Peugeot looks for sales boost with its spacious 505-S wagon

The Peugeot 505-S wagon is hardy and spacious, yet it seems to be among the auto industry's best-kept secrets. The car has, in fact, one of the largest carrying capacities of any vehicle in its class. Besides, it may be the most comfortable wagon on the road today. If you've ever driven, or ridden in, a French-built car, you know that they're hard to beat on the ``comfort scale.''

Peugeot wagons are built as wagons, not extensions of a previous car. The wheelbase of the 505-S Peugeot wagon, at 115 inches, is six inches longer than the 505 sedan. In other words, the wagon is a vehicle in its own right, not a ``conversion'' from a predecessor sedan.

The 505 comes with either a 2-liter, fuel-injected gasoline engine or turbodiesel. Maximum horsepower of the gas-engine wagon is 97 at 5,000 r.p.m. Maximum torque is 116 foot-pounds at 3,500 r.p.m. You shouldn't be disappointed at the performance. Hardly a lightweight, the gas-engine wagon hits the scales at just over 3,200 pounds; the diesel adds another 200 pounds.

If you have a trailer to pull, this wagon will do it. The gas-fueled wagon can pull some 3,300 pounds; the diesel 2,200.

Pininfarina, the Italian stylist, has been designing Peugeot vehicles for more than a quarter century. He does it again with the 505 wagon, which is refined, elegant, and extremely well honed. As in almost any car, however, there are some things that annoy.

For one thing, the cruise control, at least in the car I drove, works poorly. After it is set, the car surges and relaxes, surges and relaxes, which results in an unwanted rocking sensation. It has to be a problem with the system in this car, not the system itself.

Overall, the dashboard layout is efficient and easily understood, yet the electric-window switches are on the dash which, with the seat adjusted to the requirements of the driver, could result in an uncomfortable reach to operate them.

Then there are all those stick figures used by Peugeot to identify the various buttons on the dashboard. Once you've learned them, however, it's a snap. And speaking of ``snap,'' the door locks do just that when they're engaged. The question is, need they be so noisy? To the car's great credit, there is a cavernous glove box at the right end of the dash, an uncommon feature in most cars these days.

A pet peeve of mine is the complexity of AM/FM stereo radios on many cars today, including the small size of the push buttons and knobs, which effectively eliminates any major adjustment when the car is on the move.

The rear seat of the 505-S wagon is much higher than the front seat, which allows for the flattening of the rear-seat back. When flat, the carrying space of the wagon is much increased.

Given the size, weight, and versatility of the vehicle, mileage is good. In a car equipped with an automatic transmission, I got a little better than 27 m.p.g. on an essentially nonstop drive from suburban Boston to Cape Cod. The Environmental Protection Agency lists the wagon at 20 m.p.g. both on the road as well as in the city. That seems to be understating the case.

Peugeots do not come cheap. The S-model wagon lists for $17,075 with automatic transmission, while the 5-speed is $80 less. The only option is leather -- a $675 premium.

The company must be doing something right because it sold more cars in the United States in 1984 -- just over 20,000 -- than in any previous year, a 30 percent increase over 1983. Even so, the name is not well known among US car buyers.

By Japanese standards, the Peugeot's sales figures would fall through a floor crack, but the French carmaker isn't trying to compete with the giants. The company looks for another 30 percent increase in 1985 -- and the 505-S wagon will help it achieve its goal.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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