Peugeot's striking RCZ coupe has a sleeker look - and extra power at the top of the range. But the recipe is little changed. Just as well as it's addictive. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Peugeot's have a strong history of sporty models that until the arrival of the stunning RCZ coupe in 2010, hadn't been added to for some time. All that changed with this car and it's now been improved, with a smarter look, more personalisation choices and the option of extra power for the fastest petrol version should you want it.
Just over two hundred years ago, two brothers, Jean-Pierre and Jean-Frederic Peugeot, took a brave decision. They would set up a company in their father's corn mill that would first sell saws and tools and go on later to sell bicycles, motorbikes and cars. More than 55 million vehicle sales and two centuries later, the lion emblem originally adopted to illustrate the strength of the teeth of the brothers' handsaws adorns an improved version of the most exciting machine the French company has ever created. One designed very much to sharpen its sportscar credentials. The exclusive yet affordable RCZ. Back in the early Nineties when Peugeot used to dominate the classic Le Mans 24 hour race, it also used to dominate the market for affordable sporting cars, the 205 GTi the must-have shopping rocket of its day. It died in 1993, along with Peugeot's involvement on the track and the Gallic brand was never quite the same. Until 2010, when this RCZ coupe was launched shortly after the French marque triumphed once again in Le Mans, overtaking Audi, a brand whose TT sportscar this classy 2+2 wants to see off in the showrooms. It hasn't quite managed to do that so far, but an even smarter look, extra possibilities for personalisation and the option of a 260bhp flagship variant could well mark a turning point for this car, the first in nearly twenty years to rekindle the bite of the Peugeot brand.
Not too much has changed on the engines front, apart from the addition of a 260bhp version of the 1.6-litre THP turbo petrol unit. This powerplant also continues on in 156 and 200bhp guises. The 200bhp engine ought to be fine for most performance-minded people, also shared with the fiery MINI John Cooper Works models. It can get the RCZ through 62mph in a respectable 7.6s with the aid of its twin-scroll turbocharger and is designed to produce a smooth flow of power from low in the rev-range. This being Peugeot, there was always going to be a diesel too and it's the 2.0-litre HDi FAP that's used across the marque's larger models. Here there's 163bhp and a healthy 340Nm of torque. The 'acoustic signature of the petrol engine has also been enhanced, aided by 'Sound System' technology. It amplifies the characteristic sound of the engine through a controlled diaphragm that resonates and the vibration noise is louder as the revs of the engine rise during acceleration, while being less pronounced with more regular driving. Beneath the RCZ's curvy bodywork are the underpinnings of the 308 family hatchback. That's a fact that might well set alarm bells ringing with enthusiastic drivers as the chubby 308 isn't the last word in pace or dexterity. The same McPherson strut front suspension and rear torsen beam set-up is used but, thankfully, Peugeot has carried out extensive modifications with the aim of honing the RCZ's responses.
Design and Build
Aesthetically, not too much has changed with this improved RCZ - but then, not much needed to. Most of the tweaks have been made at the front end where a subtler central air intake is enlivened by two satin chrome bars. There's a smarter front grille too, accentuated by a lower air intake which is extended on each side by a unique light signature, visible both day and night. This consists of six LEDs, sculpted in the form of claws, behind a smoked lens which blends into a gloss black surround. There are fewer changes inside, where the cabin remains deceptively practical. As before, the car has a front-engined 2+2 layout with 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. The dash will be familiar to 308 hatchback owners and with cabin design and build quality being a 308 strongpoint, this is no bad thing. Special sports seats are fitted in the front with integrated headrests and the centre console slopes towards the driver to bring the controls within easy reach.
Market and Model
Pricing for this coupe is much as before, sitting mainly in the £21,000 to £30,000 bracket. Standard equipment though, is more generous, the kit list now running to an acoustic windscreen and a Visibility Pack consisting of automatic wipers, automatic headlamps, electrochromatic interior mirror, guide-me-home lighting and approach lighting on unlocking. Audio and Sat Nav options are enhanced with the availability of Peugeot's RT6 Connect Navigation system. Other features fitted across the range include 18" alloy wheels, sports front seats, dual zone air-conditioning, folding rear seat, rear parking aid, deadlocks, selective access locking, an alarm and immobiliser, four airbags, ESP stability control, EBFD brakeforce distribution, EBA brake assist, ABS, a 'double bubble' rear screen, a black roof panel, an active rear spoiler, plus a twin rear sports' exhaust. RCZ buyers have must more scope to personalise their cars now too. There are different roof arch colours, a lacquered black grille bars option, carbon roof options, different bodywork decals, the usual wide choice of wheels and paint colours and a 'Sports Pack' that includes a smaller steering wheel and a short-throw gear lever.
Cost of Ownership
The RCZ's modern engines should help endow the car with low running costs and the official 53.2mpg combined cycle economy figure for the 2.0-litre diesel with 139g/km emissions will be attractive to sportscar buyers on a budget. Both of the lower-powered 1.6-litre THP turbo engines return close to 40mpg with CO2 emissions in the 155-160g/km bracket. Perhaps it's no coincidence that all these numbers are practically identical to comparable Audi TT and Volkswagen Scirocco rival models, as are insurance costs (28-35 on the 1-50 scale), warranty and expected residual values. 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.
The RCZ was a car that Peugeot simply had to make, different, practical, fun to drive and drop-dead gorgeous. Plusher trim, the Sport pack with its sharper handling and extra power are all really needed to make this RCZ complete, but such is the saving offered over its most obvious Audi TT rival that many buyers will feel able to tick those boxes. And there are more such boxes to tick with this improved version. Potential purchasers wanting a more exclusive feel will like that. This is the kind of car that few of those who buy will ever have expected to be able to own. Exotic, yet accessible, it's a compelling package - and a fitting tribute to an enduring brand.