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Peugeot RCZ R review

The Good

  • Surprisingly frugal and comfortable

The Bad

  • Lacks practicality
5

Does the souped-up Peugeot RCZ R inject enough pace to trouble its hot rivals? Ben Griffin reviews.

A year ago we took the latest Peugeot RCZ for a spin around Millbrook’s hill circuit hoping it would drive as well as it looks. In many ways it did. Yet as fun as it was, there was something missing. It felt like, to use a food-based analogy, Peugeot had left the bacon out of a BLT sandwich.

The Peugeot RCZ R is the high-performance edition of the RCZ. There’s no question it comes with bacon. Plenty of it, in fact, along with a few jalapeño peppers and a touch of chilli powder. It’s a much spicier prospect on paper. But just how spicy are we talking?

Still a looker
Still a looker

Design

Some could argue the RCZ R looks a bit dainty for a performance car, a shoe-in for hairdressers or feminine types. We think it has bags of charm and a real presence about it. While the Audi TT ages badly, in part thanks to its sheer popularity, the RCZ’s design still looks fresh.

We’re pleased Peugeot hasn’t messed around with it too much for the RCZ R. There are no go-faster stripes, gigantic spoilers or other extras that might detract from its curvy nature. Only the R badge, a small fixed rear spoiler, black roof pillars, twin-exit exhaust and larger alloys offer a clue as to the pedigree of this particular coupè.

The bubble-effect roof and upright windscreen means forward visibility is a strongpoint. The rear windscreen is a bit on the small side, though not so small you dread reversing.

Mmmm curves
Mmmm curves
Mmmm curves

Practicality

The bane of a 2+2 is in the name. The two proper seats in the front are comfortable and supportive and legroom is good, but god help you if you have to sit in the back. Solitary confinement is more spacious. Only a child will step out with any feeling in their legs.

Elsewhere things improve. The glovebox is large enough for few portable items, while the door pockets are passable. The boot is bigger than that of an Audi TT and will cope with anything but an all-out shopping assault. Leave the kids at home and you can use the rear seats for extra luggage space.

The black interior with contrasting red stitching on our test car looks and feels sporty. Everything is solid, which goes against the stereotypical view of French build quality. The dashboard has an uncluttered layout with relatively few buttons to confuse the driver. 

The small flat-bottomed steering wheel further adds to its sporty credentials. We’re not too sure about the very high handbrake, which is arched like a snake about to attack, but it does the job. 

People with legs steer clear of the back
People with legs steer clear of the back

Performance & Handling

The original RCZ felt composed and planted in corners right up until you really pushed it hard, at which point it would understeer and become a tad twitchy. It’s a similar story with the RCZ R, only you’ll find yourself in understeer situations more regularly due to the extra power on tap. 

A 1.6-litre THP turbo engine pumps out an impressive 270bhp, making it the most powerful production 1.6-litre on the planet and the RCZ R the most powerful production Pug. That’s 170bhp per litre in a car that weighs 1,355kg, giving a power-to-weight ratio of 199.26bhp per tonne. The 205 GTI had 148.5bhp per tonne. Torque is 243lb/ft (330Nm). 

Stick your foot down and the RCZ R pulls hard from 1,900rpm, but it’s after 4,000rpm that you get a really potent blast. It puts its power down fairly well via the front-wheel-drive transmission, though in the wet it gives the chassis something to worry about. 0 to 62mph takes 5.9 seconds and the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. This particular pug has big teeth, make no mistake.

There is a slight problem in having so much power through the front wheels — the RCZ R struggles to put all its power down smoothly, particularly in wet weather. Torque steer can be a slight issue when you’re pushing hard — as is the case with any car that steers and accelerates via the front wheels. 

It’s easy enough to manage though, and the resulting performance along with the addictive exhaust note are reward enough to keep pushing hard.

Peugeot has done more than just add a few extra horses and hope for the best. Luckily, the RCZ R comes equipped with Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres wrapped around 19-inch alloys, a limited-slip differential, improved and lowered suspension and larger brakes.

The pedal is surprisingly firm without much pedal travel, and there’s a huge amount of stopping power, which we learned to appreciate after the whiplash had subsided.

The RCZ R is fun in the corners, doing a good job of transmitting steering feel through its small, flat-bottomed steering wheel, inspiring confidence with a firm, planted ride. In the wet, however, you soon learn to reign it in or risk facing backwards, especially if you decide to turn traction control off.

When we eased off the go pedal we discovered a much more comfortable ride than anticipated. The RCZ R is able to deal with lumps and bumps, even with the aforementioned race-inspired extras and adjustments. That and the supportive seats mean it’s just as happy on a b-road as it is cruising on a motorway.

Speaking of cruising, the cabin stays quiet even as fast as 100mph in sixth gear — you can actually hear yourself think. There is a bit of engine boom in the higher rev range, but six gears allows you to cut that out if you feel like a relaxing drive.

Economy & Environment

Fuel economy is a strong point of the RZC R. With 145g/km of CO2 emissions, the 1.6-litre THP is cleaner than its competitors. A 208bhp Audi TT S Coupè, for instance, churns out 164g/km. We can’t say we were particularly inclined to test the upper reaches of economy (few people would with that amount of power on tap) but careful driving should yield the claimed 44.8mpg.

Equipment & Value

The Peugeot RCZ R has a pretty generous list of standard extras including sports seats wrapped in leather and Alcantara, dual-zone air conditioning, xenon self-levelling headlamps, automatic windscreen wipers, rear parking aid, 19-inch ‘R’ alloys and a dual sports exhaust.

There’s also Peugeot’s Connect Navigation system and the Peugeot Connect USB Box with Bluetooth for hooking up a smartphone or tablet. It’s generous compared with the standard RCZ.

Our test car had a few juicy extras including the fetching metallic paintjob (£520), JBL sound system (£420), ‘Brilliant Black’ door mirrors (£60) and a front parking aid (£180), which could prove handy with that lengthy bonnet.

Peugeot has priced the RCZ R from £31,995, making it more expensive than a Mini John Cooper Works Convertible (from £25,295), Audi TT Black Edition (from £30,780) and significantly more expensive than a Renault Megane RS 265 (from £25,990), which will soon be replaced by the as yet priced Megane RS 275.

The fastest Audi TT is nearly as quick but delivers a less involving drive. Then there’s the Renault Megane RS 265, which handles better but is a step down in quality. We would say the 315bhp BMW M 135i manual (from £30,845) is the closest you can get in terms of performance, if you can stomach its looks. 

Twin-exit exhaust has a nice bark about it
Twin-exit exhaust has a nice bark about it

Safety

Your guess is as good as ours when it comes to how well the RCZ R would fare in the event of a crash. The RCZ and its faster R sibling have yet to get a Euro NCAP crash test rating. We do, however, know it has two front airbags, two side airbags and electronic stability programme (ESP) for reducing oversteer.

The hefty brakes give you plenty of stopping power and it’s agile enough to stay out of trouble in the first place.

Verdict

The RCZ R really is the car we wanted the original RCZ to be. It’s easily fast enough for most mortals, the interior feels special and we still find ourselves admiring those unique curves.

You could drive up and down the M25 and be comfortable on one day, take the scenic route home and have a blast the next. The RCZ R is just shy of mental but only when you want it to be, making it more palatable. UK roads are no fun for overly track-oriented cars.

You are paying a hefty premium for the R badge, it must be said, but this isn’t your typical Pug. Not since the much-loved 205 GTI has the French manufacturer given us such a performance-focussed car. We’ve had to wait a hell of a long time for something as fun to drive, but we think the wait was worth it.

If you want something fast, beautiful, different and don’t mind a relative lack of practicality, the RCZ R is about as good as it gets below £35,000.

Peugeot RCZ R pictures

Specification

Price£31,995

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