Things are quite surreal at the moment. Let me paint the scene for you. It’s the weekend and I’m driving on an empty road that snakes between hills. Skirting the road is a lush wooded forest that must have took centuries to grow from seeds to tall barks that sprouts leaves reaching the sky. Magnificent.
A song, a quirky French number, begins playing on the radio piped through the JBL 10-speaker sound system. The song is unfamiliar, nor is the singer. But her voice is sultry and it seems to invite contentment. As if the leather-wrapped seats of this car hasn’t already lulled me into bliss. Not sleepy, just relaxed.
The car is also French. A Peugeot 508 GT, which means it gets its engine moving with diesel. Not that you are aware of it; no external noises are invading the inner bubble. The interior is one that is very well appointed and exudes the luxury of cars that are affordable to those in the higher pay scale.
It is certainly a very nice place to be in. Look around, there are no nook and cranny that does not speak of quality. There’s certain tactility massaged into everything that will be frequently touched – the armrests, the buttons, the gear knob, the steering wheel. It definitely feels much better than the car that’s in my rear view mirror.
That car is American but was never sold there. Instead, the Mondeo made its mark in Europe. Seen here is the 2.0 litre EcoBoost-powered Ford Mondeo. In truth, this car is older compared to the 508 and its age shows in its interior. The first thing that you’ll notice is how bare the interior is. And it’s flat too, especially when the centre stack drops from the dashboard like a sheer cliff.
Really, there’s nothing much to say about the Mondeo. It leans towards simplicity, in operation as well as design. So there isn’t much going on for the Mondeo. But what you can’t take away from the car is quality. It is well-built and feels solid, which lets the Mondeo keep its premium tag.
But when compared to the 508, the Mondeo lacks the stylistic flair that the French car so easily pulls off. It is as if the Mondeo was designed for practicality rather than style. The 508 is also more comfortable in that you sit in and immediately feel snug. Almost feels like you never left the couch, which is very welcome during long distance driving.
In a sense, it does live up to its Gran Turismo moniker in a way; this car has the engine for the long open road. Recall that under the bonnet is a 2.2 litre diesel engine, which gives the car the endurance of a marathon runner; it does 5.7l/100 km. Power isn’t too shabby either, hatching a healthy 204 hp and 450 Nm of torque, a number typical of oil burners. The mill is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox that likes to take its time to disengage from one gear and click on to the next.
Although the brochure says it takes 8.4 seconds to get to 100 km/h, I can’t help but to feel that the number might be generously quoted. It has an ECU-limited top speed of 235 km/h. Still, it will get to speed adequately fast, which by then the Mondeo would already be a few car lengths ahead.
A petrol-engined car is still the one to get when it comes to outright performance. The Mondeo is armed with Ford’s latest 2.0 litre EcoBoost engine, which blasts 237 hp and 340 Nm of torque into the front wheels. Transmission of choice is the six-speed Powershift dual-clutch gearbox. The Mondeo is always going to be the more sportier of the two but not more economical; it does 7.7l/100 km, which is still respectable.
The American reaches 100 km/h in 7.8 seconds and gets to a top speed of 246 km/h without breaking sweat. Bring the pedal closer to the metal and you’d be surprise how fast this large sedan really is.
The Mondeo runs strong and hard, having much more running space in the revs. There’s much satisfaction when the car shifts gears, builds more speed, gets to a higher ratio and builds even more speed. The 508 GT doesn’t, try as you might. It’s too slow to kick down a gear to catch the car ahead and the power delivery isn’t quick. Also, it eats through the revs very quickly. There is more than one scenario that the 508 will be running at the highest gear and still the Mondeo is able to peel away with so much more left in the engine.
Frustration escalates at hill climbs. Every time the 508 GT shifts gears, it finds itself dropping the revs too low, losing the precious speed that it had collected earlier; if there was a collection in the first place. It is not until I switch to manual mode that the Peugeot becomes drivable uphill. The engine does need to be whipped and worked hard.
Oh, but you might not want to work the car too hard, especially around the corners. The 508 GT’s suspension isn’t made for that. The chassis is set on becoming a comfort cruiser that it had forgotten about the inevitable B roads or a set of twisted tarmac on a hill that must be encountered. The car has a surprisingly large amount of body roll that it feels like a yacht on rough waters. The engine must be heavy as well because the nose dips under braking and then sniffs the air under hard acceleration. Unless the driver decides to pussyfoot every turn.
Not to say that the Mondeo does the same with its nose, just that the motions are kept under control. Ford has proven that a car can be comfortable to ride without giving up on the handling. In fact, this is what all large sedans should aspire to when it comes to ride and handling. Steering input in here is accurate and quick, meaning the car has the capability to swing from one corner to the next without upsetting its occupants. In fact, its occupant – me – is truly enjoying the Mondeo.
Then, it is time to head back down the mountain, when things start to go downhill for the Mondeo. It is about an hour after the afternoon showers and the roads that lead close to sea level are still damp; dry in some areas. Now, one would think that such a capable car would have no problem coming down such roads. After all, it had displayed plenty of grip going up. Instead, everything is flipped.
The Mondeo is struggling to find purchase, as if the road is made from ice. The car starts to brake nervously and nearly loses grip at every turn. Traction control and going at the speed of a speeding snail saves the day.
Throughout the Mondeo’s gauntlet, the 508 GT suddenly become the graceful dancer that the Mondeo was a few hours ago. There’s plenty of grip and it handles like a car should. So what happened? Tyres could be the issue but there were plenty of thread left.
Much later, after the shootout, I could not repeat the same wild handling that the Mondeo had on the slippery road. Odd that it should happen so close to the verdict. It is as if the forces that be had pulled a fast one and marred what was to be a brilliant handling record. Still, a conclusion must be reached.
Which is the overall better Euro D-segment sedan? I like the Mondeo, I still do in spite of the shenanigans coming downhill. The power delivery is so much better and it is a better driver’s car than the Peugeot can ever be. Priced at RM193,888, this is the car that you’ll derive much enjoyment behind the wheel.
Enjoyment, something that the Peugeot lacks. Its chassis is more focused on the comfort of the passengers until it reaches a corner. But the motions are not pronounced if the driver takes those B roads at safer speeds, which is what most will do anyway. And in that sense, the 508 GT is the better car. Yes, it is more expensive, but at RM199,888, you’d be getting a car that’s more luxuriously-appointed with an engine that lets you go further between refuels. For now, value-for-money wins the day.
Meanwhile, Danny’s pre-test script gets torn up
The pre-shootout armchair critic in me had a winner in mind. The Peugeot 508 GT HDi would have aced the petrol car in economy, flash and equipment, but the Ford’s counterpunches targeting every driving aspect, plus space, would prove too strong for the Pug, ultimately handing Mondeo the victory.
While some of the above turned out to be accurate, driving the cars back-to-back and comparing them side-by-side brought out a few surprises.
The Ford’s 240 PS Ecoboost petrol pulls well, sounds good (better than the 203 PS version, but it could be my patchy memory) and the PowerShift is the snappier and more responsive gearbox in this contest.
The ride/handling balance is great, while the surprisingly thin-rimmed steering wheel (not cool, but I like) feels really connected to the road surface. It’s good to drive, all right.
The 508 diesel may be in sporty GT spec here, but it feels dynamically inferior to the Ford. There’s more body roll, and the ride is brittle over less than smooth roads, a sore thumb in what is otherwise a solid cruiser performance.
But we don’t drive to Bukit Tinggi everyday, and it’s in the 95% of the time that the Peugeot’s charms come to play. The 2.2 HDi serves up truly effortless performance – no kick in the back, but a huge wave of smooth momentum to take you from merging traffic to highway speed in a blink. It’s quiet at work, too, and doesn’t despise revs.
The six-speed auto isn’t the quickest (can be occasionally hesitant at low speeds) but it doesn’t annoy too much in an easy-going car like this, negated by the amount of twist in hand.
Where’s the surprise, you ask? Coming down from a damp Bukit Tinggi via the trickier of two routes, I was right behind the tail of Chris in the Mondeo.
Not only the Ford couldn’t pull away, it was all over the place, and I saw ESP yanking that bulky body in line more than once. All this happened while I was relatively comfy in the 508. So while the Pug doesn’t feel so good on B roads, its outright ability is not in question.
And after 465 km of driving, including pedal-to-metal stints and lots of idling for photography, I returned the diesel Pug with a range to empty figure of 450 km, which is amazing. 1,000 km on one tank should be doable.
The Peugeot’s static appeal is the clincher for me. The Mondeo’s old-school interior is OK in isolation, but drab and bare next to the 508′s feature-rich, classy cockpit. At the back, the Ford has more space, but the Peugeot is more cozy. The French car just feels more special, in and out.
Effortless performance and great economy aside, the Peugeot has so much more presence on the road, and is so much more premium inside. It’s my pick, but with a wheel downsize to 18 inches – and that wasn’t in the script!
Ford Mondeo 2.0L Ecoboost
Engine: 2.0 litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Power: 237 hp at 6,000 rpm, 340 Nm at 1,900 to 3,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch Powershift automatic
Performance: 0-100 km/h in 7.8s, top speed 246 km/h, 7.7l/100 km
Price: RM193,888 (OTR with insurance)
Peugeot 508 GT 2.2L HDI FAP
Engine: 2.2 litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Power: 204 hp at 3,500 rpm, 450 Nm at 2,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed torque converter automatic
Performance: 0-100 km/h in 8.4s, top speed 235 km/h, 5.7l/100 km
Price: RM199,888 (OTR with insurance)