing up to the established German triumvirate in terms of specification and quality, while thrashing these offerings hands-down on price. And to top it all off, a timeless beauty which these ordinarily rather bland offerings from the so-called Fatherland just couldn’t hope to match.
That was pretty much the entry-level model. So it stands to reason then that this one, the 508 GT, as the top of the range of the 508 line, should be even more brilliant. Especially because the almost magical ride/handling balance of the “lesser” 508 will apparently be improved upon, particularly the handling element of that equation, in this GT version thanks to a different front suspension setup. Effectively the 508 GT employs a double-wishbone arrangement in the nose, which all conventional logic suggests is inherently superior to the more common McPherson-strut setup of the cheaper cars.
And one should hope so too, because the 508 GT plays in a very different price bracket to the THP-engined models. In fact, you’re looking at a R100K premium over a similarly automatic-equipped 1.6 THP version, or more like R120K over the even better 6-speed manual version of that car. Thanks to the generous standard spec of this more affordable model, that’s quite a lot of money to spend for essentially the same car but with built-in satnav as standard, the clever front suspension, oh yes and of course a 2.2-litre HDI engine pumping out a wholesome 450Nm of torque to support 150kW of power.
Step inside, and you’d be very hard-pressed to tell that you’re piloting the range-topping GT model. Sure the integrated Satnav is nice, but apart from that the only telling sign is the diesel-oriented rev counter. It’s a very nice place to be, for sure, but you just don’t get any sense of where your extra R100K went, because the standard version includes it all – the gimicky HUD, full climate control, leather upholstery, and electric everything including seats.
So you wake the motor. Being an oil-burner I’m certainly not expecting to be enveloped in a pleasant, expensive-sounding meaty burble hinting at where that extra cash has gone, but nor am I expecting the rough, harsh, almost broken-sounding clattery idle I’m next presented with. OK, well, slip the automatic gear selector into Drive, and let’s at least find out what this unit which shares three letters with Peugeot’s headline-grabbing Le Mans racers has actually got to offer…
The answer, is really not a lot. It’s obvious when scanning the figures later, but it’s also evident on the road that this 2.2 turbodiesel has very little extra performance capacity over its petrol-powered siblings. Despite big differences in on-paper outputs, 150kW versus 115 and going on for twice the torque at 450 for the diesel playing 240 for the petrol, the claimed 0-100 times are just half a second apart. The petrol 508 will run to the benchmark in 9.4s in its cheapest, manual-gearbox configuration. This GT will do that sprint in 8.8 according to the specs on Peugeot.co.za. That’s very underwhelming when being experienced first hand. OK, so many contemporary road-tests will actually peg the 0-100km/h at more like 8.3s, but then it’s likely that the THP will do better than its claim as well so it has no bearing on a 508 vs 508 GT comparison.
And in actual fact, it’s quite a lot worse than that, because not only does the GT not feel R120K faster than the THP, but in terms of every other reference point a car enthusiast will judge it on, it actually feels every moment like the cheaper, nastier, and utterly sanitised version of the two. That’s because of that harsh engine noise filtering a lot more into the cabin than the pleasant burble of the little turbocharged petrol motor does, and because in terms of raw passion and unbridled excitement, this GT feels like it’s been sent off to the little guillotine specifically reserved for making eunuchs before being released onto the road.
The cold, linear delivery of that generous wad of torque coupled to the droning soundtrack make pushing on in the GT as chilling as a meaningful glance from that famous silver-screen murderess who bared her bush to the world in Basic Instinct. Yes, it really is that bad.
All right, so you can cruise quite comfortably at 200km/h while using a fraction of the fuel any petrol-powered car will drink at these high loads. Worth the R120K price premium though? Um, no, as elementary maths will show you that your savings over say 5 years of ownership of this car won’t even come close to amortising the up-front loss, and you’ll sell it with all your passion for motoring ruthlessly excised. Unless you put a R60K price on smugly believing that you personally are helping to save our planet from made-up threats, there’s no financial calculation which could make spending the extra dosh seem at all reasonable.
Which is a real shame because, at last we come to the effects of that uprated suspension at the front, and they are well worth experiencing. Granted it’s certainly not night and day compared to the McPherson struts on most cars, and particularly the cheaper 508 which enjoys one of the finest chassis and suspension platforms in the four-door saloon market. In fact, many drivers won’t even be able to detect any difference whatsoever.
But those who fully focus and dial-in to their cars on a seemingly cellular level will be able to revel in a front end which not only offers superb traction but also delivers reams of feedback – the kind of volume of road information which Audi and even modern BMW drivers will never experience, and that Mercedes until very recently questioned the very existence of. It makes tackling your favourite set of bends even more measured and precise than ever before, because you’re never flummoxed by slightly inaccurate details on turn-in requiring mid-corner trajectory adjustments, it just doesn’t happen so lucidly does the car communicate with your nerve endings.
You pay an ever so slight price in terms of ride quality however. Given the superbly well damped nature of a standard 508, the GT is ever so marginally more “jiggly”, although in fact this isn’t due to any less integrity but entirely down to the front end being a lot more talkative. Either way, it’s not significant, and is very unlikely to be a deal-breaker as the 508 GT is still a very cosseting environment even over rough tarmac surfaces.
So, is it worth the price difference, given that you’re actually losing out in the engine bay? No, unfortunately, and not even close. There’s simply no way anyone of right and sane mind would go into a Peugeot dealer and actually choose, on the merits of a test drive, the 508 GT over a 508 Active manual, except as a pure statement of status. It is, in short, an utter nonsense.
It does make me wish that Peugeot would offer this suspension setup on petrol 508 variants though. Maybe even tweak the 1.6-litre turbomotor up to something akin to MINI JCW levels, where this same engine produces some 150kW, slip this double-wishbone front suspension in there, and then charge oh I don’t know but I reckon I’d pay up to R360K for this car.
Whereas I wouldn’t pay a cent over R289 000 for this 508 GT. Because that’s what the 508 Active manual costs, and that’s the one I’d have, even if the GT was offered to me at the same price. And that isn’t just because of an ingrained, knee-jerk reaction to diesel technology, but the considered opinion of a committed car enthusiast based on driving both models in the real-world.
Fun value: 12/20
Sensuous, flowing lines for a sedan especially.
Magic platform, rides great, handles even better.
Extremely rough, intrusive engine sound.
Possibly the most boring way of producing 150kW/450Nm ever. No soul in the engine bay.
Engine: 2179cc turbodiesel four
Power: 150kW @ 3500rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 2000rpm
Top Speed: 234km/h
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
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