I'm swiping another car brand's catchphrase here, but who cares? "Luxury at every price point" is the way the world is going circa-2012, or so we are told.
What that means is that you no longer need to buy high-priced products to experience luxury brands in all their glory. You could buy a piece of Hermes ready-to-wear fashion for many thousands of dollars, for example. But you can also experience the same qualities of that luxury brand with a tie or keyring. Well, that's the theory. Espoused by the boss of a car brand I'm not writing about today. Sorry about that.
Before I dither around anymore, let's get straight to the Peugeot 508 Active. The 508 we know well already: it's been a landmark model for the French maker in terms of style, quality and refinement. The last 508 I drove was the $65,990 GT and it was magnificent.
The Active is a new entry-level model for the brand. It's just $46,990, so on price it's a genuine alternative to mainstream Japanese and Korean cars. Although it's not exactly a powerhouse: this sizeable sedan is powered by a mere 1.6-litre engine and rides on tiny 16-inch wheels.
Faster is better of course, but know what? The same qualities that make a $66,000 Peugeot 508 feel luxurious are present in this budget model. Same svelte style, same deliciously soft cabin materials, same sublime refinement, same smooth ride - more so in this model because of that modest footwear. Luxury at a lower price point, if you see what I mean. I really like this car.
The 508 Active does remind you that luxury is about fundamental qualities rather than add-on trinkets, although it's not what you'd call sparse. It has a multifunction steering wheel wrapped in leather, cruise control with speed limiter, parking radar, an acoustic laminated windscreen and quad-zone air conditioning.
There's really very little missing. The next 508 up is the Allure HDi. Aside from the engine upgrade, it has keyless entry/start, bi-xenon headlights, folding wing mirrors, part-leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels. All very nice. Not much there that would be a deal-breaker. Maybe the wheels ...
But a 1.6-litre 508 is undernourished, oui? Actually, no. That engine is a turbocharged unit shared with BMW/Mini and it's a beauty. With 115kW it's just 5kW down on the Allure's 2.0-litre turbo diesel. It's a full 100Nm shy on torque (240Nm), but that pulling power is delivered in a muscular way from just 1400rpm and the six-speed automatic is an excellent conduit. The transmission occasionally goes a bit French by wildly kicking down and/or hanging on to gears way too long when you accelerate slightly harder than usual, but let's just call that character.
The Active rides and handles beautifully, partly because it's by far the lightest 508 in the line-up. It's 110kg less than the Allure, for example, although ultimately the roadholding isn't up to the standards of the more powerful models due to those tall 60-series tyres.
But that's okay. When you're enjoying a luxurious drive, you don't necessarily need to hurry.