Peugeot RCZ driven

* Striking looks, strong engines * Rear seats are next to useless * On sale now, from £20,400...

Peugeot RCZ driven

The RCZ represents a fundamental shift for Peugeot, because for the first time in living memory Peugeot has abandoned its policy of naming cars with numerals in favour of letters. Now, think of another coupe that has only a couple of letters in its name and youll know precisely what the RCZ is aimed at. Oh yes, a huge Audi TT-shaped target lies dead ahead of the RCZ.

Looking good

The RCZ certainly looks the part, with its aluminium roof arches, double-bubble roof, Gaudi-esque distorted rear window and a distinctive side step that draws the eye from the door line into the swollen rear arches.

Wander around to the front and although the gaping signature Peugeot grille looks familiar enough, the redesigned lion emblem, one-piece clamshell bonnet and a plunging front bumper slashed by the hawk-like headlights give the RCZ real presence.

Inside, things are familiar, with much of the cabin architecture lifted from the 308 hatchback, but thats no bad thing because over the past couple of years Peugeot has been improving the interior quality of its cars. Its no surprise to find that all the plastics and trim in the RCZ have a premium look and feel, while the majority of controls work with slinky precision.

The most immediate visual changes marking the RCZ from its humble roots are the prominent circular clock which replaces the middle of the three air vents found in the 308 and a large button just behind the handbrake that allows you to elevate the active rear spoiler. There are also plenty of knobs and switches arranged on the central console to keep your passenger amused for many a mile.

Notice how we said passenger in the singular there? Yes, the RCZ does have four seats but the rear ones are next to useless for adults because the head and legroom are extremely tight and those rear seat backs are fixed bolt upright.

The upshot is that even if your kids manage to contort their way into the back theyll spend their whole journey doubled over doing their best Quasimodo impression. Speaking of the bells and whistles, all RCZs come well equipped.

Entry Sport models have sports seats, dual-zone air-conditioning, alloy wheels, full electronic stability control, an MP3-compatible CD/radio, USB port and rear parking sensors. GT cars add leather upholstery, electric heated seats, front parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers and larger alloy wheels.

All well and good but the item that really amazes us (and not in a good way), is the optional carbonfibre finish for the roof. This doesnt replace the conventional steel roof; no, instead it simply sits on top, adding extra weight plus 1330 to the bill.

Quickly back to the positives then; we were thinking of suggesting to Peugeot it did away with the rear seats entirely and give the area over to increase load space, but then we lifted the boot lid and discovered that the RCZ already has an extremely accommodating boot. Its much bigger than that found in the TT.

Whats it like to drive?

Of course, to rival Audis seminal coupé the RCZ has to drive with far greater verve than its hatchback donor car, and it certainly does, especially if you go for the top-of-the-range 200 THP model.

This is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine similar to that in the Mini John Cooper Works and will soon to appear in the hot Citron DS3-R. It powers the RCZ to 62mph in 7.5secs and on to a top speed of 146mph. The RCZ isnt exactly blistering off the mark, mainly because its a bit on the portly side, but the most impressive aspect of the engine is its mid-range urge and willingness to rev. Its so flexible that steep hills dont always demand a swap down into a lower gear; instead the engine simply digs deep and drags the RC up the road at a rate of knots.

Its far from quiet, however, and the raspy exhaust is the same, so youll have to decide for yourself whether its addictive or simply too loud.

The RCZs handling and comfort balance seems just about spot-on, although our test drive took place on smooth Spanish roads so well reserve final judgement until weve driven the car in the UK. We experienced just a hint of kick over the odd battered surface that suggested the RC may just err on the side of firmness on UK streets. Even so weve little doubt it will be comfortable enough on faster routes. It certainly steers neatly, corners with tenacity, and its body doesnt roll much even when the tyres start to protest.

The diesel option feels a tad less sporty than the THP and more in keeping with a well sorted hatchback than a bespoke coup. The steering is less informative and the extra weight of the engine means the RCZ is less keen to change direction. Still, with the added bonus of 52.3mpg, its an option that will no doubt prove popular with business user-choosers. The 1.6 turbo petrol cars will return 39.8mpg.

Whats in the pipeline?

This is only the beginning for the RCZ line-up, however. From launch, there will be a less powerful non-turbo version of the 1.6 petrol engine and in 2012 there will be a four-wheel-drive diesel hybrid version, which is a truly exciting prospect.

With this very combination, the RCZ will be able to return 72.4mpg, will puff out only 95g/km of CO2, and deliver huge performance due to a combined 369lb ft of torque.

So with these sorts of figures to crow about, its reassuring to know that Peugeot hasnt totally abandoned its obsession with numbers after all then.

What car? says

Stylish rival to the Audi TT.

Peter Tullin