PEUGEOT RCZ REVIEW
At the very least, you will save the better part of $10k over Audi’s cheapest TT.
With Peugeot’s RCZ you will also get a car that arguably has more arresting lines, goes as hard but is easier to live with, and has a more forgiving and refined ride without any sacrifice to handling or performance.
Peugeot’s racy and beautifully proportioned RCZ is a real surprise.
Available in three configurations: RCZ M (manual) 147kW 1.6 litre turbo, RCZ A (automatic) 115kW 1.6 litre turbo, and RCZ HDi M (manual) 120kW diesel turbo, and each loaded with standard features, the RCZ sits at one common price point: $54,990 plus on-road costs.
Petrol or diesel, it is buckets of fun. With hunkered-down cab-forward lines, unique ‘double bubble’ roof, wide, wide stance and heavily muscled cat-like haunches, the RCZ is one sweet little coupe.
We drove the 147kW petrol and 120kW diesel. While each has its own individual character at the wheel, the news, in any way you tell the story, is all good.
What features does it have?
The RCZ comes in one well-specified trim grade with each of the three engine configurations.
Standard features include cruise control/speed limiter, six-speaker AM/FM radio with MP3 capable CD player, Bluetooth compatible hands-free kit, USB connector, a jack socket, and audio streaming function.
The audio can be up-specced to a JBL premium hi-fi sound system by optioning the Monaco pack.
Other interior features include electro-chromatic auto-dipping rear-view mirror, dual zone climate control air-conditioning, rain and light sensors, front and rear parking sensors and sports-style aluminium footrest, pedals and door sills.
There are also electrically-adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors with courtesy lights (to help you find the car in the dark) that dip when reverse gear is selected.
The RCZ's exterior features include 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear fog lamps, dual chrome-plated exhaust pipes, and, a very nice touch, an active rear spoiler that raises and lowers according to the road speed (but with manual over-ride).
Optional personalisation enhancements include a carbon-fibre roof, the roof arches in black chrome, a range of 19-inch alloys, and various black lacquered body parts.
What’s under the bonnet?
The most powerful of the two petrol engines is a state-of-the-art DOHC 1.6 litre (1598cc) four-cylinder (that Peugeot sources from BMW).
Producing a liquid 147kW @ 5500rpm and 275Nm @ 1700rpm (with overboost), it is a cracker unit. With a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct petrol injection, variable valve lift coupled with variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts, it will happily spin its head off.
Even better, thanks to a vibrating membrane in the inlet plumbing, it provides a neck-tingling aural accompaniment while doing so.
Growly at lower revs, above 4500rpm it sounds sensational. You will find yourself rowing through the box just to savour the urgent rising throttle-body howl.
Mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual, Peugeot is claiming a 0-100km/h sprint time in 7.5 seconds. This has it shy of hot boxes like the Evo and Renault Megane Turbo, but it feels quick nevertheless (and with the fun of a go-kart).
Importantly, it manages this while returning a claimed 6.9 l/100km, combined with emissions of159 g/km of CO2.
The second engine we sampled was the 2.0 litre (1997cc) HDi turbo diesel producing 120 kW @ 3750 rpm and a readily accessible 340Nm of torque available from 2000 to 3000rpm.
It is a quiet-running and potent unit. With a variable-geometry turbocharger and common-rail injection, all that torque in a relatively light body gives the RCZ HDi enormous grunt; it simply hauls the RCZ out of corners.
More to the point, being diesel means you can wring its eager little neck without worrying that you’re killing the planet.
Peugeot is claiming average fuel consumption figures of only 5.3 l/100 km in the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of 139 g/km.
Our tester, even after some ‘robust’ treatment on a fresh engine was showing 6.4 l/100km average.
The third engine option is the 115kW 1.6 litre turbo petrol engine (240Nm of torque), available with Peugeot's new six-speed sequential Tiptronic automatic gearbox developed by Aisin Japan.
We're yet to drive this configuration (watch for a later review).
Down below, the RCZ might be sitting on a platform derived from the 308, but the similarities are very few. It is wider by 30mm, has a significantly lower centre of gravity and wider front and rear tracks (44mm and 63mm wider).
It is also has increased chassis rigidity and, at the wheel, it feels like a vault. Up front is a MacPherson strut suspension with a drop link anti-roll bar; rear suspension is semi-independent with a deformable cross member and anti-roll bar.
With the more powerful petrol engine (147 kW), the front suspension incorporates a lower separation rod and larger diameter hub carriers derived from the 407.
How does it drive?
From a company with a sporting heritage that goes back over 100 years (Peugeot, after all, gave the world the first DOHC engine in 1913), the RCZ’s sporting soul is evident the moment you slide behind the chunky sports wheel.
The stubby six-speed shift is precise with a short perfectly weighted throw.
Once you get the slightly off-set pedals sorted (it wouldn’t be a Peugeot if the ergonomics were completely right), it is huge fun to row along.
We gave each, both diesel and petrol, a serious poke over a looping run north of Cairns. It was something like love at first blat: the RCZ has fabulous on-road balance.
You can belt it into corners; turn-in and chassis balance is superb.
You have to be really cooking to find oversteer (and nothing a light quick dab won't correct) and it sits as flat as a roller skate through the apex.
Such is the precision at the wheel, even at speed there are no problems changing the line mid-corner should needs demand (like finding a truck leaning across the white line).
The petrol, with that brilliant sound, is the more involving when driven at the ragged edge, but the diesel – thanks to its instant torque delivery – might be the quicker around a mountain pass.
You can really barrel it out of tight corners without having to work the gears quite so hard.
And best of all, truly, is that the RCZ's suspension and chassis engineering manages the elusive double: it is sportscar firm but with enough compliance to provide a genuinely good ride.
In this, for suspension refinement, it eats the TT.
At the wheel, if you love sportscar handling, you will love the racy RCZ. We do.
Interior quality and feel?
Open the wide doors and take a look: this is one nice interior.
While the seats are sports-car low, they are trimmed in smart Nappa leather – in black or grey – and are well shaped for press-on driving.
Both front seats have three-way electric adjustment for height, slide and recline, with manual lumbar adjustment and seat heaters. The driver’s seat also comes with a position-memory function.
There are two 'occasional' seats in the rear, but the RCZ is barely a 2+2. Unless your kids are very, very small, or your second and third-best friends are garden gnomes and don’t mind having the baking sun an inch or two above their little red caps, don’t even consider using the rear.
But they do fold forward, making a large 384 litres of boot space even larger; increasing its volume to 760 litres.
Throughout, the interior is covered in a stitched faux-leather called Nabuck. It is very hard to pick as synthetic, it looks terrific and has an appealing tactile quality-feel.
According to Peugeot, it is also considerably more durable than leather in coping with the rigours of the Australian sun (but a full leather interior can be optioned).
Much of the interior switchgear and layout is borrowed from others in the Peugeot range, but, with chrome instrument bezels, piano-black surfaces, brushed alloy trims and soft-touch controls, there is a premium feel throughout.
And classier, certainly, than the TT.
The multi-function steering wheel – chunky, the right size and with just the right feel for the road – is reach and rake adjustable.
The metal-cased sports dials too, back-lit and etched for a carbon-fibre look, add to the sporting appeal.
Our only gripe with the interior - and it’s a minor one - is the ratty plastic steering column surround (but it’s mostly out of sight) and the similar plastic on the lower edge of the storage bin in the centre console.
Otherwise, the RCZ’s interior, across the three models, is a step above its price point.
So, yes, for both style and dynamics, Peugeot's RCZ is one sweet little coupe.
With a choice of zesty engines, a vault-like solid feel, impeccable finish, and offering remarkable on-road finesse, it is very hard to fault.
From the double-bubble roof and rear glass, to the wide 'I've-just-swallowed-a-bath-plug' grille and heavily sculptured bonnet, it is all Peugeot.
But not since Peugeot gave us the Pininfarina-styled 205 GTI in 1984 has it dropped such a capable, thoroughly enjoyable and wholly unexpected car into our laps.
At around $55k it is hard to describe the RCZ as bargain buying – after all, that's a lot of money for most of us, especially for an 'indulgence' purchase.
Peugeot's RCZ is, quite simply, the best sports coupe buy of the moment, bar none.
Note: interior photos are international left-hand-drive model.