The French Luminary

There really is something about the French. I mean France is an impressive and beautiful nation, blessed with modern traits of the Renaissance era. They are a pillar of culture, food, fashion, and lifestyle in a world that has somewhat lost its way with the daily commute in sweat pants and Starbucks coffee splashing around in the American-inspired cupholders. The French are so far the definition of 'ultimate' that when people talk about high fashion, they say haute couture; and when the world discusses the highest level of gastronomic culinary experiences, they call it haute cuisine. 

It's starting to look like France is the place to visit for the very ultimate of experiences, and believe me, no one knows it better than the French themselves.

Donna Shaw, a good friend of mine, once said it best: The French have a distinct swagger because they possess a lot of "je ne sais quois". Don't you just love how that phrase slips through your lips? It directly translates to "I don't know what", which indirectly talks about a pleasant quality that is hard to describe. How unapologetically French is that?

From a nation that reels you in as the ultimate destination for the most sinful Brie De Meaux cheese, the most prestigious bottle of Château d'Yquem wine, and perhaps the most hypnotizing culture of all, the Café Society - which involves a lot of café au lait and post-prandial espresso. The French take their coffee seriously. It's a ritual that's never to be rushed.

After all, why prance around town with a Green Tea latte (from you-know-where) at hand within blocks from Les Deux Magots, the legendary Parisian café at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where a luminary by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre would sit all day and philosophize over a steaming cup of Café Noisette - lest you really are a categorical village idiot.

So if the French spring to mind in everything essential, intelligent, artful, and substantial, why are they not at the top when we discuss automobiles? Do the French have nothing to show for or are we just ignorant fools that stick to what we've known all our lives?

You see, I could go on and give you a history lesson about Peugeot, but unfortunately, we're going to need a lot more time than you can spare. Here's what you need to know. Peugeot is the oldest brand in the automotive industry. When the French company was founded in 1810, the Philippines was still in the Spanish colonial rule. Jose Rizal, our national hero, would surface the earth a good fifty years later in 1861. How's that for a company that's been around? Also, you might not know this, but Peugeot is responsible for pioneering what we know today as the pepper mill or pepper grinder. 

Peugeot did not start as an automobile manufacturer. In 1810, they started as a coffee mill company and then twenty years later, they entered the business of manufacturing bikes. It wasn't until 1889 that Armand Peugeot, the man on the left, released the company's very first car, the Serpollet-Peugeot. It was a steam-powered three-wheeler produced in collaboration with Léon Serpollet, a French industrialist and pioneer of steam automobiles. 

Anyway, enough about that steamed non-sense. We're in the 21st century, and before we say our farewells to combustion and fuel, shall we celebrate a little bit first? What we have with us in this lovely tropical day is a 2016 Peugeot 508. The svelte sedan comes in at over a shade north of 2 million pesos, which isn't a lot considering that you get a lot of 'car' in return. Of course, at this price point you could get yourself top of the line versions of the Toyota Camry or the Honda Accord. Also, you could get those Japanese sedans with a V6 power plant and tons and tons of power, whereas the same amount of money for a Peugeot 508 will only buy you a 2-liter oil burner. A bit sad? Not really.

This is exactly where this luminary sedan shines. The high-pressure direct injection engine is quite responsive on Philippine roads, yet it returns unbelievable fuel economy. Sure, it will not pin you to your seat the way its gasoline V6 rivals will, but if you're an executive and you're seated at the back, why on Earth would you allow your chauffeur to do that to you? Besides, I fell asleep nicely at the rear for about an hour and a half. I had no complaints at the back, but some reclining seats would've been very welcome. 

"I would say that it is about 45% quieter than the diesel engines that come from Mercedes-Benz and BMW."

I specifically love the interior of this car. Sure, it is showing some signs of age despite it being a face lifted model, but it is still quite nice to be in. There are a lot of French touches. I love how the gear lever looks like a Power Ranger's foot. The driver and front passenger seats offer great support. I could drive all day in this car and not feel my back hurt one bit, and this is largely due to the superior lumbar support. The seats aren't what I would call soft, snug would probably be the right word. The ride quality of the 508 is unmistakably European. It's planted, but a bit too stiff. A tinge more of softness from the shocks would be nice. 

"this face lifted version has been injected with a lot more testosterone."

Driving the 508 is another thing. The first thing you'll notice is that the engine is quiet. You don't hear much of it from inside the cabin, which says a lot about the build quality of the Peugeot. However, once you step outside you'll realize that the engine really don't make a lot of noise. It's quite an achievement. I would say that it is about 45% quieter than the diesel engines that come from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The Peugeot engine sounds almost as silent as Audi's diesel engines. Does this have anything to do with Le Mans technology? Could be. Unless, I've drowned out the noise completely with the 9-speaker JBL stereo system. 

One of the things that I really loved about this car was the steering. I liked that it was precise and that it had weight. It adds to the already solid feel of the car, and it was something that I really appreciated. Now, as a general rule, I like buttons. I prefer buttons to touchscreen surfaces simply because seeing a lot of finger prints on the screen irritates me. Also, unless you've got chopsticks for fingers, pushing buttons is far more accurate than having to touch a screen that isn't made by Apple. Speaking of which, there's a slight problem with the infotainment system on the 508. It needs to be plugged to the computer for an upgrade because the system feels like it's got the weight of the world on its shoulders. The system also has its French quirks. The settings are never where you last left them and the computer is quite hard to skim through. 

My favorite feature on the car is that it has a calculator on the on-board computer. I like it for two reasons. The first being that it is completely and utterly useless, and the second being that it's good for a game of trump cards. Does your car have a calculator? I thought so. I would've preferred some Brie cheese and wine instead. Another gripe I have with the car is the rearview camera. It works fantastically during the day, but it does not work at all at night. At nightfall the camera was darker than its paint job. Moving it around in reverse through tight spaces in the absence of light can be a bit tricky, but moving it forward with the adaptive LED headlights is a whole new world. 

"If you have the cash to spend on an executive saloon, why buy the same run-of-the-mill car that every single boss in your office drives?"

The verdict? Well, it's all a matter of opinion, but I have always loved the 508 from the first time I drove it many years ago. I think that this face lifted version has been injected with a lot more testosterone, which is good for the men who want to drive one. It may not have the most beautiful lines, but it at least has the presence of a brooding hitman.

After all, if you have the cash to spend on an executive saloon, why buy the same run-of-the-mill car that every single boss in your office drives? Don't be like them. If your beautiful wife loves you, and your kids think the world of you, and you're indispensable in your office - you need to drive a Peugeot 508. If they all think you're a jerk, well, c'est la vie!

2016 Peugeot 508 2.0 HDi Allure

Engine: 1997cc, DOHC 16V, Inline-4, Turbocharged
Fuel: Diesel
Power: 163 bhp @ 3,750 rpm
Torque: 340 Nm @ 2000-3000 rpm
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic, FWD
0-100 km/h: 8.6 seconds
Top Speed: 225 km/h
Fuel Economy: 14.5 km/L Overall
Price: PHP 2,190,000
+: Style, fuel economy, standard equipment
-: Rear view camera needs work, slow on-board computer
Verdict: A testament to one's individuality
Rating: 8/10

Ex-Automotive Executive

Instagram: @enzoteodoro