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Peugeot's classy family saloon and estate sharpens up its act. Andy Enright reports.

The Peugeot 508 was a breath of fresh air when it arrived in 2011 but has only been modestly successful. The addition of a low emission diesel engine, sharper styling and a technology refresh might well offer a significant fillip to this car's chances.

Do you ever think that some cars deserve a better deal than they get? For every car that makes big sales despite being mediocre in most departments, there is a vehicle that inexplicably gets overlooked. The Peugeot 508 has, to date, been one of them. The family saloon sector used to be vibrant. All of the big manufacturers like Ford, Vauxhall, Renault, Toyota, Nissan and so on would be represented and these cars were as popular with fleets as they were with private buyers. We're a nation raised on Cavaliers, Sierras, 406s and Lagunas but at some point, this market went off quicker than a bag of prawns in the sun. Nowadays, Ford still campaigns with the Mondeo and Vauxhall gives it a go with its Insignia, but Toyota's Avensis has aimed upmarket and Renault has long given up the ghost with the Laguna. Peugeot looked as if it could come in and clean up an admittedly shrinking pool of buyers when it launched the 508 in 2011. Thing is, it hasn't quite worked out like that. Perhaps this refreshed version will throw the French car's talents into sharper focus.

There are now no petrol options offered in the UK but the diesel range is boosted by the PSA Group's latest BlueHDi technology. Many will be tempted by the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150, which features the lowest emissions for this power output in the sector at just 109g/km. Alternatively, there's the older 1.6 and 2.0-litre e-HDi units, respectively developing either 115 or 140bhp. At the top of the range, the 2.2-litre HDi 200bhp GT model continues. Peugeot's HYbrid4 all-wheel drive diesel-electric hybrids also continue, sold in either the rugged-ised RXH estate version or as a saloon. The 163bhp 2.0-litre HDi Diesel engine combines with a 37bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels and they can operate either alternately or together, in a way that is transparent for the user. The four selectable driving modes (ZEV, 4WD, Sport and Auto) allow the driver to alter the feel and response of the car. There are now no petrol options offered in the UK but the diesel range is boosted by the PSA Group's latest BlueHDi technology. Many will be tempted by the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150, which features the lowest emissions for this power output in the sector at just 109g/km. Alternatively, there's the older 1.6 and 2.0-litre e-HDi units, respectively developing either 115 or 140bhp. At the top of the range, the 2.2-litre HDi 200bhp GT model continues. Peugeot's HYbrid4 all-wheel drive diesel-electric hybrids also continue, sold in either the rugged-ised RXH estate version or as a saloon. The 163bhp 2.0-litre HDi Diesel engine combines with a 37bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels.

We tend to expect something special of Peugeot in the styling department, a distinguished elegance that carries a bit of weight. The old 508 was a clean shape but it lacked that gravitas, that certain something that ought to differentiate a Peugeot from a Ford or Vauxhall. The latest front end certainly gives the 508 a bit more visual clout, with a chromed grille that's more assertive and which is framed by 100 per cent LED light units. The bonnet looks flatter and more imposing, while at the rear there are new bumpers and light assemblies. At 4.79m long, the 508 saloon is still quite a size and there's plenty of room inside, both front and rear. The quality's improved as well, with softer trim finishes and higher quality cloths. The dashboard now includes a 7" touch screen grouping together in an intuitive way most of the vehicle's functionalities. As a result, the central panel now has fewer buttons, while the centre console includes a closed-storage box. Positioned in front of the driver, the rich and complete instrument panel makes a style reference inspired by that of a precision watch. It's backed up by the Head-Up Display with driving and navigation information in colour, viewed in a retractable smoked viewing screen.

Prices start at just over £22,000 and there's a choice of 'Active' and 'Allure' trim levels, plus the GT and RXH models at the top of the range. Peugeot has taken the opportunity to bring the 508's equipment levels up to date with features like keyless entry and starting, an automatic electric parking brake, automatic headlamp dipping, quad-zone automatic air conditioning, a JBL-badged stereo, blind spot sensors and a colour reversing camera. There are also a number of Peugeot Connect Apps available via the touch screen system. Via a mobile internet connection, the driver can find free parking spaces nearby, fuel prices at filling stations in the vicinity, traffic and weather information, plus tourist information from the Michelin Guide or TripAdvisor. Business buyers are well catered for with a specific trim that includes satellite navigation, cruise control, dual zone air conditioning and 16-inch alloy wheels. Another feature that's sure to become more widespread in years to come is the SOS system, which alerts the emergency services to your whereabouts in the event of an accident.

Although Peugeot isn't ignoring the needs of private buyers, it freely admits that by far the majority of 508 sales are coming from business customers and inroads into this market are impossible without a range of fuel efficient, low emission engines. Most will be drawn to the diesel offerings and the cleanest of the bunch is the 109g/km 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 with the Stop & Start system. Most will choose the 1.6-litre e-HDi 115 micro-hybrid variant though, which can deliver 111g/km of CO2. There's also an older 2.0-litre e-HDi 140 unit that manages 119g/km. Best of the bunch is the Diesel-electric HYbrid4 2.0 HDi 163 model, which can put out as little as 91g/km. The fastest option meanwhile, is the 2.2-litre HDi 200 GT model, offered only with a 6-speed auto gearbox and capable of 140g/km. Peugeot has learned a lesson from the heavy discounting it undertook to try to shift 407 and 607 stock, this in turn having a distinctly positive effect on residual values. A new-found confidence in the product it's attempting to shift might mean less conspicuous bargains for new buyers but it will spell better returns further down the line.

The Peugeot 508 deserves a better hand than it's been dealt, but the latest upgrades aim to give it the sort of showroom clout that might just turn its fortunes around. You'd have to be quite optimistic - or French - to bet on that happening, as the midsize saloon and estate market has withered in recent years and it's hard to see it recovering in the face of so-called 'premium' brands'. The fact that a Peugeot 508 is, in terms of size and equipment, a more complete proposition than a BMW 3 Series might interest those looking for something not so crass and obvious, but those buyers remain relatively rare. In inching the 508 upmarket, Peugeot seems to be playing a subtle game of joining rather than trying to beat the premiums. If anything, this approach creates an even trickier proposition, both for buyer and manufacturer. As it stands, the 508 appears a very good car somewhat adrift between the two sectors. If Peugeot is indeed playing the long game, it needs to play very clever with financial incentives. Residual values speak volumes in this market and the 508 will need to prove its worth. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

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