Wednesday, 8 August 2012

2012 Peugeot 508 RXH Full Road Test

Last month we tested Peugeot’s very first diesel-electric Hybrid the 3008 Hybrid4 and were impressed by the technology on offer if not so much by the execution itself. However Peugeot are ploughing on and earlier this year launched its second hybrid, the new 508-based RXH.

Essentially the RXH is a 508 SW with raised suspension, beefy body moldings and underbody protection, larger wheels and the same Hybrid4 system we have seen previously. Peugeot’s sole aim is to offer buyers a large, quality, family estate capable of modest off-roading, good on-road manners with low running costs unseen before.

The RXH commands a healthy premium over the standard 2-wheel-drive 508 SW putting it in the same arena as Audi’s desirable A4 Quattro Allroad and Volkswagens newly launched Passat Alltrack. We find out whether the big cat has what it takes to rival the best Germany has to offer.

What is it?

Launched in May 2012 the 508 RXH is Peugeot's foray into the increasingly popular rugged four-wheel drive estate category. Its unique selling point is its hybrid-diesel powerplant. The RXH's biggest attraction has to be its claimed combined fuel economy in the late 60s (mpg) and meager emissions at just 107g/km. Under the skin is the familiar 508 platform with multilink rear suspension with the 37bhp electric motor mounted to it. The drivetrain is identical to that found on the 3008 Hybrid4 that we tested earlier this year. The RXH sits at the top of the 508 range with just one single, well equipped trim level which costs £33,695. Standard equipment includes luxuries such as automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, front and rear parking aids, 18” alloy wheels, panoramic roof, Bizone climate control and colour head up display. Here we are testing a fully loaded example with the addition of metallic paint, Open/Go keyless entry, full leather interior with massage function driver’s seat and Xenon directional lights with Led daytime running lights. Our car with extras comes in at £36,770.

Rivals: Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, Audi A4 Allroad, Skoda Octavia Scout

Key Features
  • 18” Alloy Wheels
  • Colour Head Up Display
  • Keyless Entry
  • Heated Leather Interior with Massage Function
  • Quad-zone Climate Control
  • Cruise Control
  • 7” Colour Satellite Navigation
  • Automatic parking brake
  • Automatic lights and wipers
  • Front and rear parking sensors
Anyone that has seen a 508 SW on the road will appreciate its superb looks. With its bold creases, prominent waistline and generous dimensions it’s one of the classier cars in its class. The RXH builds on this with the addition of a new “floating” grill at the front and all new bumper with “cat-claw” LED daytime running lights. The cars ride height has been raised by 50mm for improved ground clearance and benefits from widened front and rear tracks nicely concealed by the very attractive, rugged looking plastic arch and sill extensions with chrome highlights. There is also range of new colours available exclusively to the RXH along with gorgeous 18” Attila alloy wheels. Arguable the RXH is the best looking 508 in the range; its transition from sleek estate to rugged quasi-SUV seems to have been hugely successful.

Inside is pure 508 which is not a bad starting point. Everything is sumptuously trimmed in thick, quality materials with all of the switches operating with a lovely damped action. The design itself is classy and sophisticated with a pleasing blend of black plastics with chrome accents. Differentiating the RXH from its 508 siblings is an eye-catching strip of trim that intersects the dashboard fading from black to red and back to black again also carried over to the sides of the lower centre console. Our car also had high quality leather seats with mud-coloured brown stitching.

Carrying five adults in comfort is easy in the RXH with ample head and legroom in the front and back. The seats themselves couldn’t be more comfortable with plenty of adjustment for the driver including extendable leg supports for those in the front. A rake and reach adjustable steering column makes finding the perfect driving position is easy. Unobtrusive a-pillars make for good forward visibility helped further by the elevated view out thanks to the raised suspension.

We found the Head Up Display to be a really useful gadget rising from the top of the dashboard in the drivers line of sight projecting the cars speed onto the slim piece of glass – helpfully the digits turn green when in all-electric mode. The navigation and cruise control information can also be projected onto the display in crisp colour.

Despite having a raised boot floor to house the rear electric motor and batteries luggage capacity is still decent at 423 litres -90 litres down over the standard SW-extending to 1439 litres with the seat folded down. This is likely to be plenty big enough for the majority of buyers.

At the heart of the RXH is Peugeot’s superb 1997cc 16v 163bhp common rail diesel engine mated to a robotized 6 speed manual transmission. At the rear is a 37bhp electric motor with up to 200Nm of torque powering the rear wheels. What makes this setup unique is that both power sources aren’t mechanically linked in any way. Also there is no need to plug the HYbrid4 in to charge its Nickel Metal Hydride batteries. Additionally an energy recovery system turns the electric motor into a generator during deceleration increasing the cars range.

There are a series of driving modes to choose from via the control selector mounted on the centre console. Most drivers will leave the car in Auto which cleverly juggles between power sources for optimised fuel economy. ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mode is perfect for around town running on electric power alone for around two miles with the batteries fully charged. There is also a Sport mode where diesel and electric come together producing 200bhp coupled with quicker gear changes for what Peugeot calls "Dynamic Performance". Finally there is a 4WD mode for some mild off-roading.

The RXH drives very much like the conventional 508 SW. Admittedly when turning the ignition key the car generates no noise at all as the diesel engine sits in standby mode. Move the gear selector from N to A and gently push the accelerator and the car begins to silently move forward with nothing more than a whir. It’s an eerie sensation but one that’s novelty never wears off, just watch out for pedestrians who may not be aware of your approach!

Once 40 mph is reached the diesel engine seamlessly takes over providing the needed thrust for higher speeds. Stepping off the accelerator causes the % power needle fall to “charge” helpfully charging the batteries ready for the next urban encounter. At first the increased rate of deceleration takes some getting used to but drivers can feel smug that this usually wasted kinetic energy is being put to good use. The RXH also slips back into zero emissions mode when slowing down.

As we have found with the 3008 hybrid we recently tested the flaws in the gearbox still remain although to a lesser degree. In Auto mode far too often it’s found searching for the correct gear sending engine revs and noise levels soaring but gear changes are fairly smooth. There is also far too much hesitation when pulling away from junctions forcing the driver to wait for large gaps in the traffic before making a move. 

Thankfully there is a way of getting the most out of the engine and making smooth progress. We found Sport mode improved throttle response and made gear changes quicker especially when swapping cogs manually using the steering wheel paddles. In this mode you can take full advantage of the RXH’s linear power delivery and 500nM of torque combined picking up speed with real conviction. This is reflected in the sprint to 60mph taking just 8.8 seconds – up from 9.5 seconds in Auto mode. In Sport mode however economy does suffer and the RXH is not able to run in full electric mode.

Out on the road the RXH has lost some of the 508’s sparkle in terms of ride and handling. The 508 already has a firm ride but it seems that the new cars suspension has been stiffened further to counteract the additional suspension travel resulted in a ride that always feels busy picking up even the smallest imperfections and jolts over sharp ridges in the road. Despite a firmer setup the loftier suspension also tends to wallow when dealing with larger bumps. Thankfully on smoother A-roads and motorways everything settles down providing a more supple, forgiving ride. 

When tackling corners the RXH’s steering is nicely weighted and provides just enough feedback for keener drivers. Levels of body roll have increased but not by much and the brakes are powerful and fade free making for a decent drive. There is also more than enough grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport3 tyres. Refinement seems to have suffered at the arm of those grippy tyres and bluff body moldings with far too much noise filtering into the cabin making rougher surfaces more tiring than they should be.

We managed to get a deeply impressive 60 mpg from the RXH- not far off the claimed 68mpg combined- whilst with us resulting in a range of over 800 miles despite spending the majority of its time on country roads. With emissions of just 107g/km the RXH is noticeably cheaper than its rivals to tax and will be a seriously attractive proposition for business users thanks to its 12% BIK taxation. Compared to the standard 2.0 HDi diesel 508 SW combined fuel economy is likely to be around 19mpg less at 49mpg combined. Furthermore the 508 SW falls into four tax bands higher than the RXH in Band F meaning an extra £115 outlay each year.

Words and Photos by Rob McSorley 

Technical Data 

Price as tested: £36,770 
Engine: 2.0 16v 163bhp (& 37bhp electric motor) - 0-62mph: 9.5 secs - Maximum Speed: 132mph - 
Economy: 70.6mpg (urban) –67.3mpg (extra-urban), 68.9mpg (combined) - Emissions: 107g/km (Band B) - VED (12 months): £0 
Dimensions: Length: 4823mm - Width: 2068mm - Height: 1525mm - Wheelbase: 2817mm 
*data from Peugeot UK
The Verdict 3.5/5

Whilst with us we found the RXH to be a well-rounded package and excellent ownership proposition. We really liked its rugged looks and luxuriously designed interior that can easily accommodate a family of five and their luggage. We also found the fuel economy to be very good overall and the superb driving experience of the standard 508 is still there if slightly diluted. We found it hard to get on with the rougher ride quality that felt far too wallowy and the relative lack of refinement. Then there is the robotised gearbox which still has some way to go compared to those offered by rivals. In Auto mode its changes are ponderous and it’s often confused, in manual Sport mode however the RXH is much more rewarding to drive but economy suffers. Overall the RXH has a lot to offer family and business buyers alike but is only for those who are happy to spend the princely sum of nearly £34,000 on a Peugeot rather than an ultimately more desirable, prestige brand such as Audi. It is likely to come down to running costs which rivals will find hard to match.

You will like
Rugged looks
Superb cabin
Fuel economy & emissions

You won’t like
High asking price
Dim-witted gearbox
Lack of dynamic ability
So-so refinement

Special Thanks to; Peugeot Motor Company PLC, Pinley House, 2 Sunbeam Way, Coventry CV3 1ND

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