PEUGEOT 508 : Plush Peugeot

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Price: $155,900 with COE

Engine: 1,598cc turbocharged 16-valve inline-4

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual override Power: 163bhp at 6,000rpm

Torque: 240Nm at 1,400-4,000rpm

0-100kmh: 8.9 seconds

Top speed: 210kmh

Fuel consumption: 5.8 litres/100km

Agent: Vantage Automotive

The French are renowned for their food and fashion, but what about their cars?

It depends on who you ask, I suppose. A Frenchman will probably be partial to Peugeots, Citroens and Renaults. His compatriots in Vietnam, Morocco or wherever else France once colonised might share his fervour.

The Chinese are also pretty fond of French cars for some reason. In fact, China is Peugeot's biggest market (bigger than France itself).

But to the rest of the world, French cars have largely been - how shall we put it - an acquired taste.

You could put it down to a patchy track record for reliability, offbeat styling or an inconsistent product strategy. But the crux of the matter probably lies elsewhere - specifically in places such as Munich, Stuttgart and even Wolfsburg.

The BMWs, Mercedeses and Volkswagens of the world enjoy strong backing from strong shareholders with strong convictions.

The French brands? Well, they have had to live with either government support or outside help. In the case of Peugeot, Dongfeng Motor of China.

Scoff as much as you like, but the Chinese group is probably the best thing that has happened to Peugeot in a long while. The company will now have the one thing it needs to forge ahead: financial backing.

Just look at Volvo - stronger than ever since it came under Geely ownership.

Of course, the Chinese must have liked what they saw before deciding to throw Peugeot a lifeline. And if you have been in a Peugeot lately, you might understand what they were attracted to.

The new 308 hatch sampled in January holds great promise; and the facelifted version of the 508 on this page is a prime example of French automotive excellence.

When it was launched four years ago, the 508 was so impressive it made the Straits Times Car Of The Year shortlist. If memory serves, it was the first and only French car to be shortlisted.

Its statuesque, shapely body matched the road presence of a BMW 5-series, it had a giddying list of onboard features and it was comfortable - in terms of ride quality as well as amenities onboard. It was, for the first time in a long time, a Peugeot sedan you could pull up to a hotel driveway with confidence and a measure of pride.

The 508 has just been facelifted, keeping it abreast of the times - which is not always a good thing. For instance, the car has lost some of its fluid lines, with a grille that is more vertical and a bonnet that is more horizontal.

Peugeot's Lion emblem moves from the bonnet down to the grille, which now looks less unique. The placement of the number plate makes the front end of the car busier than before.

On the positive side, the 508 has actually increased in length. Its front overhang is 16mm longer and its rear overhang stretched by 22mm, giving it more boot space.

It has full-LED headlamps and LED tail lights - which is nice and upmarket. The LED treatment extends to the winkers and the daytime-running lights.

Inside, the cockpit is less cluttered, with most infotainment controls now accessible via a 7-inch touchscreen. The car is generously equipped with premium features such as cruise control (on the steering boss), head-up display, four-zone climate control, sun blinds for rear passengers, blind-spot sensors, reverse camera, keyless access and ignition as well as a self-release electronic parking brake.

Its cabin ambience clearly beats what a Toyota Camry or VW Passat might possess and comes close to the plushness offered by a mid-range Jaguar or Audi.

It is still powered by a 1.6-litre turbo engine, which is tuned to produce a bit more power than before and now meets the Euro 6 emission standard. The car has stop-start and runs on 17-inch wheels instead of 18 previously. For these reasons, it qualifies for the $5,000 rebate in the stricter Carbon Emission-based Vehicle Scheme that kicks in from July.

The 508 is a bit more brisk with the revised engine. This is less obvious when you are merely tooling about in town, but comes to the fore when you squeeze the throttle with conviction.

The sizeable sedan takes off with surprising swiftness, clearing the century mark in 8.9 seconds instead of 9.2 previously. It might have been even quicker if its transmission was not so efficiency-minded. Even so, the car easily passes off as a 2.4-litre.

The revised 508 retains its comfort-biased ride. It is blessed with an otherwise sturdy chassis that tracks true, even if it does not relish the twists and turns of the tarmac. Like its suspension, its steering is calibrated more for lazy boulevard cruising than sporty shenanigans.

But at the end of the day, it is still a French car. Most buyers will not even consider it, despite its competitive pricing and compelling package. It would be their loss, though.

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