The Peugeot RCZ is a radical departure for Peugeot, from its looks and emphasis on handling through to the fact that it is the first Peugeot production car not to have a '0' in its name.
Beneath the skin you'll find 308 architecture, suspension and running gear. All heavily modified, of course - springs dampers, braces, track width and so on are all changed.
Under the hood of our example is a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine producing 154bhp. It costs £22,750.
We're pitting it against the cheapest Audi TT, the front-drive 197bhp 2.0T FSI (£26,370), the VW Scirocco GT 2.0 TSI (£23,615) and Renaultsport's Megane 250 Cup (£23,160).
Inside the cars
The RCZ, inevitably, draws its interior from the 308's, so the architecture is similar inside. There are just enough highlights and details to make it feel more special than a regular hatch.
There's some lovely leather work in places, but that contrasts heavily with some cheaper plastics. The rear seats are also little more than foam padding on a rear bulkhead that can be folded down to increase boot volume. Headroom is tight and the squab so short that child seats will be difficult to fit.
That said, it's better than the TT, in which access and headroom are even worse. Despite this, the Audi is arguably the more practical of the two. It has a hatch rather than a separate boot and those rear chairs split and fold.
Both look miserable compared with the Scirocco, whose separate rear seats are narrow and tightly sculpted but are also big enough for two adults to sit behind two adults. The seats split and fold and its only a shame the interior ambiance and perceived quality trail that of the TT.
The Renault is clean and neatly designed up front, and two adults could squeeze in the back, though it's relatively claustrophobic.
At the wheel
Along with the Scirocco, the TT shares the best driving position, though the RCZ's is fine too, and the Renault is beyond serious criticism.
Ride comfort is subjective, as one man's comfortably soft is another's dreadfully wallowy. Suffice to say none of these cars is harsh.
The Peugeot displays occasional bump-thump through an otherwise isolated ride of middling firmness, while the Scirocco is firmer and more tightly controlled but no less comfortable.
The base TT rides entirely decently, but it can't pull off the trick of the Scirocco or the Megane and couple strong abilities in both primary ride and secondary ride.
The TT starts to run out of ideas on an interesting road: it has enough power, but the steering is overly light and has no discernible feel at all.
The Scirocco's a mite more responsive with the optional DSG and its steering is heavies, more positive and more feelsome.
With 247bhp the Megane goes, grips and stops harder than all the other cars in this test - and that's why it's here, as a dynamic benchmark.
The Peugeot is good enough, but it's the third most enjoyable car here to drive (only the Audi is behind). It feels larger than its size and you feel like you are sitting in the middle of it. Its overly large steering wheel is weighted lightly and is less accurate than the other three cars here. There's also negligible feel, and the six-speed box is unremarkable.
But the RCZ does have something going on: get the corner entry speed fast enough and give it a lift or ease onto the brakes and it'll unsettle its rear like Peugeots of old. Turn the ESP off and, in the right conditions, the way it hangs its tail out can be extremely amusing.
The Audi TT has sharp looks and a lovely interior, but if you enjoy driving it's not for you. It places last here.
For the same reasons the Peugeot is third, but there is hope. It is the best driver's car Peugeot builds, and it'll do 60-70 per cent of what the Renault will, compared with the Audi's 50 per cent.
It's no surprise to find that something with a Renaultsport badge is sharper to drive than anything of a similar price - but it is a surprise how close the Scirocco runs it.
The VW has eight or nine-tenths of the Renault's ability to entertain, and if you are after a small, affordable and fun car that isn't a regular hatchback then this is the car for you.
The full test review is available in this week's Autocar magazine, on sale now.
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