Last Wednesday, I finished my breakfast with a small piece of toast and a dollop of Orange Marmalade with Jameson that we had bought at Macreddin Village when we had stayed at Brooklodge Hotel in deepest Wicklow a couple of weeks back for a spring break.
It is perhaps our favourite hotel. It allows dogs (and has two of its own), all the food is organic, has its own beer and pub on site, there’s a great spa, two swimming pools, and it’s surrounded by wonderful grounds and a lovely walk through the golf course across the road. There is even its own chapel for weddings. It has always been money well spent; especially now we have found our favourite very dog friendly room. I won’t reveal the number, but by fortune was exactly the same as the age of my partner; then, but not next Sunday.
The great thing about Brooklodge is that it is the perfect car-testing distance from Dublin, enabling you to do some motorway driving, good country twisting roads and a few uneven surfaces. By the time I have driven there, all three of us – man, woman and dog – know what we think of a particular vehicle.
There are also two electric car-charging points there which means that range anxiety can evaporate in the spa or over a pint.
We’re lucky that we can both afford the occasional time down there and also have – mostly – wonderful cars to test for our stays.
Last time we went down in the Ioniq, Hyundai’s electric saloon. This time we had the massive BMW 8 Series, a beautiful three-door GT coupe and an half which will set you back the guts of €134,000 for the 840d xDrive Coupe with MSport technical package. The six-cylinder diesel develops 320hp (there’s also a massive V8 petrol developing 530hp) and drives all four wheels. The car is absolutely humming with all of BMW’s massive technology and the company says it marks a new “age of design” for it. Being packed with driving aids, the 840d takes a lot of the toil of driving away from you and might not give the real sports feel that some aficionados would want. But for motorway driving there would be little to beat it. The heads-up display is very special.
Now there were things I didn’t like. There would be absolutely no space for anyone’s legs in the back behind me if I wanted to be comfortable. And if somebody did manage to squeeze in, they would be very claustrophobic and uncomfortable. The dog was very unhappy that the small windows in the rear didn’t open. The driving position was too low. And while there is a lot of superior leather stitching, I am not sure if this was really a €134k car and that different from a Three Series at one-third the price.
But it is a stunning car to look at and while the ever-popular SUV style may be practical with great driving position, the body style means that the vehicles – even when tarted up or undergoing the most wonderful design signatures – are only slightly less ugly and rarely objects of beauty in their own right.
Cars like the 8-Series and its serious competitors, the Aston Martin DB11 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, are very different and are styled to impress: when you are paying those type of bucks, a car says a lot about you and it must scream personality, style and success.
However, you don’t have to pay the megabucks to get low-slung style. Peugeot, who has some of the most brilliant SUVs out there, has gone in the other direction with its new 508 saloon which is really a five-door liftback with masses of style and real premium-level interior.
The French company has gradually being moving all its vehicles upmarket and the 508 is no doubt the pinnacle of this. It is an absolute stunner that has people gawking. It is sleek, sexy and powerful. I was driving the car in GT spec and the 1.6-petrol engine developed a lusty 225hp and drove through an eight-speed automatic. Amazingly, the Co2 was still only 162g, meaning that this car was in the €280 tax bracket.
There are LED lights, frameless doors and wheels that are so much part of the design language of the whole car and fill out the arches with grace. Peugeot’s famed I-cockpit system is here in all its glory. Once we had figured out the aircraft-style switches, the car was a minimalist delight. It is really only a four-seater and the very low rear seating takes a bit of getting used to.
In fact it is here that 508 is probably no longer for the likes of me – big, awkward and not that flexible. The car is very low and there’s a fair bit of ducking and diving in getting in. But once seated and if you haven’t put the seat so far up that you are touching the optional sun roof, then you begin to appreciate the real beauty of the car.
There are still a few sight restrictions with the front pillars which I found annoying.
The boot is massive and had a very practical rubber insert. At the other end of the scale, the tech is absolutely first class and the test car was equipped with the night vision option which will detect pedestrians and brake automatically.
The test model was €49,310, before post and packing, but it also had the night vision, which I personally think is worth the €1,560, and park assist at €780. Perhaps the sunroof at €1,365 would be a bit of a luxury too far. My partner doesn’t like them and the top of my head doesn’t either.
It might have been a bit light to drive, but it suited me fine. This is a car that doesn’t compromise its economical attributes either, although there would be a number of people who would say that you won’t get your return on paying €50k for a Peugeot saloon – but the high demand for its SUV range puts paid to that complaint.
Peugeot is now a brand to be admired across all sectors. It seems to be getting everything right and it also does have a five-year guarantee which really should be the industry standard.
The 508 will appeal to people who really want to cut a dash. Peugeot still sees great advantages in its super-clean diesels and that will probably be the big seller.
Prices for the range start at an attractive €32,400 for the entry model – however, expect to pay about €40K for a model in the well-specced Allure trim. Nearly all versions have the very good Peugeot automatic box.
Pound for pound, it is better value and more practical than the BMW, which is three times the price. If I was younger and more agile, I’d be rushing to get one.
Wistfully, I reflect and regret, those years are behind me, but I’d love to borrow one when I next need to go to Brooklodge Hotel in Macreddin Village for some more marmalade and pints.