French fancy: Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200

Concept cars are two-a-penny during any major motor show, so it takes something special to be recognised as the star of the event.

With this in mind, few would have thought that a variant of the stylish but humble Peugeot 308 would be vying for the title of ‘Best in Show’ after the 2007 industry get together in Frankfurt, but the Peugeot 308 RCZ wowed everyone with its stunning looks and Audi TT rivalling potential.

Of course, creating a crowd pleasing concept is one thing – turning it into an equally admired production vehicle is something else altogether.

Hopes were high after a positive reaction urged Peugeot to announce it was to build the RCZ complete with the designer double-bubble rear window and the French manufacturer did not disappoint with a road-going version that was faithful to the concept and, as promised, competitively priced.

With a shop window tag of a shade over £25,000, the range-topping RCZ GT THP 200 appears to boast good value with its 19-inch alloys wheels, leather seats and full compliment of electronic aids.

But with competitors as impressive in such a range of ways as the Audi TT, Alfa Romeo Brera, Volkswagen Scirocco and Mercedes-Benz CLC the RCZ needs to offer more than a decent level of equipment and good looks. Such cars are as much about the way they make the driver feel as anything else, and equipped with the powerful 200bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine the RCZ hits the nail on the head.

Although available with a sensible and swift 163bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel and a 156bhp version of the same petrol engine, a two-plus-two coupe such as the RCZ simply feels right with a more powerful petrol engine.

It’s an enigmatic unit – one that’s been put to good use in a high performance capacity by Peugeot and Mini elsewhere, and is also due for an appearance in the most powerful version of Citroen’s DS3.

Refined at idle but with an intoxicating burble under load and a punchy, rev-happy delivery it combines perfectly with the six-speed manual gearbox to provide the enjoyable driving experience that the RCZ deserves.

The ride, particularly on the stylish 19-inch alloys standard on the GT model, is firmer than might be expected of a traditionally smooth riding Peugeot model but still manages to deal with motorway and A-road cruising well while contributing to the entertaining driving experience.

It’s on a twisty B-road that the RCZ GT THP 200 really lives up to its sports coupe hype, with a well balanced and responsive performance with excellent road holding and cornering ability complimented by great braking performance and turbocharged power delivery that offers sharp responses to the throttle.

Clearly, the exterior styling is another of the key weapons in the increasingly admired model’s arsenal. The unique rear window design, the distinctive all-in-one window pillar, the push button deployable boot spoiler and, intriguingly, the absence of a traditional wing, replaced with an innovative bumper-meets-bonnet design, are all quite captivating.

The great news is that the allure extends to the interior. In GT specification there’s the added attraction of the leather seats and opting for the full-leather package brings neatly finished hide to other interior surfaces, but even without the extra garnish there’s the central analogue clock and smart piano black centre console finish to offer a more upmarket ambience.

A low slung driving position allows for making the most of the model’s driving experience but visibility and day-to-day use are not hindered. The sports seats are supportive and comfortable over long journeys and the control layout feels natural and intuitive – only a slightly oversized steering wheel detracts from the sports coupe feel.

There are traditional coupe issues to consider, of course. The two long doors can be tricky to open in a tight parking space and the rear seats are a sporting gesture, but little more. That said, the boot is generous for a car in this segment. Shopping expeditions will pose few issues.

The Peugeot RCZ stands up impressively against some illustrious competition regardless of specification, but the range topping model poses a genuine threat to premium coupes with what it has to offer.

Don’t be put off by the badge. The RCZ GT THP 200 is the real deal.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200, £25,050 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol unit developing 200bhp and 202lb/ft of torque.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 146mph, 0-62mph 7.6 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 159g/km.
Economy: 40.9mpg.

By Richard M Hammond

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