Two separate trips to France allowed me to try out two cars from the same market category. The not so new, yet quite intriguing Mercedes C-class and the recently launched Peugeot 508 saloon.
Both these cars are fighting in a very competitive market, where everything from engine specification to interior trim quality is meant to be of top quality. These cars are however slightly different from one another. While the Mercedes is merely a car to fit in a market where the BMW 3-series rules the roost, the 508 is Peugeot’s top of the line model, replacing both the 607 and the 407. Therefore the 508 may also have to compete with a market that the 607 had to compete with in the past. Quite a tall order then.
When entering the Mercedes, the first thing you realise is how hard the seats are. Shrugging off that thought, I think I will get used to it when we hit the road. However, a few minutes of driving, you realise, that its almost impossible to get comfortable. I was already squirming in my seat after only a few minutes on the road, and I had to get through a 3hour drive. Not a very good start then.
The next thing you look at is the layout of the dashboard. At first it seems quite ordinary. Nothing to make you interested. In fact I would say it is quite boring. It hasn’t got any sort of sparkle in its design. I felt as though Mercedes intentionally designed the car’s interior to be as boring as possible.
The 508 is somewhat of a different story. The seats, are firm yet comfortable. They aren’t perfect, but they are adequate. I would however specify full leather on the 508 rather than the part leather that we had in our car. They are far more comfortable and are simply gorgeous to look at.
The layout of the dashboard is well laid out, with some lovely materials used throughout the cabin. The main instrument panel is fitted with a great looking piano black finish that makes the car that bit more special.
Both these cars are lovely to drive, with near identical road holding ability, which is impressive for the Peugeot considering it is front wheel drive. The Mercedes has a stiffer set up than the Peugeot due to its stiffer suspension and a lower ride height. I urge caution however with the Mercedes, especially on bumpy roads, especially in Malta where we still suffer from quite mediocre road maintenance. Due to the Mercedes’ firmer set up, comfort is compromised. This was not such a big problem on French roads, but in Malta, I can’t imagine myself getting used to it. The Mercedes has a 2.0l diesel engine producing 136bhp. And you immediately realise that this is not Mercedes’ forte. The engine gives a bad name to all diesel engines. It is so noisy. It sounds like the sort of diesel engine that we had ten years ago.
The 508 , while being lovely to drive, is also very comfortable, as is the norm with Peugeots. It has always been one of their main selling points, especially in their high end saloon segment. The cabin is very well insulated, definitely much better than the C-Class. The engine is Peugeot’s new 1.6 e-HDi model,producing 112bhp, which doesn’t sound like much but throughout our holiday we never felt the need for more power. It felt perfectly adequate.Our little 1.6 diesel engine was a fine little motor, with reasonable performance for day to day use. For those who want more power there is a 1.6l petrol engine, producing either 120bhp or 156bhp. There is also a 2.0l diesel engine, producing 163bhp and the current range topping 2.2l diesel engine producing 205bhp . A hybrid model will also be available to customers some time in 2012.Read more about Peugeot’s hybrid flagship here.
Day to Day living
I will be honest, after a few days the Mercedes got on my nerves, which was a shame because I was quite a fan of Mercedes. I used to prefer Mercedes over BMW, because BMW seemed to mainstream. I even liked the styling, in a glitzy chrome-filled sort of way. After a couple of days with the Mercedes, I got fed up of its uncomfortable seats, its noisy engine and lack of sparkle in the cabin. It just felt like yet another car to fill a niche gap. On a track it may be more fun to drive with its sportier set up, but in the real world it just feels below average.
The 508, while not being perfect gets very close. The main problem with it was its semi-automatic gearbox with wheel mounted paddle shifters. In manual mode the changes take some getting used to, since the car tends to jerk forwards when increasing a gear. However change your driving style slightly and changes are much smoother. Also the seats could a bit comfier, but these are things that can be changed when buying this car. Since this car is such a joy to drive, the manual gearbox would be much better suited to this car. Also spec leather seats. They are worth it. It is also very spacious for both the occupants in the front and in the back. The air conditioning is also brilliant, and will cool even the worst of our Maltese summers. I am struggling to find anything to complain about the 508. It is a very well accomplished car.
It is economical, fun to drive, comfortable, has a huge boot, and has an options list that would embarass a car a class above. Some might argue that Peugeots are unreliable, but after those trips with a Mercedes and this 508, I can safely assure that the Mercedes caused us more problems than the Peugeot. The Peugeot is a fine car, and it is a very reasonable car to buy. You do not get all that premium price rubbish that you get with Mercedes. What you get is a well built, spacious, good looking, fun to drive car that shows some people what they miss out on when they buy a car merely on a badge.
The Peugeot is definitely worth a look, well in my opinion it is worth more than a look. It deserves to be Peugeot’s best selling car. The Mercedes doesn’t get my vote. For all the hype that is associated with the name, it is just an utter disappointment to me. If however, neither of these cars tickle your fancy, the Audi A4 is a decent alternative. It is not as spacious as the 508, but it has a lovely interior, and is very well built.