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Peugeot RCZ GT HDi 163

Click to view picture gallery“For the first time ever, in 2011,
  more diesel cars were sold in the UK
  than petrol-engined models.
  That’s a momentous landmark —
  but it really has no impact on the
  petrolhead world of sports cars,

PEUGEOT BEGS TO DIFFER. Its Le Mans-winning 908 has, after all, always been a diesel demon. So it makes perfect sense for Peugeot to exploit a trickle-down effect by shoehorning a diesel into the sportiest car it makes the RCZ.

Okay, so the RCZ's diesel powerplant isn't the 908's Le Mans-spec 5.5-litre V10 diesel (more's the pity!) but it's still got a healthy 163bhp slug of power and a muscular 240lb ft of torque.

Sporty diesels have become quite a phenomenon of late: German brands in particular have really begun to discover the benefits of high-power diesels. For example, there are rumours that the next-generation BMW M3 might have a version of the M550d triple-turbo diesel engine; and there's an impressive new diesel variant of Mercedes-Benz's SLK sports car…

“Now a couple of years
old, the RCZ’
s shape still
looks fresh and
continues to turn heads.
The low, wide shape
is brilliantly set off by
the double-bubble
roof and ‘warped’ rear
But easily the closest rival to the RCZ HDi is Audi's TT 2.0 TDI, which has a 167bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine and delivers, officially, 53.3mpg (virtually identical to the RCZ's claimed 53.2mpg).

There are, however, two big differences between the cars: the TT has quattro four-wheel drive (versus the RCZ's front-drive only); and the TT starts at £28,300 — that's a sizeable £5,000 more than the entry-level RCZ HDi Sport.

The amazing thing about the RCZ is just how close to the TT it manages to come. The cabin may not have quite the luxury-brand finish that Audi does so peerlessly well, but it's really not far behind, with a pleasing mix of surface materials and clear, well-designed instruments.

And while it's now a couple of years old, the RCZ's shape still looks fresh and continues to turn heads. You get a sense when driving a car how much others are clocking a look at you — and the RCZ still scores highly in this regard (no pun intended). That low, wide shape is brilliantly set off by the double-bubble roof and 'warped' rear screen (which does, incidentally, make the view out quite distorted).

The sporty looks occasionally tempt other road users to test the RCZ's mettle. Surely a straight-line drag race is where the diesel powerplant will fall down? Actually, the HDi 163 is certainly quick off the line, courtesy of the strong torque at your beck and call. But yes, the oomph does peter out a little as you move up the rev range — as the 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds indicates.

“How about corners?
Does the RCZ run rings
around other cars?
Well, while it’s no BMW,
it’s undeniably very
competent; there’s loads
of grip and a reassuring
How about corners? Does the RCZ run rings around other cars? Well, while it's no BMW, it's undeniably very competent; there's loads of grip and a reassuring attitude. The front-wheel drive set-up is typical in that understeer lurks around every corner should you overcook it, but at least it never bites.

The steering feel is great for a front-driver, too, and actually edges the slightly artificial feel of the Audi TT. You might feel a little shaken about by the RCZ's firm suspension but hey!, if you're after a comfy ride don't buy a sports car.

The boot may not be huge (and contrary to looks, it doesn't have a hatchback) and the rear seats are no good for anyone other than under-12s, but again, who ever bought a sports car for its practical aspects? I still managed to transport my son and assorted, unidentified boxes back to Uni in it.

The main reason most buyers will go for the diesel-powered RCZ is the fact that its low emissions (139g/km) ease the burden of company car tax. And, of course, fuel economy is much better. I didn't quite average the official 53.2mpg but then again I wasn't a million miles off in the mid-40s. Not at all bad for a sports car. — Chris Rees

Peugeot RCZ GT HDi 163 | £25,395
Maximum speed: 137mph | 0-62mph: 8.7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 45mpg
Power: 163bhp | Torque: 240lb ft | CO2 139g/km