If you’d asked me at the start of the year which test cars would have drawn the most attention in 2021, I admit a Peugeot estate wouldn’t have been high on my list.
Yet, aside from a ridiculous Rolls-Royce, absolutely nothing I’ve parked on my driveway has drawn quite so much attention as the Peugeot 508 PSE estate.
In fairness, that’s because, as well as being as rare as rocking horse poo, the 508 is among the most striking looking estate cars on the market. Adding to the eye-catching nature of this particular battleship grey car were a series of lime green accents and a smattering of carbon fibre trim pieces that you won’t find on a standard 508.
That’s because this particular car is a Peugeot Sport Engineered model (PSE for short), and that makes it something a bit special.
The PSE tag is destined to be worn by all performance Peugeots from now on as the brand moves away from traditional combustion engines to hybrid and electrified drivetrains.
The 508 PSE is designed as a halo model - a proof of concept of what Peugeot can do, rather than some world-conquering mass seller. Which is just as well because, at north of £50,000, you have to really, really want one.
But it’s definitely on the right track.
For a start it really does look spectacular.
In my eyes, the 508 and Volvo V60 are locked in a contest for the most striking looking mid-sized estate. Both are sharp yet elegant looking, without feeling the need for gawpy grilles and aggressive posturing that typify their German counterparts.
The 508 PSE moves that on, however. It sits lower, hunkered down over its 20-inch gloss black alloys on sports suspension, and wider thanks to extended tracks front and rear. Small carbon fibre fins and skirts make it look even lower and add to the impression that this is something a bit special.
The gloss black of the wheels, twin exhausts and rear diffuser sit in contrast to the Selenium Grey bodywork, as do the “Kryptonite” green touches on the brake calipers, lower bumper and front wings.
The whole impression is of something sharp and purposeful.
Inside, Nappa leather and Alcantara sports seats, carbon-effect chequerboard on the dash and the Kryptonite slash logo on the steering wheel mark it out from regular models.
Elsewhere, the cabin retains the slick modern appearance of all 508s with a combination of gloss plastic, metal effect trim and fabric applied thoughtfully to create something fresh and different. It also faces the same struggle for rear space that afflicts all 508s, although those in the front are well provided for. You can have the 508 PSE as a saloon but we’d opt for the estate. Partly because it looks better and partly because the estate’s 530 litre boot is bigger and easier to use.
The i-Cockpit digital instrument display is sharp and packed full of information but the 10-inch media/navigation setup remains a weak point.
Peugeot 508 PSE engine, performance and driving
Of course, all the cosmetic upgrades are in the service of making it clear that the 508 PSE is a performance model.
At its heart is a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but that’s just part of the story. Mated to that is an all-wheel-drive hybrid system which adds a 80kW electric motor at the front and an 83kW unit at the rear. Combined, the three power units offer 355bhp, a 0-62mph time of just 5.2 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
It amounts to one hell of a shove when you put your foot down. The clever hybrid arrangement shuffles the power distribution to best effect, ensuring plenty of grip and grunt as you accelerate. Interestingly, though, there’s none of the piped-in engine noise that typifies many performance models. In fact, it’s actually pretty quiet, even in sport mode, which robs it of a little aural drama but means it’s not wearing on longer journeys.
What’s so heartening about the 508 PSE is that it’s not just a fast-in-a-straight-line hybrid. The chassis has been reworked with 50% stiffer three-stage adaptive damping; that widened track; bespoke anti-roll bars; uprated 380mm brakes; sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and bespoke tuning for the steering and throttle.
Find some interesting roads and the 508 PSE will carve its way down them with truly rewarding precision and directness. Accelerate out of a corner and there’s a sense of the powered rear axle shoving you along, plus an abundance of grip. It doesn’t shrink around you like some cars do but you’re never overly aware that you’re dragging a big old boot around behind you, or that this is a car which weighs nearly 1.9 tonnes.
It’s sharp, responsive but also brilliantly damped. The rough B roads of our regular test route often expose a car’s shortcomings but the 508 PSE remained admirably composed and comfortable. Likewise among the crater-strewn urban routes we took it on.
The only drawback is the eight-speed auto transmission, which sometimes struggles to keep pace with the rest of the car.
If you can be persuaded away from sport mode, the 508 PSE has four other drive modes - electric, comfort, hybrid and 4WD - which are pretty self explanatory.
The hybrid setup is a plug-in affair with a 11.5kWh battery good for a theoretical 26 miles of range and rechargable in around two hours from a standard 7kW wallbox.
Peugeot has set the 508 PSE out as a halo model for the brand. The attention-grabbing looks and genuinely grin-inducing performance are exactly what you want from such a car, helping generate a buzz around Peugeot and especially around the PSE sub-brand.
However, its rarified position is perhaps less what you want in a consumer car. Make no mistake, this is a really, really good car but at almost £56,000 it’s mixing in a world of performance-focused BMWs, Audis and Mercedes, where the idea of a 1.6-litre Peugeot is a brutally hard sell, no matter how good it is.
Peugeot 508 PSE SW
Price: £55,795; Engine: 1.6-litre, turbo, petrol, two electric motors (80kW & 83kW); Power: 355bhp; Torque: 384lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 155mph; 0-62mph: 5.2 seconds; Economy: 138.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 46g/km; Electric range: 26 miles