July 4, 2014
What’s Hot: Playful chassis, gutsy engine, individual style.
What’s Not: Killer road noise, looks too much like a standard RCZ.
X-FACTOR: Race-derived engine and handling makes for huge fun on winding roads.
Vehicle Style: Small sports coupe.
Price: $68,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 199kW/330Nm 1.6 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 7.9 l/100km
Peugeot’s low-slung RCZ was initially penned as pure eye-candy.
Take a look at the elongated flanks, the sweeping roof arch and the concept-car bubbled rear windscreen and there can be no doubt.
But, what if you took that eye-candy and put it through a training regime? Better still, one run by a team of race engineers with a resume encompassing everything from Le Mans racers to Pikes Peak blasters.
The result: all the allure of the original but with stiffened, lowered, thoroughly reworked handling, serious brake hardware, and an engine that takes cues from Formula 1 technology.
Peugeot claims that the limited-edition RCZ R was built with racetracks in mind, and while the visual package might not hint as much, the mechanical work speaks volumes.
With a production run capped to just 500 units globally, that makes the RCZ R as rare as a Lexus LFA, but maybe not quite as exotic.
Australia gets a comparatively generous 35 units; just enough to ensure this track-honed Peugeot will maintain a degree of collectability.
- Leather and Alcantara interior with R-specific sports seats.
- R-branded seats, centre console plaque door scuff plates.
- Flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with perforated leather handgrips.
- Automatic lights and wipers, plus LED running lights and tail lights.
- Six-speaker audio with USB and Aux-in, satellite navigation and electrically folding screen.
- 384 litre boot and folding rear seat.
Unfortunately, because the RCZ is underpinned by the platform of the previous generation 308, it still shares much of its dashboard design with that car.
That means the interior decor isn’t as up-to-the minute as the impressive set-up found in the funky new 208, 2008 and the coming 308 range.
The finishes are impressive though, the red-stitched dash looks a treat, and there’s lots of chrome and brushed metal dotted through the interior.
The steering wheel is buttonless - instead a pair of multi-function stalks behind the wheel operate audio and cruise control.
The sports-profile wheel might be a bit mundane to look at but is perfect to hold, with thumb rests and grip-pads in all the right places.
One thing that has changed, is the front seats.
These are proper sports seats - drop down into them and the firm and aggressive bolsters will grip your hips and shoulders, keeping you in place no matter how hard you fire into bends.
They aren’t ‘one size fits all’ though and lack adjustment at the sides. This means short drivers might feel hemmed in by the tall wingbacks, while bigger frames will bemoan the fairly narrow bum basket.
You’ll also find the electric adjustment and seat heaters of the standard RCZ have disappeared. Call it weight saving if you like.
Handily if you really don’t like your kids or friends, there's a very compact rear seat for two that will push their heads up against the rear glass and their knees somewhere behind their ears.
Better to just make use of the folding seatback for any long items you might carry.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.6 litre turbo four cylinder: 199kW at 6000 rpm and 330Nm from 1900-5500 rpm.
- 10mm lowered suspension, widened track, stiffened springs.
- 380x32mm front rotors mounted to aluminium hubs, four-piston Peugeot Sport-branded calipers.
- Twin-scroll turbo, heat treated block, Mahle Motorsport forged pistons, polymer coated con-rod bearings.
- Six-speed manual, Torsen front differential.
You could be easily fooled into thinking the RCZ R is a just another stylish commuter device, such is its cultured and relaxed demeanour round town.
Make no mistake though, given a chance to stretch its legs, the R can really hammer out the pace. It is much more the racecar than the rest of the RCZ range. That’s thanks to an engine that is re-worked from the block up and designed with motorsports duties in mind.
With 199kW available at 6000rpm, there’s plenty of reason to play at the top end of the engine’s range - in fact we ran it past 6500 easily and without running out of puff.
Numbers? How about 124kW per litre, or 155kW per tonne, or maybe 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.9 seconds will make an impression.
What gives it out-and-out tractability though is 330Nm of torque, available from 1900 to 5500rpm. This backs up the RCZ R with willing punch right through the rev range.
A bare hint of lag down low turns into sublime turbo rush above 3000rpm - just how a hi-po turbo should be.
While the engine is the star of the show, there’s also a revised handling package that also steps things up. Stiffer by 14 percent up front and a massive 44 percent at the rear, the suspension is certainly 'track-focused'.
While you'll feel it on rougher surfaces, it endows the R with incredible levels of front-end grip.
Peugeot traditionalists with fond memories of the 205 GTi will also love the rear end; step off the throttle and the RCZ R is easily coaxed into mild and controllable mid-corner oversteer.
Nothing like the days of yore, but still good enough for a giggle - the trade-off though is a rear that stubbornly refuses to blot bumps at low speeds.
Front-end grip is unflappable; feed power in through corners and the wider track bites into the tarmac while the Torsen front differential sends power where it needs to be.
Test the limits and you'll find hints of torque steer and axle tramp, just enough to remind you of the storm brewing under the bonnet.
While you’re at the wheel, be sure to pay attention to the brilliant steering with firm weighting and crisp, precise turn-in. Feedback is good and the whole system complements a chassis that is poised and driver-focused.
The noise piped into the cabin fits the picture perfectly too - a deep bellow that builds with revs to a rasping top end. (From outside though, the twin pipes sound a little lacklustre, better to keep the windows up.)
Open road cruising for the RCZ R is less of a strong suit. Combine the in-cabin noise (a fair shriek at a constant 2800rpm doing 110km/h) with huge levels of tyre noise from the otherwise abundantly grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tyres, and you might want to consider another form of transit for long-haul weekends away.
Click here for thorough coverage of engine and suspension changes.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: Dual front and side airbags, active bonnet for pedestrian protection, load limiting seat belts (all seats) with front pretensioners, plus front and rear seatbelt reminders.
Electronic aids include stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist and hill start assist.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
At this end of the market there’s no real set format, so rivals come as coupes and hatchbacks with rear, front or all-wheel-drive.
Audi’s TTS provides similar power, but adds AWD and costs a bit more. Or, for just a few more dollars, you could find yourself in a more powerful BMW 235i or the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.
There’s also the front-wheel-drive champion, Renault Megane RS 265, particularly if you’d like a wallet full of change.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Sadly for this hot little Pug, the poser image of the form-over-function RCZ may dim the reputation of what is an otherwise very deserving performance coupe.
For lovers of driving - real, wheel gripping, horizon chasing, apex glancing, involved drives - the RCZ R delivers in spades.
We like it immensely. It is a car that is greater than the sum of its individually impressive components.
Importantly this car signals a return-to-form for sporty Peugeot models. Expect to see more of this depth of commitment to come - consider the RCZ R a clear statement of intention.
But if the value of a heavily reworked package is enough for you, then the RCZ R’s carefully crafted engineering focus, and palpable improvements over its stock donor should be enticing enough.