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Roar and Peace

Going from traffic-packed Brussels to the tranquil heart of Sandwich in Peugeot's splashy new RCZ


I’M STOPPED AT A RED LIGHT in the center of Brussels, en route to the highway, when the full impact of the new Peugeot RCZ is made abundantly clear to me. A Mercedes pulls up, and after a moment its passenger-side window buzzes down. Leaning across the seat, the driver offers his approval. “Nice car,” he says. “Doing anything tonight?”

I am indeed, though not with him. Needing to escape the Mach 4 lifestyle of the E.U. capital, I inch my way out of the city, heading to England for a quiet weekend away. My exit is hardly going unnoticed, though. Even mired in traffic, the RCZ (full handle: the RCZ 2.0 HDi FAP sports coupe) turns heads. It immobilizes pedestrians, causes approaching cars to drift alarmingly off track and inspires truck drivers to train their camera phones on the car’s hourglass body and aluminum-trimmed swoops. The RCZ is feminine, with a curvaceous double-dome roof, yet manages to be muscular and lean as well.

Tapping the necessary coordinates into the GPS, I head northwest out of Brussels on the E40 highway, brushing past Ghent and Bruges on my way to France. There, the A16 delivers me to the Eurotunnel, an undersea shuttle train and one of the fastest ways of crossing the English Channel. Thirty-seven minutes after leaving Calais, the train rolls into England’s Folkestone terminal; moments later, vehicles begin disembarking.

Back on the road, I engage the cruise control and turn up the sound system, making myself comfortable. Maybe too comfortable: While overtaking a tractor-trailer, I realize I’m about to miss my exit. Snapping to, I accelerate across two lanes and drop down a couple of gears while negotiating a near-hairpin turn without incident. The RCZ’s grip and 19-inch alloy wheels prove exceptional. The ride is hard but doesn’t detract from the car’s solid on-road feel. The gear changes are precise, and when, say, I put my foot down in fourth there’s great pulling power.

Following Kent’s rugged coastline, my route takes me through a number of small villages — a few of which are clustered precariously on cliffs overlooking the sea — before moving on to a series of lush woodlands and fields studded with medieval hamlets. In time, I arrive in Sandwich, my retreat for the weekend. Amid the narrow cobbled streets and alleyways in the heart of town, I find my accommodations: the Salutation, a handsomely restored Georgian manor house enclosed almost entirely within the walls of the old city. As I pass under an ancient archway and into the house’s pebbled courtyard, one of England’s most renowned ornamental gardens, created by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is gloriously revealed.

I park the RCZ at the base of the sweeping staircase leading to the front door and announce myself at reception. From the window, I take in the grounds. Though I’m well away from Brussels, I remain conspicuous: As I watch, a fellow guest sitting at the opposite side of the courtyard leaves his afternoon tea and strides over to inspect the Peugeot more closely. The butler, who’s been sent out to collect my luggage, joins him, lingering just long enough to fumblingly draw his mobile phone and squeeze off a shot before feigning nonchalance and returning to his duties.

When CINDY-LOU DALE, a writer in southeast England, returned the RCZ, it was almost entirely covered with fingerprints.

The bells and whistles

Starting Price: Just a shade under £26,000. The RCZ is not available in the United States, as Peugeot pulled out of that market in the 1990s. However, the RCZ is one of a number of new Peugeot models that suggest the company should consider coming back.

Performance: The 163-bhp diesel engine can go from zero to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds, has a top speed of 146 mph and gets 53 mpg (13 better than the gasoline version).

Perks: The interior of the RCZ is impressive, with a plush soft-touch dashboard. Beyond the center console’s stick shift and hand brake is a button to elevate the rear spoiler, Porsche-style. There’s plenty of leg- and headroom in the front; in the rear, the seats are small and rigid but can fold down to create more trunk space.

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