There was a time when Peugeot had a reputation for building the most entertaining drivers' cars in the mainstream sector of the car market. But just over ten years ago that changed as the company pursued a different set of objectives and seemed to purposefully ignore the enthusiast-motivated driver when it came to its latest products. However, there have been noises from within the firm recently that things might be changing, and the RCZ coupe is seen as an example of the new order.
It's also a spearhead for Peugeot's increasingly more upmarket ambitions. This is a daringly styled coupe that the French manufacturer hopes will tempt those buyers who normally select a German product because of its image. We're talking cars like the Audi TT and VW Scirocco here - formidable rivals.
There can be no doubting that the RCZ has the style to meet these rivals head-on. It's distinctive 'cab-forward' proportions are highlighted by the silver roof pillars, while the controversial gaping grin grille that has defined all Peugeots over the past decade remains, although more recent models from the firm have done without it. Seeing as the Audi TT is such a relatively common sight on UK roads, the RCZ immediately has an advantage through its exclusivity.
0-62Mph Time Of 7.5Sec And A Top Speed Just Knocking On The Door Of 150Mph
Underneath the glamorous suit lies a more humble, front-wheel drive chassis also used in models such as the 308. For the RCZ it has been re-worked to provide a more sporting drive, and in particular for the 200THP model we're testing here. This top-of-the-range RCZ features retuned suspension and stronger components to handle the extra power and ingratiate it to the sporty driver. The 200hp in question (up from 156hp in the standard model) comes from a development of the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is already well known from its use in the Mini Cooper S. It certainly gives this RCZ more sparkle than its lesser brother - and the diesel engined RCZ - but it still lacks the outright firepower to take on the fastest and most aggressive hot hatches and coupes in this price range. Peugeot claims a 0-62mph time of 7.5sec and a top speed just knocking on the door of 150mph.
One area where Peugeot realised that buyers in this class wouldn't compromise is with the interior design and quality, and from the moment you climb into the RCZ you're comparing it to the German opposition rather than any stereotypical view of French car interiors. That's a complement, and the fact that a few small details and choices of trim mean that it isn't quite up to TT-levels is only a minor point. Our top-spec GT model featured leather seats and felt worthy of a £25,050 car, even if the rear pews are only suitable for small children. It's a shame the attractive, pop-up infotainment screen wasn't fitted to our test car: it further adds to the sophistication of the interior when specified, at extra cost.
Driving the RCZ turns out to be a pleasant surprise. From the moment you move off you're aware that the engineers have given the 200 THP a pleasing induction note, which coupled with the strong, low-down pulling power of the engine tends to mask any slight deficiency in outright performance compared to certain rivals. The modifications to the gearbox and the shorter ratios within it, compared to the 156hp model, also make extracting this performance fun, and the brakes have a sturdy feel to their operation underfoot that inspires confidence.
The Most Exciting Peugeot For A Very Long Time
The chassis copes easily with the speed of the car, the wide track and firm suspension meaning that body roll is negligible and cornering grip strong. The RCZ changes direction very keenly, even when, with a flick of the steering wheel, you ask it to change tack when it's already cornering hard. The trade off is a very firm ride that is just about bearable for everyday use, although some may find it irritating during urban driving.
The RCZ undercuts the entry-level Audi TT (£27,130) but the gap is not a huge one, although it's likely to grow once a few options have been added to the Audi's specification. Whether buyers will mention these rivals in the same breath remains to be seen, but at least the RCZ should be reasonably frugal with a quoted combined consumption figure of 40.9mpg, while a C02 output of 159g/km is impressive given the performance on offer.
Posted on 08.12.2010 by Adam Towler
All in, this is the most exciting Peugeot for a very long time, and one that makes a stylish and engaging rival to the established coupe choices.