The French have always had a certain fortitude and self-belief about them, nowhere more so than when it comes to their approach to cars. Love it? Tres bien. Indifferent, or not taken by it? Unlike the Italians, who would beg to disagree – rather strongly – if you happen to think one of their designs isn’t quite the trick, the same response from the French would be, well, it’s your loss then, because it is such a gem, non?

That cavalier train of thought, equivalent to an adage that ‘we build it the way we see it best, and so it is, indeed, perfect,’ has worked well enough in the past. And, up till the last few years, it has even gotten them by, even if fissures were starting to show.

Take the Peugeot 407, for instance. Lovely looking car, and sizeable enough, but what about that massive front overhang and oodles of unutilised space, which you could house a dog in (anyone remember the Italian incident with a 207)? The interior certainly wasn’t shabby, but rear passenger comfort seemed an afterthought. Not lacking in form, but questionably, function. Likewise the 607, hardly the commercial success, though that one was pretty much scoped from an era of such idée fixe still well and truly entrenched.

Well, a significant softening in approach has come about, one that suggests that the company, if not exactly abandoning core ideals, has adopted a less parochial view of things and a more global take on matters. This new fashion is reflected in something like the 508, Pug’s replacement for both the 407 and 607. Coming in from those, it’s almost radical, even.

Full story after the jump.

The M2, or D segment 508 is available in two bodystyles, saloon and estate (SW). The shape reinterprets cues from the stylistic codes seen on the SR1 concept, with a single grille rendered in a floating style and strong expression of the headlamps setting the tone up front – taut and dynamic are good descriptors for the car’s face. The sides are clean and balanced, and this carries on to the simple, but flowing rear. It’s a handsome car, the 508.

By and large, I’ve never really been gobsmacked by French offerings in the past, design-wise. The shapes haven’t really worked for me, or rather the manner the lines have been interpreted. For example, I still don’t think the 308‘s rear really gels with what’s happening up front. This one, however, threads everything together quite tidily despite its size, and organically so. Granted, it’s all shaded a bit on the conservative side, despite the sleekness, but it works – the SW is also every bit a looker, arguably more so in my books.

The car shares the same platform as the second-generation Citroën C5, and both vehicles are made side by side at the PSA plant in Rennes. To affirm that this is indeed a serious push on a global scale, the car is also being made in Wuhan, China for the Chinese market, though only the saloon is being sold there.

Presumably, the last has to do with how the car has shaped up, figuratively at least – Pug expects that China will be the largest market for the car, and with size and space being paramount in that particular arena, the 4.79 metre long (4.81 metre for the SW), 1.83 metre wide and 1.45 metre tall dimensions for the 508 means that it’s sized up – to wit, it starts by being 101 mm longer than the 407 in saloon form.

Other notable numbers include a reduced front overhang (- 43 mm) and increased wheelbase (+ 92 mm) and longer rear overhang compared to the 407. Oh, and with the increase in dimensions come much improved space for the rear passengers. All this volume, with a reduction in weight – the saloon weighs 25 kg less than the 407 version, while the SW weighs 45 kg less than its older equivalent, based on like-on-like engines.

As you’d assume, boot space is also up over the 407. The saloon offers 545 litres, while the SW has 660 litres, and with the split seatbacks folded, the volume goes up to 1,581 litres for the saloon and 1,865 litres for the SW.

A number of engine variants abound for the car in Europe, starting with the 120 hp 1.6 litre VTi form right up to the range-topping DW12C diesel, which is the 2.2 HDi FAP mill. The engine options for the car are less than that available for the 407, but the consolidated lineup – with the familiar 1.6 litre 156 THP Prince unit in there – works well enough.

Gone is the 240 PS and 450 Nm 3.0 litre HDi biggie of old, but the 2.2 HDi on the 508 has been reworked to offset that. Previously, in its DW12B form, the 2.2 litre turbodiesel offered 170 hp and 370 Nm; the revised DW12C incarnation now puts out 204 hp and 458 Nm.

Two front suspension setups are available for the car, a drop-link double wishbone and a more conventional McPherson strut type. The more sophisticated double wishbone is only available with the 2.2 HDi-equipped GT version, to offer dynamic road handling in keeping with the engine’s workings, as the company puts it, with the rest of the model range going the pseudo McPherson route. At the rear, a multi-arm suspension features across the entire model range.

As to why the intrinsically superior double wishbone front setup isn’t featured across the board, the answer is all down to both price and weight. Aside from cost, the pseudo McPhersons offer a weight saving of 12 kg over the double wishbones, and the Peugeot people explained that the gains obtained could be then put back into the car in the form of other equipment or kit, without bloating the final kerb figure. Nice explanation, actually; you can imagine a shrug of the shoulders as a response in days of old!

Similarly, the GT is the only 508 to get the new AM6 six-speed automatic gearbox (with paddle shifters), and the Aisin co-developed tranny features reworked bearings, segments, clutch linings, special oil and a new converter, among other elements. Gear change times have also been reoptimised, and the company says that on the whole the unit is quicker and smoother than the AT6, which features on the rest of the model range alongside a six-speed manual.

Elsewhere, three different-sized front brake discs are to be had; a 283 x 26 mm unit that equips three variants, a 304 x 28 mm unit on the 1.6 litre 156 THP and a 340 x 30 mm unit for the GT. At the rear, the entire range wears 290 x 12 mm discs.

Among the items to be found on a comprehensive equipment list are six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), ESP (which includes stability control, emergency brake assist and EBD), a colour head-up display, push start ignition, directional bi-Xenon headlamps with a LED signature, four-zone air conditioning, on-board navigation and a WIP Sound six-speaker audio system, with a JBL 10-speaker, 10-channel 500 watt amplifier system available as an option.

The Pug’s cabin feels roomy, a significant leap from that of the 407‘s, especially at the back. The front has good shoulder room too; my partner during the drive wasn’t a small chap by any measure, but the shoulder-to-shoulder space afforded more than ample distance proximity values, and throughout the drive comfort levels with regards to space – as well as seating – were high.

It feels premium as well, the interior – the layout may seem a bit homogenic from a flair context, but everything is presented very cleanly and with sophistication. Textures are good to sight as well as touch, especially with regards to primary contact and visual points. Certainly, there can be little for anyone to complain about in terms of trim and material.

Some thoughts about space for items though; large cubbyholes and boxed areas offer a total of 22 litres of cabin storage space, according to the numbers, and these are well workable, but the central console area still suffers from a lack of placement options.

The media drive took place in Spain earlier in the year, and there was a chance to sample the saloon, both in 1.6 litre 156 THP (with the six-speeder manual) and 2.2 HDi-equipped GT form. The course around Alicante took us up as far as Xixona, and provided an ample platform for the 508 to show what it was all about. We started out in the GT, which turned out to be a blast, because the car is definitely something to shout about.

The mill’s tractability is naturally the standout element – the low to mid-band punch makes light work of hauling the mass around, and exuberant best describes the character, but the rest of the car has an excellent vibrancy about it as well, more than enough to keep interest levels high.

The suspension’s suppleness and deftness of feel contribute to things, with plenty of useful information coming off it being particularly impressive. The chassis keeps pace as well, offering a good degree of neutrality and tracking ability. In all, the GT never felt cumbersome or slow, despite its size.

The changover point at Biar took us over to the 156 THP, which sobered things a little. The stick shifter helped to keep things fairly lively, at least for me, but it was hard to lose almost half the torque and not feel it.

Not that the Prince isn’t able – you can still get the car going, and there’s decent pull, but you’ll have to work the vehicle hard for the thrills. Pushed hard, the McPhersons also felt less inspiring than the double wishbones; not soft, mind you, just less refined in soaking up undulations and bumps. Indeed, with everything set more linearly, the entire focus shifts the presentation, making this one feel more executive than unbridled.

Once we’d settled down and stopped gunning it like we stole it though, the variant’s character began to shine through. Driven sensibly (well, it is an executive sedan, I can imagine some of you saying so right now), the 156 THP’s workings alluded that it would – coupled to the likes of the AT6 auto – feel very much at home in the urban scene here in KL, with its polished, refined mien offering plenty of appeal.

Still, the GT would be the pick of the 508 crop, and it’s easy to see why. Yes, I know, enthusing about a variant that isn’t coming here is a bit like telling you how great a toy is, but you’re never going to be able to play with it, but really, it’s a shame we won’t be getting the GT. You can imagine that the pricing won’t make it that competitive, besides the obvious as to why it isn’t coming, but that really is our loss.

For Malaysia, the 508 will come in a single form, the 156 THP (with the AT6 transmission), and the Prince is certainly strong enough a performer to carry the car for the intended target market. The car itself represents an impressive leap forward, coming in from the 407, and those into their Lions will find plenty to cheer about.

It will however find a new buying segment here; though it is the replacement for the latter, the shift in focus, translating to a shift in pricing, means that the 508 will come in at a higher price point than the 407. For the crowd looking for something along the old one’s lines from a price point of view, there’s the 408 over the horizon. Those who can bag it, however, will find in this one how the French have finally moved on. Tres bien? Certainly.