The French have long had troubles with their big saloons – Peugeot’s new ploy is to try and turn the car into something else and trick us. Is it a saloon? A coupe? A hatchback? Well, at least it hasn't been turned into an SUV. 

So, the 508 stands out in its segment, but that might not necessarily be a good thing – the company car park is supposed to be a me-too line-up of conformity and conservative fashion. It’s been a long while since a non-German was able to break into that hegemony.

First impressions? 

Curiously it doesn’t even say Peugeot on the front of the car – you’ll have to rely on the zombie lion badge, 508 numerals and a bit of educated guesswork to get this puzzle solved. This certainly doesn’t look like any Peugeot you remember – the brand has been promising a lot with recent concept cars but they never really translated through to production. 

Peugeot admits that it’s an overtly design-led project – if you want a practical family wagon get yourself an SUV – and it’s low, sleek and petite in the metal. Put it next to a Ford Mondeo or a Vauxhall Insignia and they’ll both look like they need to hit the gym. But what actually is it? Of course Peugeot’s marketing and design teams will say it’s a four-door coupe, but the boot is a big old hatchback. Those delightful frameless doors lend the coupe claim a bit of credence, though.

The ruse mostly works – the new 508 looks great, offers an impressively high level of quality inside and plenty of toys. If it’s practicality you’re after, unfortunately it can feel a little cramped – especially in the back, where adults a liable to bump their heads getting in and out.

Peugeot 508
Peugeot 508
Peugeot 508

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How does it drive?

This where the 508’s looks perhaps come against it – dynamically, if you compare the car with the previous generation of 508 it’s a delightful steer, the low centre of gravity helping it hunker through corners and giving the car a newfound zest. 

It’s not as dynamic as the looks might suggest, though – the launch drive was through the mountains surrounding Nice, and frankly the drive just got a bit boring. The 508 isn’t a point-and-squirt-through-the-hairpins sort of machine, and it felt like a bit of a disservice. Get this nifty beast on a flowing A-road or a motorway and it will be in its element. 

There are 179bhp and 221bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engines available, a 129bhp 1.5-litre diesel and 161bhp and 174bhp 2.0-litre diesel units. Only the 1.5 diesel gets a six-speed manual – all of the other cars can only be had with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Which is fine, really.

We tried the higher-powered petrol and diesel versions of the car – as is typical of these things, the petrol was the much more fun car of the two, mainly because it is nearly 100kg lighter than its diesel counterpart, and that’s a lot. 

Excitingly, if you’re that way inclined, a front-wheel drive PHEV version is set to arrive in 2019 with a 30-mile range on a full charge – that version is set to be introduced in October at the Paris motor show, along with the estate version of the car.

Peugeot 508
Peugeot 508

Should I buy one?

How brave are you feeling? Peugeot is being bullish about not discounting the car, but history suggests a large French saloon/coupe/hatchback isn’t going to hold its value exceptionally well. Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Then by all means go for it – this might be controversial, but to our eyes the 508 looks more alluring than an Alfa Romeo Giulia.

In many ways the 508 doesn’t have anything particularly going for it – it’s not the most dynamic, it’s not the best quality, it’s not the most practical. But it does do everything reasonably well – put it down as the Goldilocks option. Not too hot, not too cold, just right. 

Gallery: 2018 Peugeot 508 first drive