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French fancy

Ryan Borroff
PEUGEOT is targeting Audi TT, VW Scirocco, even Mini Cooper S buyers with its new 2+2 seater sports car. Even if you’re the kind of car buyer that usually allows your head to rule your heart the RCZ may still be the car for you. Not only do you get the fun of a sports car but Peugeot’s new coupe is surprisingly practical, making the car an intriguing proposition.

But first its looks – it’s a stunner. That’s not something one has been able to say about a Peugeot for a lamentably long time. Which is why this car, looking this good and coming from this manufacturer is all the more surprising. The RCZ is one of a raft of vehicles that should confirm the French manufacturer’s plans to become a design force to be reckoned with. And if the RCZ is Peugeot’s TT then it just knocked the Audi into a cocked hat looks-wise. Based on a concept from 2007, the RCZ is one of those incredibly rare motors – a car that actually makes it into production from a concept study; even rarer is the fact that it’s better looking than the original concept.

DOUBLE-BUBBLE
The car is even more handsome in the metal than it is in photos. Its long rear tail and shorter pug-like nose, unusual stepped rear side window and big, bold wheel arches really add character to the car. But it’s the “double-bubble” roof in combination with the silver roof arches (which are actually metal and not some deceitful metal-look plastic trim) that is a triumph. The unusual roof shape is pure concept car and adds the kind of visual drama that we rarely see in production vehicles. Out on the road the shape of the roof and rear glazing appears to skip left to right like a soundwave. The effect is genuinely exciting. And means the car is the recipient of many a double take.

I drove the 156bhp 1.6 litre petrol and 163bhp 2.0 litre diesel versions, though there is a third offering – a 200bhp version of the 1.6 litre petrol engine – coming later in the summer. Although I found myself preferring the diesel unit – it was a little louder at low speed but otherwise felt a little keener to go and a bit punchier – both engines sounded throatier than I expected and bigger than they actually are. They left me feeling that the cars were punching well above their weight. In reality both cars are above eight seconds in their acceleration times (0-62mph in 8.3 seconds and 8.7 seconds for the petrol and diesel respectively) yet they feel quicker than this. The 200bhp engine will drop below eight seconds when it arrives and with very little compromise in economy and emissions.

The car’s wide wheel tracks and low centre of gravity mean improved road holding, and the car feels very stable and sure-footed. It handles well and feels good in the corners, with a ride that is firm enough and cornering fast enough that I would have preferred slightly bigger bolsters in my seat. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is larger and a little lighter than I would have liked though a sport pack option supplies a smaller wheel and shorter gear shifter. Both will make the car more engaging and is worth getting.

The car seems robust and well assembled. Inside the leather trim and metal elements – including aluminium pedals – is excellent and surely rivals that of the Audi TT. Which is astonishing when you consider that Peugeot is historically a mass-market carmaker, not known for premium interiors. It’s even more amazing when you consider the price that the RCZ will be on sale for. Beginning at just £20,450, the entry-level RCZ undercuts Audi’s TT by almost £6k.

Inside the car, the design is simple and well thought out. The dials, like the rest of the interior, are attractive and functional with sensible controls that are easy to use and give the car an air of single-minded intent. The piano black centre console incorporates audio, climate, sat/nav and Bluetooth telephone integration, all of which I found to be idiot proof, even docking an iPhone.

In terms of space the car is something of a revelation. Room in the +2 rear seats is tight due to the shape of the roof and rear screen, but the space available in the car as a whole is unusual when the rear seats are down. There will be parents that can make a case for buying this car for city use. Booster seats in the back for kids are possible, and there’s space enough for the occasional Ikea trip or run out to the South Downs with a mountain bike in the back. The RCZ is easy to drive around town, offers good fuel economy and is great fun when you finally make it out beyond the North Circular.

Both the petrol and diesel engines are just powerful enough to ensure that the RCZ delivers far more fun than is usual for that kind of money. The 200bhp version may yet be the one to have. Even so I’d recommend test driving both of these versions. A comparison will almost surely have you asking, what’s wrong with the entry-level model? Nothing, it’s a winner too.

THE FACTS: PEUGEOT RCZ
PRICE: £20,450
0-62MPH: 8.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 133 mph
CO2 G/KM: 155
MPG COMBINED: 40.9 mpg

THE VERDICT:
DESIGN ****
PERFORMANCE ***
PRACTICALITY ***
VALUE FOR MONEY ****