Tuesday 6 December 2016

French have a word for it

Published 22/01/2011 | 05:00

Daring drive: The Peugeot is innovative, but not without its faults
Daring drive: The Peugeot is innovative, but not without its faults

Beautiful is such an abused word these days, I get irritable when I hear it. In my humble opinion it is slaughtered and degraded by the tyranny of the ordinary.

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I blame sports commentators, marketing majors (yes, car reviewers too sometimes), who have all become hooked on hyperbole.

What does it mean to say a car is beautiful? According to one clutch of voters (at the 25th International Automobile Festival) the car I'm reviewing this week, the Peugeot RCZ, is among the most beautiful in the world.

I'll leave you to look at the picture and make your own mind up.

For what it's worth, I'm still struggling to decide. It is a really nice looking car, enhanced by a roof that imaginatively nudges the scope of technology.

And the shape and design flair is there for all to see.

But is it 'beautiful'?

I make the point, and forgive the laboured manner of it, to highlight how we can get carried away sometimes and not look under the skin.

The RCZ is unusual, challenging, and signals a shift in direction about what a sports coupe can do, and look like. In that sense, it is innovative and daring and I welcome it with open arms.

But I also believe it has blotches on its perceived beauty.

For example, I found the cabin quite cramped (two front sports seats and a tiny two-place rear bench that challenged our smallest family member's patience over a mere 10-minute journey).

I found the steering wheel too big; the positioning of the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals didn't suit my floppy feet (not Peugeot's fault really, I suppose); the suspension was on the harsh side of sporty over moderately rough roads and getting in was a nightmare.

I knew my old back wasn't great but I really did have to double up to gain entry.

That's the sort of whine list that knocks the stuffing out of 'beautiful' isn't it?

Yet for all that, there was a quality about it that substantially superseded my criticisms and won me over to some -- but not all -- of its charms.

It hasn't that nerve-tingling go-kart feel of a MINI Cooper and lags the Audi TT on overall sophistication but the RCZ develops a feel and sense all its own. And it draws you in.

Low-slung and crescent-shaped, the Peugeot suspension also gives this car the sort of clinging power that politicians yearn for. It was good fun.

Sling it around the bends, and there isn't a hint of slippage; stick its nose into a tight corner and it zips around like a sniffer dog's body following its snout.

Put the foot down on the motorway and it burbles (twin sport exhausts) its way past everything with ease.

The six-speed gearbox was slick, easy to change and not over-used because the engine had a hard-to-balance mix of pep and pulling power.

However, I would have liked more feedback on the steering. Just a bit more feel. As I've said before it is such touches than transform a driving experience.

The cabin, despite its restricted nature, is a testament to sporty taste and clever use of some existing Peugeot elements.

And there is a real, perhaps 'beautiful', irony: the boot is huge. Absolutely great addition, but it is a pity they couldn't plunder its depths to bestow more space on the rear seats. That would have given the package far greater balance.

This is an ambitious push by the French maker. The Audi TT is the perceived sports coupe prize for many potential buyers.

It would be the snobby choice for most, especially as it and the RCZ are not worlds apart on price.

But this brings an option to a market where there are not that many. Mind you, it is not the greatest of times to be trying to sell a €40,000 motor of any description, yet that can't stop the expansion of ideas and choice.

And, of course, it gives people the chance to use the word 'beautiful' more often.

By the way, I don't think I can describe the TT as beautiful either. I'm going to have a good look around and see what car justifies that tag.

I'd be interested to hear if you have any suggestions.

What:

Peugeot RCZ sports coupe, 2.0Hdi (1,997cc diesel engine, 163bhp, 0-100kph in 8.2 seconds, top speed 220kph), 6spd gearbox, front-wheel-drive, CO2 of 139g/km; VRT is 16pc. €156 annual road tax.

Cost:

€37,395. Petrol €42,695. Delivery, related charges extra.

Target Market:

Well-to-do singles, couples.

Plus:

Looks, handling, engine, huge boot, range of equipment.

Minus:

Price, cramped cabin, prestige/snob value of some rivals.

Standard Equipment:

Automatic dual zone air conditioning, leather trim, cruise control, front/rear parking aids, electric front windows, electric/heated front seats, several airbags, ESP (helps prevent skidding), puncture repair kit (no spare wheel), radio/CD player with MP3 playback and auxiliary port, 18ins alloys, rear tinted window, active rear spoiler, twin sports exhaust.

Others to consider:

Audi TT, Mazda MX-5, MINI Cooper, Mazda MX-5, BMW Sport Coupe, VW Scirocco

Star Rating: 78 / 100

ecunningham@independent.ie

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