Plush comes to shove

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The navigator-in-chief gave her verdict from the front passenger seat; “nice car, don’t like the gearbox.”

Now, you may wonder how the gearchange came to interest someone who was simply riding shotgun and had no dealings with the gears.

Well, with these gears everyone in the car had an opinion and, sorry Peugeot, you won’t like what they said.

It really did prove a car of two halves; one dominated by a gearbox that did the clutch work for you, but not very well, and one that showed Peugeot can make a handsome, comfortable midranger good enough to win a place in any company car park.

So let’s get the bad bit over with first. This electronically controlled manual gearbox is really the normal DIY one but with the car doing the legwork instead of the driver.

It’s good to be able to give the clutch foot a rest, but the slow, hesitant and sometimes jerky changes came to dominate progress.

For precisely the same price as the auto test car you could have a 508 SW with a bigger diesel engine, normal manual gearbox and enjoy better performance, use only a bit more fuel and pay a bit more road tax (but still free in year one). I’d take the 2.0 HDi.

But we’re here to talk about the smaller engined estate, part of a 508 range that Peugeot was determined would look and feel a quality act, good enough to take on anything with a German badge at the same price level.

It’s succeeded on that front, with a car that looks discreetly stylish on the outside, especially as an estate, and whose interior is so far ahead of Peugeots from the not too distant past as to make you wonder if the company didn’t simply kidnap the Audi design department and put them to work.

With touches of glossy piano black and convincing (plastic) alloy panels, there’s pleasure to be had simply sitting behind the wheel where, on pushing the start button, you’ll discover a set of instruments as finely wrought as an expensive watch. Nice one, Peugeot.

Back at the blunt end you’ll find a load compartment carpeted in deep pile and big enough for a party and enjoying convenience features like tie-down hooks, side compartments with elasticated straps and a load cover that retracts gracefully with a well placed tap.

Big car and smallish engine are not recipes for either spirited progress or economy run prowess but the test car never felt slow. Or slow only when that dratted gearchange was in a sulky mood. Most of the time it batted along with the traffic while never raising its voice.

A week’s motoring, with more than usual mileage on brisk motorway work, recorded 53mpg on the trip computer; way below the posted average figure but a pretty impressive real world average.

The SW estate comes with a huge, fixed sunroof that floods the cabin with light and brightens the mood on a dull day. There’s a motorised cover that can be stopped at fixed points between open and shut.

A £1,215 package brings a clear sat nav system (but no postcode input) and a head-up display that shows the car speed and sat nav instructions on a little panel that whirrs out of the dashtop. Take that, Audi!