By Alisdair Suttie 15 June 2012
Peugeot has a long and illustrious history of building cars that can cope with any terrain. In certain parts of Africa, the rugged 504 is still a highly prized form of transport, beating many 4x4s on rutted roads thanks to its soft suspension and strong build.
A new Peugeot 4x4 crossover should, therefore, have considerable appeal and not a little ability. This is where we introduce the 508 RXH.
Based on the 508 SW estate but with Peugeot innovative diesel-hybrid power plant under the bonnet and driving all four wheels, the RXH has slightly raised ground clearance. Do not, however, be fooled for second this is an off-roader.
During our time with the car, we drove up some gallops in a field. This is the most the RXH can, or ever will be asked to, cope with. Go any further and you’ll be likely to put some expensive dents into its £30,000-plus body.
Uphill battle for upmarket image
The problem for the Peugeot is that very list of rivals. Anyone considering an Audi, BMW or Volvo is not going to be overly thrilled at the prospect of a Peugeot showroom or ownership experience. This is not snobbery (well, maybe a smidgeon) but the reality that Peugeot in the UK simply does not have the brand image to compete with the premium badges.
Too often we’ve seen French carmakers try to shift premium metal in the UK and fall flat on their faces. Even the wondrous Citroen C6, which is a far more attractive car than the RXH in almost every possible way, has been a runaway sales flop. Need we go on to mention the Peugeot 605 or 607, or the Renault Vel Satis or Avantime?
Just as crucially for the RXH, its fine 107g/km carbon dioxide emissions and 68.9mpg average economy cannot overcome a car that is fundamentally dull to drive. To access anything like decent acceleration, the driver needs to switch to the Sport mode of the selectable drive options. It doesn’t make sense the driver has to choose this simply to get a halfway decent drive: why is not the default setting? As for the electric-only EV mode, it only offers a limited range and speeds up to 30mph so is purely for town driving.
Peugeot says the electric motor helps smooth out the changes in the EGC (electronic gear control) transmission. It doesn’t and there are too many lurches between ratios, which discourages any sort of prompt forward motion.
Then there’s the ride quality of the 508 RXH. Peugeot was once the master of ride quality, balancing near perfect comfort with agility and entertainment. The RXH is a long way off this balance and picks up on too many minor imperfections in the road’s surface to ever truly feel settled. It makes an Audi A4 Allroad feel positively plush in comparison and that is one of the worst riding cars on offer today.
If the 508 RXH cannot compete with its premium rivals, what about the others mentioned above? Well, no, it cannot. It’s just too expensive compared to the Subaru Outback 2.0 D or Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, even if they are not as clean or frugal. When only a select band of company drivers will make a choice between these cars, the Peugeot is just too pricey, regardless of its emissions.
Never mind remote parts of Africa where Peugeots of old still roam free, the 508 RXH is set to be rarer than mating Pandas in the Kalahari.