Peugeot's coupe de grace
NEARLY every new car that comes on the market is regarded as a hot, new challenge to rivals -- but some are infinitely more pointed than others.
Peugeot is certainly throwing down the gauntlet to some competitors, while challenging well-entrenched perceptions, with their new sports coupe -- the RCZ. When is the last time a Peugeot sports car challenged an Audi coupe?
Their RCZ is being heralded as a major challenger for the likes of the Audi TT -- that doyen of smart coupes which has carved its own niche.
Also in the RCZ's sights are the Volkswagen Scirocco and the BMW Z4. We drove this for the best part of 240km with the 1.6-litre 200bhp petrol and a 2-litre 163bhp diesel, and all the time in the back of our heads one question raged: How much?
I think I have a good idea now but let me tell you a bit more about the car first and see if you come up with a ballpark figure yourself.
This is a 2+2 -- one with two fine seats for the front occupants and two for tiny tots behind. It is a car of three dimensions really. The front is instantly recognisable as Peugeot, the middle is an extraordinary amalgam of two long aluminium arches flanking a double-bulge roof/rear window; and the back is . . . well, it is TT muscle crossed with subtle Peugeot styling.
Put it together -- and they do seamlessly -- and you have the RCZ, the incarnation of a concept car that keeps faith with the audacity of its original inspiration. On long stretches of big rolling bends; sharp, spiking mountain Z-roads; clean stretches of motorway; and tight, town driving we put the two versions through a reasonably stern test.
There is no doubt the 200bhp petrol is the one that convinced us that this has something quite striking going for it.
The chassis, based on the 308 platform but tweaked and manipulated in myriad ways, is taut but supple.
That is the sort of combination drivers of sport coupes adore. Ask BMW drivers. It makes the difference between being behind the wheel of something and DRIVING something. Believe me I DROVE this.
There was an agility about it that I expected given Peugeot was providing the underpinnings, yet there was an edge that you don't often find.
The diesel engine version did not feel as sharp or swift by comparison -- unusual for a Peugeot. And for the love of God lads will ye not allow that great big ould steering wheel into Ireland. The small smart one is what you need.
Both cars had a six-speed manual transmission. Second gear felt a bit short in the diesel, while third was a bit long and fifth sometimes didn't really do what we wanted between fourth and sixth. In the petrol we had no such complaints.
Me praising a petrol over a diesel? That volcanic ash must have done more damage than I thought. Anyway, there is enough power, pace and sophistication in this to make you seriously start thinking about it in terms of an alternative to the perceived rivals. In the current climate, that is a major start.
Oh, and the long boot is substantial and you can fold the rear seats for more space. On top of that bootlid is a mobile rear spoiler whose angle ranges from 19 degrees up to 85kmh, and 34 degrees at 155kmh for more down force.
The first Peugeot to have its name in letters rather than numbers will be built by Magna Steyr in Austria because they specialise in upmarket sporty cars -- they also build the Aston Martin Rapide.
They expect as many as 150 here to buy one of these low slung motors next year (it's 23mm lower than 308 but getting in an out was no problem at all).
The diesel is due in July or August -- the petrol arrives in September -- so there won't be too many bought this year.
And so . . . what will it cost?
Reckon on a starting price of around €35,000.
Now that is, or isn't, a lot of money for a car of this size these days depending on how you look at it. Granted it is less expensive than the Audi TT 1.8-litre TFSI (160bhp), for example, which starts at just under €40,000.
But is it sufficiently less expensive? You have to balance the difference against the prestige of the Audi considering the RCZ is an as-yet-unproven newcomer.
Another consideration is the likely level of residual values three or four years down the road.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that small Peugeots have held values particularly well. And there's no doubt there is likely to be demand for a car of this power and poise in the mid-thirties price bracket.
It makes a case on a number of levels, but especially by doing what it sets out to do -- that is, let you feel how a car can bring a bit of enjoyment back.
And yet . . . throwing down the gauntlet is the easy part. The real test is yet to come.