Peugeot's improved RCZ HDi 163 blends head-turning looks with a sensible diesel engine. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Fitment of a diesel engine removes some of the sharpness from Peugeot's lately improved RCZ coupe but it remains a fun car to drive and the extra torque creates a more relaxed character. Affordable diesel running costs are the icing on the cake.
It would be easy to go overboard when discussing the Peugeot RCZ. Not only is it a visually thrilling car with fine handling, it's from a manufacturer that had let its once proud reputation in these areas slip. Anyone who remembers pretty Peugeots like the 406 Coupe or sharp driving ones like the 106 Rallye and the legendary 205 GTi has been hoping for a return to form and it seemed to have arrived with the introduction of the affordable RCZ sports coupe in 2010. A car you could even justify on sensible grounds when fitted with a 2.0-litre HDi diesel engine. Now we have a lightly revised RCZ with smarter styling and higher-tech equipment but the range still includes the diesel option we look at here. Indeed, most affordable sports coupes have to have a black pump option these days. The question is whether the RCZ HDi 163 can deliver lower costs without taking the sheen off its driving experience.
The extra weight of a diesel engine is always going to be a factor in a two-seater sports car like the RCZ. The HDi model gains 80kg in kerb weight over the entry-level 1.6 THP petrol variant and this is felt out on the road in slightly more sluggish responses and less bite when you pitch the car into a tight corner. Despite this, the RCZ still impresses and the diesel models actually take on a more relaxed feel which some customers might even prefer. The abundant torque you expect from a diesel is very much in evidence with 320Nm generated at 2,000rpm. It gives the RCZ useful flexibility to accelerate from cruising speeds without dropping gears and there's still a 8.7s time for the 0-62mph sprint. Flat out, the top speed is 137mph and peak power of 163bhp is generated at 4,000rpm.
Design and Build
This is still a striking thing to look at with its trademark "double bubble" roof which has a pair of bulges that proceed down the rear windscreen. And the changes? Well, I'm not sure they were needed, but at least they've been done very subtly by original stylist Boris Reinmoller. There are bonnet lines intended to create a more compact feel, emphasising the updated satin-finished marque emblem. Also satin-finished are the two front chrome grille bars, shaped like 'Samurai sword blades' according to the designers. They certainly enliven a central air intake extended on each side by daytime running lights, each created from six LEDs and subtly sculpted in the form of claws. Move inside through the large doors and you'll find an interior Peugeot can still be rightly proud of. The driving position's low-set and sporting but on base models, the lovely prominent circular clock and assorted metallic accents aren't quite enough to completely divert your attention from some of the hard plastics. We're told that the RCZ is more than just a pretty face and that it can contribute some practicality as well. The car has a front-engined 2+2 layout with exceedingly small rear seats that have increased headroom thanks to the roof bulges and a surprisingly big boot capacity of 384-litres (you only get 290-litres in an Audi TT). This space can be increased further by folding the rear seat backrests down.
Market and Model
There are two RCZ trim levels and the HDi diesel engine is available with both of them. The Sport model opens proceedings with 18" alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, ESP stability control and ASR traction control. The GT level is over £2,000 more expensive but brings leather trim, electric heated seats, automatic lights, automatic wipers and 19" alloy wheels. As for the diesel engine itself, it's around £1,800 more than the 156bhp 1.6 THP petrol engine and £550 less than the 200bhp 1.6 THP petrol that tops the range. Diesel coupes are not the novelty they once were and the RCZ HDi goes head to head with the likes of Audi's TT TDI and the Volkswagen Scirocco that also has TDI power. You could also consider rivals like the Vauxhall Astra GTC 2.0 CDTi.
Cost of Ownership
Just as we're not completely accustomed to seeing sports coupes with diesel engines, we aren't used to having them return 54.3mpg. That's what the RCZ HDi 163 manages though and it's very similar to what you can expect in a diesel Audi TT or Scirocco. Emissions of 130g/km will also help to keep running costs down while Peugeot is banking on the RCZ's bold design to help protect its residual values from the fate some of its past models have suffered.
Diesel might not be the fuel of choice in a compact sports car but it has its advantages in the form of low running costs and plentiful torque. Peugeot's RCZ HDi 163 plays up to these strengths while adding in the adventurous design and sharp driving experience that are common to all RCZ models. The groundbreaking looks of the car may not suit all tastes and the extra weight of a diesel engine takes some of the agility away from the driving experience but the HDi RCZ delivers head-turning looks, lively performance and an engaging drive. In short, even with diesel power, the RCZ can rekindle some of the Peugeot's old sporting excitement. A car for head and heart.