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We drove slowly back to base, the significance of what we'd just witnessed starting to sink in. So let's be entirely clear about it: Ford has not ruined the Focus but it has changed it, not just in the metal but in concept, too. You could argue, as many will, that for most people most of the time it is a substantially superior car; its quality is through the roof, its ride and refinement clearly class leading. For a car that is to sell in all environments around the world, it is a pragmatic solution to the one-size-fits-all problem presented by all truly global cars.

It's certainly enough to beat even an improved Astra, not to mention all the other contenders we didn't even consider putting in this test. Tlie Vauxhall is more likeable now - a good car by any standard but lacking any stand-out point, any reason for us to say, ^Here's why you should buy one". A small packaging advantage aside, it fails to shine in this company.

Unlike the Golf. Even in those areas where it's inferior to the Focus - and although hardly plentiful, there are a few - the VW is never trounced. The Focus is quieter and more comfortable, but the Golf is hardly deficient. It's also better looking, at least as well built, ergonomically far superior and fractionally better packaged, not to mention quite a bit quicker but only fractionally less frugal.

But it is the fact that it is so much better to drive than the Focus that gifts the victory here, news we still find as startling as it is undeniable. Some might consider these insubstantial grounds on which to award victory in a contest as important as this, but not, we think, the readers of Autocar for whom we write.

Nor was it a decision over which there was much agonising. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect here was not so much that the Focus lost to the Golf but by how much. There will be another round to this contest, back in the UK and with petrol-powered cars, but for now, at least, the Focus has been beaten, and beaten well. □

WHY NO ALFA GIULIETTA?

We thought hard about including an Alfa Giulietta in this group, but because the diesel version of it had failed to dislodge the Golf GTD in our August test, it seemed its presence would do more to detract from the Focus than to shed new light upon it.

It did also occur that it would be a nice thing to have up our sleeve for when the Ford reaches these shores. While we were in France, we drove the 1.6-litre Ecoboost petrol Focusand discovered it to be substantially better balanced and more likeable than the diesel, no doubt thanks in part to having less weight in its nose. Somewhat conveniently, our favourite Giulietta is the 1.4 MultiAir, which is its direct rival. It is a comparison that we will look forward to bringingyou with more than the usual relish.

As for how the diesel Giulietta might have fared in this test, such arm's-length predictions are always somewhat fraught, but we know it would not have dispatched the Golf and can say with some safety that it would have dealt with the Astra. As for the Focus, the Alfa would be quicker and more frugal, but almost certainly more cramped, less comfortable and less refined. As for a winner, we'll wait until we can do it for real.

outgun the Ford Mondeo and VW

For the Peugeot suit tasked with juggling limited supply against strong demand, the RCZ has probably been one colossal headache, but for the rest of the company it must have been a godsend. The RCZ proved that, once again, Peugeot is capable of producing a stylish and desirable car, and that it has rediscovered the importance of making a car satisfying to drive.

This, though, is crunch time. The508 is no niche product afforded the relaxed profitability of a halo car. This is the model tasked with stealing sales from the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo and winning Peugeot a slice of the growing Chinese executive market.

As the numbering suggests, the 508

straddles (and replaces) Peugeot's 407 and 607 models. Peugeot claims the 508 offers interior space to match the 60/s but within smaller exterior dimensions, and that although it is 10cm longer than the 407, it weighs an average of35kg less.

In addition to the two body styles available from launch (saloon and estate - diere's no hatchback), the 508 comes with two alternative suspension configurations. Based on an evolution of Peugeot-Citroën s platform 3 (407, C5 and C6), the standard 508 uses MacPhersoti struts at the front, with a multi-link arrangement at the rear. However, our introduction to the 508 comes by way of the range-topping GT model, which not only features a new 201bhp 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine (more efficient and lighter than the 2.7-litre V6 it replaces) but also double-wishbone front suspension.

But when all 407s used just such an arrangement, why the switch? Because the standard suspension is 12kg lighter than the 407's (and presumably therefore cheaper) and the improved precision and control provided by the wishbones is deemed unnecessary for all models and markets. The further benefit of offering two solutions, rather than a one-size-fits-all, is that it al lows each to more accurately cater for its given application. Which bodes well for this GT version.

But before any considerations about the way the 508 drives, the most obvious change over its predecessor is a newfound sense of maturity. The exterior styling

Beugeot 5081 Drive

The 508 saloon is a replacement for the 607 and 407

has lostsomeofthequirkinessof the 407 and potentially is a little more bland as a consequence, but the interior is an unqualified step forward. It's comfortable, spacious and noticeably more upmarket. Clearly, this GT model represents the 508 in its best light, with full leather trim and full colour information screens, but in the design, arrangement and action of the main switchgear, the 508 is class leading.

As is overall refinement. Helped by a standard-fit acoustic windscreen and dampers on the front axle to reduce engine vibration, the 508's cabin is remarkably hushed, in terms ofwind, road and engine noise. Other engines in the range - which include two 1.6-litre petrols and, among several diesels, an e-HDi version with stop-start and emissions of 109g/km - may be more vocal, but this 2.2-litre is impressively quiet. Its smoothness is more impressive still because, along with the Mercedes C250 CDI, this is one of the most powerful four-cylinder diesels in the class.

There is, however, no choice of transmission with this engine; a six-speed automatic is mandatory. Although it's a conventional torque converter auto, in ->

'The interior is comfortable, spacious and noticeably more upmarket'

Cabin materials and steering are appealingassets terms of shift speed it is not embarrassed by the dual-clutch systems employed in the two-pedal versions of the Passat and Mondeo. The shifts aren't quite as instantaneous but they're still quick enough, and for low-speed smoothness a torque converter is still superior. In Drive the gearbox relies on the engine's plentiful supply of torque (332lb ft from 2000rpm) to minimise interruptions. In Sport it is keener to slip down a gear or two, but still less frenetic than some alternatives. And in either mode, the result is encouragingly rapid progress. Peugeot claims 0-62mph in 8.2sec, fast enough to elevate the 508 GT beyond the mainstream pack.

However, presented with the network of cross-country roads that Peugeot's chassis team uses to develop its cars, I settle on leaving the 508's gearbox in its manual mode. Not because the fully automatic modes are any less smooth or quick, but because with fixed-position paddles and stacked changes, this works well and lends a sense of interaction with the ear.

Not that involvement is necessary to drive the 508. Ifall you want is a comfortable, quiet cruiser, it will deliver just that, making very few demands on its driver. However, what the 508 also achieves is that fine line where the car feeds back information, through the seat and wheel, but without becoming intrusive. Peugeot's engineers admit that they considered fitting the 508 with a fully electric steering system but judged the loss of feel not worth the efficiency gains. That's an increasingly unusual decision, but one, as enthusiasts, we should be thanklul for. Because although the 508 is a large car (longer than both the Mondeo and the Passat), it is an easy car to place, its steering quick but precise and intuitive. Confirmation of this comes, after relatively little familiarisation, in the way that most corners are dispatched with a single steering input, always a sign ofa successful steering set-up.

'Although the508 is large, it is an easy car to place, its steering quick but precise and intuitive''

Peugeot 5081 Drive

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