EVERY marque has a pin-up star and they don't shine much brighter than the Peugeot RCZ.
Beautifully proportioned with an arresting silhouette, this sports coupe is an unwavering head-turner.
Peugeot has just refreshed the four-seater with some minor tweaks inside and out - not that there was a lot wrong with the previous model launched three years ago.
Nothing has changed mechanically, you can still choose between diesel or petrol turbocharged four-cylinder engines, but the French brand has thrown in extra kit it values at $5800.
The price has risen four grand to $58,990, that is still $6460 less than the base model Audi TT - which is the RCZ's only real rival.
Leather trim adorns the doors and supportive bucket seats which are stamped with the Peugeot lion. It creates a lavish and luxurious feel, accentuated by lovely curved soft-touch finishes above the air vents.
The driver's key dials and gauges have some carbon fibre features and white needles, but the new crowning glory is an awesome analogue clock, central in the dash, courtesy of renowned watch maker Bell & Ross.
Typically French, some of the operations do take some analysis. It can be difficult to see around the steering wheel for some of the stalk controls, while the new standard pop-up sat nav system can be time consuming to input destinations.
Another quirk is the hard plastics in the centre console with an unfashionable 12-volt plug. It stands out with the remainder of the cabin so plush and inviting.
There are two seats in the back, but like nearly all two-door coupes (and hatches for that matter) the rear is a domain best restricted to kids or small adults.
On the road
Sitting remarkably flat on the road, the RCZ can live up to its athletic skin - yet much depends on the transmission choice.
Select the automatic and you get a quiet and relatively relaxed cruiser. But opt for the manual with the petrol donk and you get a healthier power output and a whole lot more fun.
We sampled the self shifter on a sedate rural drive and then tested its prowess on the track at Sandown. The latter experience proved the RCZ is not all bravado.
Hammering into bends, the firm suspension and low centre of gravity equip the driver with great confidence. On one occasion we experienced a chicane at 135kmh with consummate ease and without tyre squeal.
Out on the road and that suspension can be too taut for rough conditions where pot holes and nasty undulations can expose a lack of travel and some uncompromising thuds.
The steering is direct with an excellent feel and Peugeot has delivered a good compromise between athleticism and ease of use in the metropolitan area.
What do you get?
Value packaging is a priority for Peugeot. Part of that initiative is providing an appealing car without the need to tick optional extra boxes.
Metallic ($800) or pearlescent paint ($1300) is the only thing which costs you more, with the likes of sat nav, flat-bottom sports steering wheel, six-speaker CD stereo, cruise control, dual zone climate controlled air con, heated front seats, electronic spoiler (which automatically pops up above 85kmh or you can do it by the push of a button) and 19-inch alloys.
There are a range of packs available that change various highlights and alloys, but to be frugal and fair, the RCZ doesn't need it.
Safety includes anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, stability control and hill assist function.
No matter which engine and transmission combination you select, all three won't break the budget at the bowser. The diesel is the best, but the manual petrol at just under seven litres per 100km is not bad.
Insurance could be expensive with some companies (courtesy of being turbocharged) and may need some shopping around to get a better premium.
While there are four seats, it really is accommodation best suited to a pair. There are two child seat restraint points, but if the chairs are bulky the front passengers will need to sit forward.
The boot is actually useful, unusual for a coupe, with enough space for a couple of suitcases. Drop the one-piece back seat and the 384-litre cargo space nearly doubles.
There is only one shallow cup holder in the centre console, although there are some handy spots for phones and MP3 players and large pockets in the doors.
Look into the side mirrors and you get a great view of the bulging arches. Its "double bubble" rear window and roof line delivers distinction and an air of exclusivity.
This latest model has more black features as opposed to the previous silver, with the darker colour scheme now adorning the wheel arches, grille and brake calipers while the one-inch larger alloys are grey.
A new look face also incorporates Xenon lights and "claw" shaped LED running lamps.
What matters most
The good stuff: Arresting sculpted look, arguably the best looking car around for this money, chassis balance and poise.
What we'd like to see: Improved centre console finishes, more engine punch for the automatic transmission, paddle shifters with the auto.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is capped for three years/60,000km, with services annually ($330) and no-cost checks every six months.
Model: Peugeot RCZ.
Details: Two-door front-wheel drive coupe.
Engines: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol at two levels of tune, generating maximum power of 115kW @ 6000rpm and 240Nm @ 1400rpm (automatic); 147kW @ 5500rpm and 275Nm @ 1700rpm (manual); 2.0-litre turbo diesel 120kW @ 3750rpm and 340Nm @ 2000rpm (manual only).
Transmissions: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.5 litres/100km (combined average); 6.9L/100km; 5.3L/100km.
CO2: 168g/km; 159g/km; 139g/km.
Bottom line: $58,990 plus on-roads, all models.
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