Motoring review: Is this Peugeot RCZ a premium product? Possibly

 

Price: from £23,995

Engine capacity: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbocharged

Power Output (BHP @ rpm): 156 @ 5,800

Top Speed (mph): 133

0-60 mph (seconds): 8.3

Fuel economy (mph): 44.1

CO2 emissions (g/km): 149

If you want to buy a sporty coupe you should get an Audi TT, right? Just like if you want a reliable hatchback you should opt for a VW and if you want a motorway mile-eater a BMW 320d is the car for you. Well, that's the automotive world's conventional wisdom and what I normally say if someone asks me for car-buying advice. The problem is that isn't always the right advice.

They are all excellent cars and generally accepted as the best in their respective classes, but the standard logic is just so dull. The VW, for example, is excellent but lacks character, while the Audi goes like a rocket but isn't – for my money – that pretty. The truth is there probably isn't a prettier or more stylish sub-£30k coupe than the updated Peugeot RCZ. And, depending on the engine and trim levels you go for at the dealership, it will be £2,500 to £5,000 cheaper than that Audi TT everyone says you should be buying.

What's the catch? Well, it's, er, a Peugeot, which means snide jokes about elderly drivers and Jeremy Clarkson droning on about "slow" Peugeot drivers. I'm going to ignore this because it's rubbish and I'm going to – naively perhaps – imagine you don't care one little bit about the badge on the front.

This is the refreshed RCZ, which means Peugeot has given it a mid-life facelift, including an angular new nose and bumper to complement its funky double-bubble roof. It's also got something called a sound symposer to add some grunt to the noise created by the 1.6-litre engine. You know, so you can imagine you are Jenson Button. Formula One it isn't, but the RCZ handles very nicely, has plenty of grip, doesn't roll around in the corners and even with the smallest engine from my test model, is more than potent enough for a swift B-road blitz.

Inside, little has changed from the earlier model (not necessarily a bad thing), except that the GT model I tested now gets a lacquered black surround to the gear lever, door trim pads trimmed with leather inserts and a pair of aluminium inserts for the centre console and dash. Can you contain your excitement? Never mind. It's not an unpleasant place to spend time, it's just that it isn't a luxurious one – there is cheap plastic around the stereo and the handbrake is too close to the gear stick.

And here is Peugeot's problem. The firm is struggling and its parent company PSA Peugeot Citroën reported a whopping €5bn loss for 2012 as European car sales fell off a very tall cliff (into a blazing inferno of losses). The company is now pinning its hopes of recovery on a cost-saving alliance with General Motors and taking Peugeot and Citroën upmarket.

In short, it wants to become a premium car manufacturer, but the RCZ doesn't drive like a premium car. The ride can be quite harsh at times, thanks to a firm suspension, 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres, and road and wind noise is pretty loud – there was an unfathomably high-pitch whine at motorways speed on my test model. You can't just say you want to be a premium company; you have to actually be one. Still, don't let this necessarily put you off the RCZ.

Remember, it's cheaper than its rival and you don't care about badges.

Do you?

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