I actually can’t remember the last time I saw a large Peugeot saloon. After all, it’s been a few years since the 407 was sold in this country and even longer since we last saw the graceful 607. I’d forgotten how much I loved both these cars when they first saw the light of day; The sporty and new-age 407 with its (then) revolutionary good looks and athletic appearance, and the cumbersome 607 grand sedan, with its feline face and never-ending length.

It was only a matter of time until Peugeot revealed a new contender to the market though, and what they’ve just unveiled is something of a marvel. The new 508, which competes with the likes of the Honda Accord, VW’s Passat and the Suzuki Kizashi, marries the compact, sporty merits of the 407 to the grandeur and grace of the 607, in an effort to replace both those cars with one brilliant new model. So, is it any good?

The Wilderness region of the Eastern Cape was where Peugeot South Africa thought I’d like to find out and so, on smooth highways and twisty mountain passes, various derivatives of the newcomer were let loose to show just what the French brand’s latest offering is like…

On the face of things, I was totally smitten by this feline’s presence. It sports the latest iteration of Peugeot’s new design language and so, gone is the smiley face that the brand has successfully enjoyed over the last few years.

The new look is sleek, bold and really sporty, with a large gaping grille and elongated triangular headlights adding the right amount of aggression to the nose. The side profile is svelte, with a Germanic air of solidity and quality, accentuated by good-looking wheels and chrome detailing. The backside is my favourite bit though, with gorgeously seamless integration of the boot lid, bumper and tail lights. Seeing this car from behind and at a distance was jaw-dropping to say the least!

The interior has been given a dash of panache and flair thanks to all-new designs and great material choices. Fabric or leather is on offer depending on the model, but either option is a pleasure to experience, with just the right balance of luxury and cost effectiveness. The dash is pretty and laden with gadgets, and with features like a massaging driver’s seat and satellite navigation, this car bats for the major league for sure. Build quality is (almost) top notch, and nothing seemed to be wrong – except a hideously annoying squeak in the bowels of the dashboard which developed while out on the road.

While that became annoying, it was quickly blocked out by sheer driving enjoyment. Strategically I’m sure, Peugeot sent me out into the mountains, and that meant going up the Outeniqua Pass and then Robber’s Pass, in different versions of the car.

Both handled very well for a car like this and with great chassis balance the drive was exhilarating. The steering could do with a little more feedback but I doubt any of the “executives” who this car is aimed at drive over a mountain to get to work in the morning.

The new 508 comes in four model derivatives, all of which are well priced and offer decent kit for the money. The 1.6 THP Active and Allure models, which offer 115kW and 240Nm, bring new life to a great turbocharged engine and with a 6-speed manual gearbox (Active) or 6-speed automatic (Allure), they are great options for smooth luxury and sporty fun.

Fuel consumption is claimed at 6.4-litres per 100km and carbon emissions are set to be 149g/km for the Active, while the Allure’s figures are 7.1-litres per 100km and 164g/km respectively. Next up comes the 2.0 HDi Active, with a punchy diesel motor and excellent economy – the 120kW/340Nm engine (which is employed in a number of the brand’s products) is said to use just 4.9-litres per 100km and spit out 129g/km of carbon, and it also makes use of a 6-speed manual ‘box.

The 508 GT however, had me salivating with excitement. Powered by an all-new 2.2-litre HDi FAP diesel engine, the turbocharged mill produces a brilliant 150kW and 450Nm – figures you wouldn’t dream of for such an engine not so long ago. Available only in GT spec and with a 6-speed automatic gearbox, the 2.2 HDi FAP offers superb refinement and a great drive at the same time, with barely any diesel clatter. In fact, I only realised I was driving a diesel once I checked the spec sheet in the car… Fuel economy is excellent in true French diesel tradition, and Peugeot SA claims the 508 GT will use just 5.7-litres of diesel per 100km and produce 150g/km of carbon dioxide. Impressive indeed!

As a range the new 508 is a very serious contender in its segment. With prices starting at R283 700 for the 1.6 THP Active and ending at R409 900 for the 508 GT (including a 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 5-year/100 000km service plan), the value-for-money aspect is huge with this car.

While it also competes with the Germans in this segment (which are way more expensive), I don’t think anyone would be swayed out of a 3 Series or C-Class into a 508, necessarily. But compared to the “other options” in this hotly-contested segment, it’s definitely going to fight for top honours, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the 508 is nominated for next year’s Car of the Year title.

It offers striking good looks, a beautiful drive and great value for money to a market which has been starving for a big Pug for far too long. If you gave me a 508 GT, I would probably end up marrying you.

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