IF YOU want proof that the hybrid movement’s footprint is getting bigger look no further than the recent influx of diesel-electric hybrid cars from Citroen and Peugeot. With petrol-electric cars such as Toyota’s Prius having dominated the market for some time now, the appearance of more Euro-friendly diesel models will be a relief for some prospective buyers.
The reasoning is that, while petrol hybrids offer some benefits, this new band of diesel-centric hybrids potentially offer a more engaging driving experience for more demanding drivers and cope better with long, high speed journeys. With the hybrid market still heavily skewed towards petrol-friendly North America, it’s taken this long for makers closer to home to devise an alternative strategy.
The diesel-electric hybrid might be an alternative, but in many ways it shares a common principal with the already established petrol option. The electric motor present in the car is tasked with assisting the fuel-powered engine when the driver asks for more thrust, thus saving petrol or diesel as the slack is taken up by the boost from the onboard battery. And don’t forget, for a short period there’s also the ability to drive in electric-only mode.
What makes the Peugeot and Citroen models different is that their diesel engines are supplemented by electric power from the rear wheels, making them all-wheel drive some of the time.
And while you can choose from a people carrier and highly stylized hatchbacks, it seems appropriate to focus on Peugeot’s 508 RXH, as it’s best suited to make use of the hybrid system’s all-wheel drive mode thanks to its Audi Allroad-esque styling.
This is Peugeot’s flagship 508, and that much is clear from the single, generous trim level. Styling is true to the Allroad theme, and like the Audi alternatives this 508 RXH is only available in active lifestyle-friendly estate form.
For everyday use you can leave the 508 in its ‘auto’ mode, which automatically mixes electric only running with the diesel engine when conditions allow. The car’s ‘EV’ mode is self explanatory, although it will default to the auto setting if you demand rapid acceleration or the system thinks you’re close to exhausting the battery. The ‘Sport’ mode gives you everything together, allowing for maximum thrust at the expense of economy, while the all-wheel drive mode ensures both axles are driven – making it useful during low speed towing and tackling slippery terrain.
Mated to Peugeot’s six-speed semi-auto gearbox, the 508 offers a relatively smooth experience at sensible road speeds. Gearchange paddles allow you to take control at any time, and the car’s electric parking brake is pleasingly intuitive to operate.
The combined package puts out 200 horsepower – the electric motor contributing 37 horsepower – with a 9.2 second zero to 62mph sprint time. The bottom line for economy-minded folk is a 68.9mpg combined figure and a low 107g/km CO2, which is pretty good for a car of this size.
Out on the road the 508 RXH mostly behaves like any other medium-size estate car. Granted, you’re unlikely to make a habit of hustling the car along as that’s not why it’s on your shopping list, but its ride and handling performance give nothing away in terms of what’s under the bonnet. In short, it drives much like a regular 508 estate.
In the real world this is good news as no one wants to modify their driving behaviour in order to eek out that extra mile per gallon. Mixed driving routes will deliver a mixture of economy results, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the RXH offers a useful new angle on economy motoring. And let’s not forget the ability to drive in electric-only mode, albeit for short distances, and the ability to top up the battery on longer runs thanks to the car regenerative charging technology.
With such cars in the first stages of their life and their makers keen to attract early adopters, it’s no surprise to see Peugeot pitching the 508 RXH as a premium proposition. As the 508 range flagship it comes loaded with leather, electric everything, cruise control, sat-nav and flash alloy wheels. A more company car-orientated regular 508 hybrid is also on the price list, and likely to be more fleet manager-friendly.
Despite the price of diesel remaining on the high side, the fuel’s popularity remains strong in the UK thanks to the established company car market. And maybe because of this, cars like the 508 RXH and its hybrid stablemates offer a welcome alternative to the petrol-electric usual suspects. Designed to look and behave as conventionally as possible, this 508’s interesting mix of light 4x4 potential and plush cabin has the potential to attract measurable interest.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Peugeot 508 RXH, priced from £33,695 on the road.Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit plus electric motor developing a combined200bhp.Transmission: 6-speed semi-auto transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.Performance: Maximum speed 132mph, 0-62mph 9.5 seconds.Economy: 68.9mpg.CO2 Rating: 107g/km.