Peugeot RCZ 2.0 HDi FAP

Price: £22,250
Top speed: 137 mph 0-62mph 8.8 seconds
Consumption: 53.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
Best for:
Returning Peugeot fans
Also worth considering? Audi TT, Renault Megane Coupe, Volkswagen Scirocco

Peugeot's new RCZ coupé enjoys an unusual distinction: its door mirrors offer a more pleasing outlook than those of just about any other mass-produced car on the market. That's because they provide the best view of one of the RCZ's most appealing features, the voluptuous curves of its rear-side bodywork, which recall the similarly attractive flanks of Volkswagen's 1955 Type 14 Karmann Ghia.

It's probably worth pointing out two other notable aspects of this car's design: the striking single-piece aluminium roof arches, and the arresting "double-bubble" contours of the main roof panel and rear window. Both features, apparently, are difficult to implement in a production car, but I think Peugeot was right to make the effort. Only the RCZ's frontal treatment has a hint of the open-mouthed "fish-face" look that mars some of the company's recent mainstream models, but the overall result is still very impressive.

The great reflected view of the RCZ's rear bodywork isn't the only pleasure available to the occupant of this new car's driving seat. Peugeot's popular cars of the Eighties and Nineties offered exceptional ride and handling, and even the company's slower models had an appealing agility and subjective eagerness in those days. Unfortunately, the zip later turned to stodge and Peugeot's 21st-century products generally haven't had the same charm – until now.

There have already been encouraging signs of a return to form with the understated 5008 seven-seater but the good news is confirmed by the RCZ, which showed quite a lot of the old Peugeot spirit on the demanding hairpin bends of the Basque mountain roads on which I tested it. But there is one area in particular in which the RCZ impresses. Older Peugeots were always excellent at suppressing road noise. Here, too, the company has rediscovered its old touch and the RCZ rides very quietly, a trait shared with the recently launched DS3 from Peugeot's corporate sister, Citroën.

The RCZ is available with both diesel and petrol engines. The diesel probably provides the best balance of performance and economy but the most powerful turbocharged 1.6 litre petrol option is also worth a look – or more accurately, a listen – as it is one of the few modern four- cylinder engines that sounds good when it is working hard. On the evidence of the RCZ, it looks like Peugeot is back. Let's hope it's here to stay.