Many initially dismissed the RCZ as all looks and no substance. That's until they drove it and realised it had real talent. The RCZ R is the ultimate expression of the line. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
With 270bhp and 330Nm on tap, the RCZ is the quickest production Peugeot to date, destroying the 0-62mph sprint in just 5.9 seconds. The styling changes are subtle and effective and the braking and suspension systems have all been upgraded. What's not to like? The list price, some way north of £30,000, may be the only real sticking point.
It's great to be wrong at times. Not all the time, just once in a while; that sort of 'keeping you on your toes' sort of wrongness. Drive a lot of cars and you begin to understand the language of cars, a certain shorthand, but every once in a while you hit something a bit different - a vehicle that defies your expectations in key regards. Something like Peugeot's RCZ. Prior to the original drive, all my instincts told me that this would be a cynical attempt to cream off some of the success of the Audi TT. That it would drive about as well as you'd expect from a company that had turned out an almost unbroken line of disappointing sporting cars for a decade and that it would feel about as special inside as a benefits office waiting room. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It had its own personality, it drove really well and it felt better screwed together and with more design flair than any of us expected. Just about the only unresolved issue was how this car would feel if it had more power. Sure, the THP 200 model was no slouch but what about something even quicker? That's exactly what Peugeot has delivered in the shape of the RCZ R, a 270bhp fizzer that might still take a few by surprise.
The underpinnings of this car at first seem deeply unpromising. It's basically a modified Peugeot 308 hatch, with its simple torsion-beam rear suspension rear end, with drive going to the front wheels. The counterpoint to that might well be to suggest that the very best driver's car this sort of money buys - Renaultsport's Megane 265 - has a virtually identical setup, so the architecture in and of itself doesn't necessarily prelude a brilliant drive. With 270bhp, the RCZ R is the most powerful production model in Peugeot's history, accelerating to 62mph in 5.9 seconds. Indeed, this THP engine with 270bhp from just 1.6-litres provides a record specific power in the category, with nearly 170bhp per litre. Over 17kgs have been shaved off the weight of the standard RCZ THP 200 model. The low centre of gravity, aerodynamic performance, improved suspension settings (wider track, camber angle, wider rims of +0.5") and Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 235/40 R19 tyres optimise adhesion and improve roadholding. The suspension has a new specification of dampers, there's a standard Torsen differential, increased stiffness of springs and a stiffer anti-roll bar that allows for improved handling and agility.
Design and Build
It would be fairly easy to over-style a car that's already pretty overt in the exterior design department and the RCZ R doesn't overegg things too much. The key difference is that the metal-finish roof arches have been replaced by low key matte black items. The suspension has been lowered by 10mm to give an even more hunkered down stance, the 19-inch alloy wheels filling the arches agreeably. The wheels have a two-tone diamond and black matte finish with an 'R' monogram milled on. Peer behind the alloys and you'll spy larger brakes, the red calipers at the front bearing a 'Peugeot Sport' signature. Other design touches include a fixed rear spoiler, a rear diffuser, two chromed exhaust pipes, located symmetrically and a reworked exhaust system for performance and sound. Other than that, there are red Peugeot 'R' badges on the grille and bootlid. The interior features sports seats dressed in a mix of full grain Nappa leather and black Alcantara and branded with the monogram 'R'. On the centre console, a chrome plate confirms the character with a red inscribed 'R' emerging from a certification plate of brushed aluminium with four visible screw fixings.
Market and Model
The RCZ competes against cars like the Volkswagen Scirocco R and the Audi TTS - which means that you can expect to roll out of a dealer having paid around £33,000 with a few options on board. Is that good value for money? It's certainly quite a hefty sum for a 1.6-litre Peugeot and given that you can buy a 306bhp BMW M135i for less, it's not as if there aren't other options to consider. The RCZ R is available in 4 colours: Moroccan Red, Nera Black, Mercury Grey and Opal White. It also offers a range of custom-made satin or gloss carbon roof treatments, decal designs and black mirror shells. Standard equipment includes xenon projector headlamps with washers, a full multimedia 'WIP (World of Peugeot) Nav Plus' system, Peugeot Sport embossed door sills, as well as red stitching on the dashboard, plus leather for the steering wheel, gear lever gaiter, door panels, armrests and seats.
Cost of Ownership
The THP engine fitted to the RCZ R has won its class in the International Engine of the Year awards for the seventh year in succession, so it's reasonable to assume that you're getting a very smart piece of technology under the bonnet. It's incredible to think that a petrol engine which develops 330Nm of torque can also achieve 44.8mpg on the Combined Drive Cycle. The two-year factory warranty is backed up with a one-year dealer warranty and the vehicle-determined service intervals can be as far apart as 20,000 miles or two years, depending on how the car is driven. You'll also benefit from Peugeot assistance breakdown cover.
Peugeot's problem in selling this model is one that has been recognised by a number of manufacturers. There are many cars that we recognise as fundamentally and objectively good - vehicles such as the Volkswagen Phaeton and Honda Legend spring to mind - but which are priced in a manner that teases at the edge of the brand's equity. The Peugeot RCZ R would appear to fall into this category. Up against Renault, Ford and Vauxhall, it makes a strong case for itself. But when pitched in against some serious firepower from Audi and BMW, how many are going to step up and buy French? In real terms, you're buying just as much car here as you would if you spent the same sort of money on a Volkswagen Scirocco R, but I think Peugeot might learn a fairly sharp lesson in understanding what the market will bear. Judged on its own merits, the RCZ R is a welcome and extremely promising sports coupe. Which means that those who hold out for the inevitable discounting may well land a genuine bargain.