Peugeot chose to showcase its new RCZ-R on a racetrack, a bold move that shows just how confident the company is in the roadholding and performance of this freshly enhanced version of its flagship coupé. As we've recently noted, the venerable French company is in the midst of a proper design renaissance, introducing elegant new cars, overhauling old ones and even finding time to set up an in-house design consultancy to forge ahead with plans for furniture, planes, boats and all manner of undisclosed projects.

The RCZ-R builds on the original RCZ, launched back in early 2010. The faithful translation of a concept car into a production model was a bold move for a company that had spent the best part of a decade boxing itself in as middle-market family-transportation specialists. The days when Peugeot made compact coupés that were a byword for simple and desirable had seemingly disappeared.

The RCZ changed all that at a stroke. Admittedly, a car like this couldn't have come into existence without pioneering rivals like the Audi TT, which proved beyond doubt that people buy cars for their appearance, first and foremost. But whereas the TT has taken three generations to finesse into a driving tool that matches its looks, the RCZ was pretty much right the first time, a testament to Peugeot's longstanding but low-key engineering skills.

The new RCZ-R adds in the one element missing from the original: a bit more power. With around 270hp it's the manufacturer's most powerful car by some measure and there are a few rather coarse allusions to power and performance in the red and black dominated interior trim, fixed rear spoiler and zippy graphics. The swooping great roof gives you plenty of glass overhead while the cockpit is snug and simple (only the back seats are genuinely cramped).

Striking rather than unequivocally handsome, the RCZ-R updates most of the original's visual quirks, reinforcing its status as one of the most distinctive-looking cars on the road, certainly in this price bracket. Sometimes the detail design doesn't do the strong geometry justice (one of the TT's great strengths) but the RCZ-R attracts attention rather than opprobrium. Peugeot's essentially classless image certainly helps here. A very good car, if not a legendary one, the RCZ-R is one of the best niche machines ever to come from a big manufacturer.

TAGS: TRANSPORT