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Peugeot RCZ

Reigning class champ delivers on promise of its looks

Our current class leader should prove tough to beat in this shoot-out. The Peugeot’s seductive styling is backed up by real driving substance and it has already seen off strong challenges from the VW Scirocco and Audi TT.

The RCZ has been on sale for well over a year, but time has done little to dent the appeal of its dramatic looks. The car’s low, wide stance and signature double-bubble roof still have the power to turn heads, yet its extrovert design has a maturity that the in-your-face MINI lacks.

The GT trim car in our pictures has 19-inch alloys, and they look even better than the 18-inch wheels fitted as standard to the 2.0 HDi Sport tested here. Every model in the range gets a pair of chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

For the most part, the RCZ’s classy cabin doesn’t disappoint. The tall centre console slopes away from the driver, but the high positioning of the pedals means it can be tricky to get comfortable behind the wheel. We think the £320 optional Interior Sport Pack is a must. It adds a smaller sports steering wheel (the standard one feels too big) and soft-touch leather for the gearlever.

The seats aren’t as comfortable as the Volvo’s and space in the rear is severely limited, even for small children. Adult passengers will find things very cramped, so it’s best to regard the back seats as extra space for bags rather than passengers.

There’s a long list of standard equipment, too, with gadgets like cruise control, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors all included.

Unfortunately, the buttons for the stereo and climate controls are confusing and some of the hard plastics inside don’t feel as robust as they should for a car at this price. Despite this, the deep 321-litre boot is the biggest here, making the RCZ surprisingly practical. Plus, as with the Honda and Volvo, the rear seats fold down to create extra space.

With 161bhp, the 2.0-litre HDi diesel engine is the most powerful here, plus it has 320Nm of torque. However, it needs all that power, as the Peugeot is also the heaviest car in our line-up. It was beaten by the smaller, lighter MINI in our acceleration and in-gear tests by the smallest of margins, and it trailed by one tenth in the drag from 30-70mph, with a time of 7.6 seconds.

Out on the road, though, it feels every bit as quick as its rivals, pulling strongly and smoothly through the gears. There’s a pleasingly sporty note from the exhausts, too, and it’s more refined than the MINI. Road and tyre noise are well suppressed, although the RCZ can’t quite match the relaxed hush of the C30’s cabin at speed.

The Peugeot’s balanced chassis was very impressive, and its high level of grip, direct and weighty steering and powerful brakes all inspired confidence.

Poor surfaces expose the biggest weakness in the car’s firm suspension, as it has a tendency to crash over bigger bumps. These send shudders through the cabin, although we think the smaller 18-inch alloy wheels would improve matters.

So while the Peugeot isn’t the most comfortable, most affordable, newest or fastest car in this test, eye-catching curves and engaging dynamics still make it a compelling option for coupe buyers right now. The only question is whether it can hold off the challenge of the newer and bolder MINI.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: Our current class champ has already beaten the new MINI in flagship petrol form, but will the diesel repeat that success?

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