It happened just once during my time in Malaysia. My Peugeot 508 GT "Touring," which means "station wagon" in American English, was crawling through the
scooter-clotted traffic of downtown Kuala Lumpur when I happened to notice another one in the oncoming lane. The driver was a stunning Chinese woman in a
severe-looking business suit. Her Peugeot was black; mine was white. We nodded in mutual recognition and I believe she might have permitted the suggestion
of a smile to appear on her flawless face for a fleeting moment. Then the lanes opened up before me, I punched the throttle to the stop, the Pug's diesel
spun up an LS1 Camaro's worth of torque. She faded away with the scooters and the tiny city cars and the city itself.
Peugeot's flagship wagon is a rare sight in Malaysia, or anywhere else outside of France. There are some reasons for this. To begin with, it's a
diesel-powered, front-wheel-drive French car that presumes to carry a $45,000 price tag in most European markets. That's where Mercedes, BMW, and Audi
play, don't you know. It's also a rather conventional entry into a market that, even in Europe, has gone crazy for crossovers. In some respects, it's the
last arrival to a luxury-wagon party that ended some time ago, a piston-engined airliner in the jet age.
Better late than never, though, and Peugeot's decision to name this car the 508 shows how serious it was about competing. You see, there wasn't a Peugeot
507, and there wasn't a Peugeot 506. There was a Peugeot 505, a million--selling sedan that carried the Peugeot flag around the globe for 15
or so years. That sleek, charming car also spawned a heavy-duty long-wheelbase wagon variant that continues to carry half-ton- loads everywhere from
New England to South Africa. Before that, there was the Peugeot 504, a car so iconic it was built by various licensees until 38 years after its home-market
debut in 1968.
The "5-series" badge means a lot more to Peugeot than it ever did to BMW, you see. It means enough that the company waited more than 30 years from the
505's debut to introduce a true successor. This new 508 is the company's flagship, and it's meant to be a no-excuses competitor to the Germans in the
entry-luxury market. Like those Bimmers, Audis, and Benzes, it's available with a broad range of engines from a 1.6-liter gasoline-fueled four-cylinder to
the range-topping 2.2-liter "HDi FAP" diesel that powers the 508 GT. There's 204 hp and 338 lb-ft of torque available through a six-speed torque-converter
automatic to push a 3400-pound wagon. That's not stunningly powerful, but sometimes the numbers don't tell the full story.
All my first impressions of the big wagon (it's about the same size as the previous-generation BMW E60 estate) are positive. It's sleek and vaguely
menacing at the same time, breathing through a bigger-than-Audi grille and squinting through xenon-lit slits. The overall look is clean and no more
flame-surfaced than absolutely necessary in 2013. The interior's even better, featuring modern chocolate-brown leather seats and a piano-black-trimmed
dashboard that is virtually a shot-by-shot remake of what you'll find in recent Audis.
The best surprise is overhead: a true panoramic roof that offers a headliner-to-rear seat expanse of glass uninterrupted by rollover hoop or dividers. This
is what you think you're going to get when you buy the big glass roof in an E-class or Ford Flex, and it's stunning. Some major percentage of my
time in the 508 GT was spent taking pictures of the Kuala Lumpur skyline through the perfectly transparent ceiling as I crept along in the downtown crush,
the front and rear proximity sensors ringing out their warnings every time some daredevil in a scooter cut across my bow.
The rest of my time was spent hauling ass. The Peugeot runs up to triple digits and lives there like it was born in Munich to run the autobahn.
This car doesn't have the load capacity or ruggedness of its 505 SW8 ancestor, but in exchange, it offers an amazingly complete dynamic package. It rides
beautifully, it steers well, and it negotiates (much) slower freeway traffic with reassuring composure. Compared to the steroidal SUVs from Germany and
their stiff-spring approach, the Peugeot feels like a current-generation Miata.
Only in the current automotive market could a car of this size, power, and cost feel like a tasteful choice. But this is the way we live now: a world of
twin-turbo crossovers and two-ton- five-seaters. In this context, the 508 GT feels both reassuringly special and surprisingly restrained. It's
first-class seating for four with a full baggage allowance from the spacious, squared-up cargo area. The air conditioning easily handled the combination of
the open-sky glass and Malaysia's 105-degree heat. Over four days of usage that alternated between no-throttle creeping and full-bore abuse, the 508 GT
never stuttered. At one point, I loaded it with passengers and repeatedly drove it around a carousel-style, concrete, banked road hard enough to wash out
the front and rear end, and it never creaked, squeaked, or faltered.
It's easy to imagine the 508 GT striking a fairly direct blow against Acura and Audi in the U.S. market. It's not without flaws, of course; the interior
may look like what you get in an Audi A6, but the knobs are missing the cast-aluminum solidity that's standard in the Germans, and there's just a bit of a
flimsy feel to the control stalks. The diesel engine is brilliant when compared to the other diesels out there, but to really turn American heads, it would
need, at the very least, something like BMW's turbo four-cylinder that currently powers the 528i. A rather substantial warranty would also be necessary.
Even in Malaysia, there's concern about the longevity of Peugeots, particularly the expensive ones, a concern that the importer addresses with a
considerable extension to the factory guarantees.
There are no plans in the future to bring the 508 GT or anything like it to the States. It's a shame, because this is a brilliant, beautiful station wagon
that would be a perfect antidote for the crossover blahs. Ownership of one would send out the right message to the right people here, just like it does in
Asia, or France, or anywhere else, really.