PEUGEOT RCZ: HATCH THAT BECAME A SUPERMODEL
The little Peugeot gives you a supercar shape and super-boy performance
YOU needn’t aspire to a Ferrari, Lamborghini or a Maserati to own a car that turns heads, one that gladdens your heart to look upon it.
Underneath, Peugeot’s RCZ shares mechanicals with a basic hatchback rather than a supercar, but it’s a supermodel’s shape. Or maybe a modern art exhibit. If it didn’t drive so entertainingly, you’d stick it on a pedestal and call it a sculpture.
It looks fast just sitting there — all low-slung stance, swept planes and uniquely convex rear window that emulates the shape of a woman’s shoulder blades. Well, that’s what Peugeot designers say. They’re French.
Now it’s fast to drive, too. The R edition of the RCZ has been tuned, sprung and fired up by Peugeot’s racing division. The current car (a 2010 Carsguide Car of the Year finalist) is no slouch but can’t hold a candle to the R version, the quickest and most powerful road-going Peugeot, a variant that cedes little to rivals priced closer to 100 grand.
Not that they’re giving it away. At nearly $70,000, an RCZ-R occupies fairly rarefied terrain, essentially a two-seat coupe with all of the practical application that entails. But how do you quantify emotional engagement?
There’s no necessity per se for the RCZ, let alone this dearer development, other than to act the part of Peugeot’s halo car, the top model that confers lustre on those beneath. It would be a joyless soul who frowned upon this little two-door and, as we’ll see, a harsh judge who dismisses its capability.
The renewed and facelifted RCZ starts at $58,990 and comes with gleaming xenon lights and huge 19-inch wheels to set off its perky, capable 1.6litre turbo four. Ditto the R version except it’s been enhanced and empowered — to own an Audi TT of equal potency would set you back six figures. The new TT, due next year, needs to be a bit special.
Unusually for sports cars, both RCZs are vouchsafed by five years’ capped price servicing.
In this part of the planet, Peugeot is not synonymous with motorsport yet it’s a Le Mans challenger and record holder for the spectacular Pikes Peak climb. The brand’s sport division imbues the RCZ-R with a new twin-scroll turbo and race bred components, not least brakes.
Most telling is the limitedslip differential fitted to the front axle. This makes all the difference to a powerful frontdrive car. The R sits low and on a wider track than the standard RCZ, something apparent through the first corner.
And at 5.9 seconds, the R is almost two seconds faster to 100km/h from standing.
As German car makers obssess on settings to vary ride, throttle and steering — to often distracting and muddying affect — there is no such frippery on this Frenchie, not even a sport button. Peugeot boffins back themselves to get it right rather than burdening you with non-choices. This is refreshing.
By now you know where we stand. Essentially the R builds on the base car’s already alluring looks with subtle yet distinct accents including a lip spoiler and ominous looking tail-pipes on either side. Have some reservations about the thick black strips that frame the roof on either side; they look prone to scratches and fading.
A similar theme is within, a purposeful and comfortable setup. Some will dislike the driving position. It happens to fit me fine. Got to love the luxuriously upholstered rear luggage rack, which in novel fashion is shaped as seats and even fitted with belts.
There’s no crash rating for either RCZ model but ANCAP approvingly notes its “electronic stability control, curtain airbags ... seat belt pretensioners and seat belt reminders”. To that add the R’s powerful brakes.
Which is well, because this model likes a party, one with whom you’ll find excuses to take out and dally on back roads. Nor is she especially fussy about the surface.
As she is retuned and generally toughened up, I fully expect a ride with the compliance of rollerskates on cobblestones. Instead the R car rides more capably over pockmarked road surfaces than the lesser variant and, although a good deal more potent, it’s actually easier to drive.
That extends to the way in which this almost unfeasibly punchy 1.6 puts its output down. It’ll wail on revs with the best of them and when the turbo kicks in you know you’ve been spoken to.
But it’s the torque that