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Peugeot RCZ THP 200

Will sensational Lion coupé roar to victory here?

The Peugeot RCZ was one of the most exciting and visually arresting cars of 2010. It shares its underpinnings with more mundane offerings such as the 3008 and 308, but its sleek coupé shape attracts admiring glances wherever you drive. 

In profile and from the back, it’s simply stunning. The unique double-hump roofline, matching rear screen and elegant side arches are all true to the original concept car that wowed crowds at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. The front end is less exciting and bears a resemblance to the 308 CC, but few modern cars make the driver feel so special when they catch sight of their reflection in a shop window.

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

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Inside, it’s a little less dramatic. Familiar Peugeot switchgear dominates, although the large clock between the pair of central air vents on the dash is a nod to classic sports car cabins.

While cabin quality is decent, the centre console features a lot of small, fiddly buttons, which are frustrating to use. And although there’s plenty of scope to adjust the wheel, the seat doesn’t sit as low as the race-inspired items in the Mégane. You still get to enjoy a coupé feel, but the driving position isn’t perfect for tall drivers and there’s only just enough space to rest your left foot beside the clutch pedal.

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Things are even tighter in the back. If you want a genuine four-seater, the 2+2 RCZ isn’t for you. 

The upright rear seats are for small children only, although they do fold flat, which increases the practicality of the standard 309-litre boot.

Crucially, Peugeot has made sure the RCZ doesn’t disappoint when it comes to driver appeal. The range-topping THP 200’s front suspension benefits from a stiffer subframe and comes with unique hubs, plus larger-diameter brake discs. These changes are immediately apparent on the road – the RCZ flagship is the best-handling Peugeot we’ve driven for decades. Body control, front-end grip and turn-in are first class. 

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The accuracy of the steering means the RCZ’s delicate responses are a match for the weighty grip of the Renault. Both arrow into corners with confidence and grip the tarmac, but the Peugeot is more precise. 

Its chassis is more pliant than the rock-solid set-up of the Mégane, but despite that it doesn’t upset the car’s composure on twisty roads.

Through a corner it’s easy to tighten your line without the nose pushing wide, while the RCZ’s low centre of gravity, wide track and stiff bodyshell give it the feel of a genuine sports car. Unlike the Renault, the Peugeot doesn’t have a limited-slip differential to keep the front wheels in check under hard acceleration. However, traction is excellent and there’s little intervention from the stability control. Ease the pace a little, and the ride is more forgiving than the unrelentingly stiff Cup chassis of the Mégane. In GT trim, the Peugeot wears enormous 19-inch alloy wheels. Although these look great, they only serve to highlight expansion joints and crash a little over potholes at low speed, which takes the edge off comfort.

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With a 47bhp deficit, it’s no surprise that the Peugeot was nearly one second slower than its rival in the 0-60mph sprint, recording a figure of 7.7 seconds, compared to the Mégane’s time of 6.8 seconds. But its linear power delivery aids in-gear responses, while the THP 200 powerplant punches strongly throughout the rev range and really comes into its own at 4,500rpm, when the exhaust also takes on a raspy note. So, despite trailing the Mégane 250 on power and torque, the RCZ is more than capable of taking on its rival. The Peugeot’s engine is cleaner, too – emitting 31g/km less than the Renault’s – and comes mated to a precise, short-throw, six-speed gearbox, which is a joy to use.

THP 200 models also get a sports exhaust and smaller steering wheel as standard. Add these to the rest of the generous GT kit list, and the £25,595 Peugeot represents tremendous value, despite a higher list price than its £24,650 competitor. It looks as though one of the cars of last year is going to maintain its momentum in 2011... 

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Chart position: 1
WHY: Boldly styled coupé proves Peugeot can still build cars that are desirable and rewarding to drive.

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