Can the new Peugeot 508 RXH, the second diesel-hybrid in the Peugeot range, do what other French car makers cannot and break into the premium sector?
Peugeot was the first car manufacturer to bring the hybrid diesel/electric drivetrain to market with its 3008 Hybrid4 crossover SUV models in February this year.
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Now it is moving this technology onwards and upwards and adding it to its range of upper medium, D-segment, 508 SW estate and Saloon models launched in Spring 2011.
This move could be the key that finally unlocks the door for Peugeot broadening its appeal to premium brand car buyers because of the significantly lower tax benefits diesel/electric hybrid technology brings to fleet and company car users and to retail buyers as well who love to own the latest in high technology cars.
First to arrive in May is the 508 RXH Hybrid4 SW estate priced at £33,695. This has a diesel/electric Hybrid4 drivetrain which offers two and four wheel drive and with a higher ground clearance.
Next model to arrive in July will be the 508 Hybrid4 Saloon priced at £31,450. Each version comes with one high level of specification but with an array of extra cost options.
Peugeot RXH 508 running costs
The RXH Hybrid4 estate has CO2 emissions of only 107g/km so this means a low 12 per cent in Benefit-in-Kind company car tax, VED road tax is £0 in the First Year rate and then only £20 a year after that. The official Combined Cycle fuel economy is 68.9mpg.
The Hybrid4 Saloon costs £31,450, also has the two/four wheel drive facility but with the conventional ground clearance of the 508 four door large saloon.
Because it is a little lighter CO2 emissions are lower at 95g/km, BIK company car tax is still a very low 12 per cent and road tax remains at £0 for every year.
This model is also free of the London Congestion Charge. The official Combined Cycle fuel economy is 78.5mpg.
Because of the low taxation, including a 100 per cent company Write Down Allowance against taxable profits, it is estimated that 85 per cent of sales will go to fleet and company car users, around 1,000 units a year for the RXH Hybrid4 estate and double that for the Hybrid4 saloon.
Sales of other stylish 508 SW and Saloon models with conventional petrol and diesel engine options and two wheel drive will continue to be the main sellers accounting for up to 8,000 UK sales each year and 75 per cent of these sales go to fleet and business users.
Peugeot 508 RXH off-road
The RXH, which is based on the 508 SW estate, has higher ground clearance for added capabilities off road, although it isn't an off-roader - think more Audi A4 Allroad.
However the RXH has SUV-style body cladding for added protection for when the going gets tough away from the tarmac. It really looks a smart estate with a purposeful stance and the front with its 'floating' grille and signature 'claw' vertical daytime running lights looks very classy.
Inside the RXH estate car is 'executive spec' as is the forthcoming saloon version. All the kit is there and there are extra cost options if desired but in its standard form you will not feel cheated for specification given its relatively high price.
Peugeot 508 RXH hybrid system
But the technology is the real benefit to potential buyers. The Hybrid4 system has a 2.0-litre, 163bhp turbodiesel engine driving the front wheels while a 37bhp electric motor is mounted with its battery pack under the boot floor and drives only the rear wheels.
Combined torque of the two power sources is 450Nm (331lb ft) and it is very progressive from zero rpm because of the electric motor. Top speed is 132mph and zero to 62mph takes 9.5 seconds.
Officially the fuel economy is 68.9mpg but during testing on and off road this week the result was a more realistic 42.1mpg. But it's the low CO2 rating which leads to low taxation that impresses most.
The twin power sources lets the driver choose between front wheel drive, all electric drive when zero emissions are dictated and four wheel drive. Or the driver can just select Auto and the car's brain decides how best to optimise fuel economy and performance. This is an impressive function as it switches seamlessly between diesel and electric power.
Peugeot 508 RXH performance
The diesel engine is strong and responsive but it does get noisy under hard acceleration even though the estate's cabin is generally a quite place to travel in.
There was also more than ideally desirable road noise transmitted into the cabin due to the large 18-inch wheels fitted with grippy tyres for those journeys into the undergrowth. The suspension is on the firm side because of the off-road capability and can be unsettling on-road over poorer road surfaces.
The well known Peugeot EGC six-speed electronically controlled automated clutchless manual gearbox retains its jerky performance. It performed a little better than with the 3008 Hybrid4 because the extra weight of the 508 RXH gives more inertia to smooth out the gearchanges but these changes are still too slow and reflect in the acceleration times.
Peugeot 508 RXH first drive
Peugeot chose an interesting test drive programme for us to put their RXH through its paces. In addition to the busy roads west of Manchester around the country roads of Cheshire and into Wales we came across Manor House Stables at Maples.
This is the training facility for 'flat' horse racing where one of the owners is footballer Michael Owen. Not only does he have his horses here but so do Mr and Mrs Wayne Rooney and notable others.
Anyway less about them and more about the RXH. The stables and the gallops for flat racing training were ideal to demonstrate the vehicle.
Selecting EV zero emission mode and we cruised the aisles inside the stable barns which house millions of pounds worth of flat racing livestock without polluting the air with our car's CO2 emissions.
Outside we selected four wheel drive mode and raced up the very wet gallops at 40mph alongside, and in very close proximity to, the best in flat racing livestock to see them in close action.
I have to say it was a very clever driving experience and worthy of a very clever diesel/electric hybrid large all wheel drive estate and demonstrated its capabilities very well.
Peugeot 508 RXH Hybrid4 Estate.
2.0-litre, four cylinder, 163bhp, turbodiesel driving the front wheels, 37bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels, 6-speed automated EGC gearbox.
132mph, 0-62mph 9.5 seconds, 68.9mpg Combined Cycle ( 42.1mpg on test on/off road), CO2 107g/km, VED road tax £0 First Tear rate then £20 per annum, BIK company car tax 12%.
33E. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,823mm, W 2,068mm, H 1,525mm, boot space 423-litres, load space 1,509-litres.
Cost effective to run with huge tax savings for an estate of this size and quality, versatile on/off road drivetrain, well equipped, very stylish inside and out, an estate for all seasons.
Expensive to buy, sluggish transmission, unsettled ride.