Peugeot RCZ

French firm rediscovers desirability in its stunning new coupé.

It's not unusual for concept cars to wow motor show crowds with their bold lines and dramatic looks. But financial and practical constraints usually mean only small elements of the vehicle make it to production.

That isn’t the case with the RCZ. Having made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007, the roadgoing version has stayed true to the original. The unique bold double-hump roofline and matching rear screen have survived, as have the elegant windscreen pillars.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Peugeot RCZ

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The French model shares its underpinnings with cars such as the 308 hatchback and 3008 crossover, so it has a long wheelbase for a small coupé. At the front, the RCZ wears the company’s familiar face, which ensures it looks similar to the 308 CC. However, in profile and from the rear, it’s unlike any other car in the line-up.

Inside, it’s more traditional Peugeot territory. While interior quality is good, the RCZ doesn’t feel as upmarket as the TT – although you have to delve into out-of-the-way places to find cheaper materials.

The upper section of the dash is smart, and a large clock sits between the pair of air vents that dominate the centre console. With low-slung seats and plenty of scope to adjust these and the steering wheel, the driving position provides a conventional coupé feel, but the RCZ is strictly a 2+2. The upright rear seats are for small children only.

On the positive side, the rear bulkhead folds to provide extra load space, and the 321-litre boot is longer and wider than the TT’s. Yet the hatchback-style Scirocco enjoys an advantage in the practicality stakes, thanks to its 1,006-litre maximum carrying capacity.

The Peugeot seizes the initiative on kit. Even the entry Sport version features dual-zone climate control, sports seats and rear parking aids. And top-spec GT models add leather upholstery, heated front seats and front parking sensors, among other goodies. A range of personalisation options allows owners to tailor the car even further, with a choice of roof and pillar finishes.

And when it comes to driver appeal, Peugeot has made sure that it matches the RCZ’s stunning looks. The top-spec THP 200 we tested has received special attention from the firm’s engineers to deliver a real sports car experience.

The front suspension incorporates an additional lower bracing bar and wider diameter hubs, while all RCZs have a stiff bodyshell, wide track and low centre of gravity. What does all this mean on the road?

Put simply, the RCZ is the best-handling Peugeot we have driven for years. The body control, front-end grip and stability are astonishing. The steering is also sharp, if slightly artificial, but you can tighten your line through corners without fear of the nose running wide.

Traction is great and body movement minimal, there’s not much in the way of stability control intervention and the purity of the driving experience was a delight on the flowing Spanish roads of our test.

The established 1.6-litre THP engine has great character, too. It is punchy throughout the rev range and comes into its own from 4,500rpm. This is where the exhaust takes on a rasping soundtrack and, as our figures show, it runs its larger-capacity VW Group competitors close for performance.

Its precise, short-throw six-speed gearbox is the best we’ve used in a Peugeot for a long time, while the brakes provide brilliant stopping power. Add this dynamic excellence and fun factor to decent refinement and generous standard equipment, and the competitively priced RCZ has all the ingredients to cause a shock result.

Here is a Peugeot that has the ability to rival premium models in the desirability stakes, whether you are looking on from the kerb or sitting behind the wheel.

In detail - Peugeot RCZ 1.6 THP 200 GT * Price: £25,050  * Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 200bhp  * 0-60mph: 7.1 secs * Claimed economy: 40.9mpg  * Claimed CO2: 159g/km

Details

WHY: Fresh-faced coupé is designed to prove Peugeot can still build cars that are both great to drive and look at.

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