Peugeot’s motorsport department has taken their TT rival and done things to it.
Day one: Getting into the RCZ for the first time is odd. It’s low and if you’re a bit lanky you set your seat to the right place and then find the dash is too far away. It feels like a piece of furniture that’s been pushed up against the far wall. This sideboard effect is increased because what would have been the centre dash vent in lesser 308s is an oversized clock. It’s not a good start. The RCZ isn’t based on the new 308, which is quite pleasant, it’s based on the old model, which was cock. Despite this, on first impressions it feels quite good to drive.
Day two: Peugeot Sport has made many changes to this car compared to the standard RCZ. It gets a stronger block, bigger turbo, larger intercooler, racing pistons, tougher gearbox, stronger clutch, bigger brakes, wider tracks, stiffer springs, and a Torsen diff. Also, a slightly tacky R badge beside the handbrake. The net result of all these very racy changes is that it feels… normal. This is a compliment. You’d think extracting 266bhp from a 1.6-litre engine would make it stroppy and unpleasant to drive in town. It doesn’t. The ride isn’t terrible either.
Day three: A work assignment in Oxfordshire and a chance to drive the RCZ on some proper roads. It’s pretty brisk, this car, and it goes round corners extremely well. There’s very little roll and very much grip. As you power through fast bends you get a sense of the car digging in and faithfully tracking where you want it to. Also, at low speed the steering is reassuringly heavy and without much self-centring, sort of like you get in a Porsche. I suspect both these things are down to the tricksy front diff.
Day four: Some more razzing around The Cotswolds. Sometimes under power on an uneven road the RCZ weaves about a bit and feels quite old skool torque steery. The downside of the fancy diff I suppose. It’s not a massive problem. Not compared to, say, being unable to push some of the dash buttons without leaning forward.
Day five: Give my mate Andy a lift in the RCZ. Andy isn’t very interested in cars. It takes 10 minutes before suddenly he says, ‘Hang on. Is this a Peugeot?’ It is. ‘If you’re the sort of person who buys a Peugeot,’ he continues. ‘What are you going to want with this?’ He’s got a point. Peugeot used to be quite dynamic. Now they’re mostly like stairlifts. Yes, they move. But not in an exciting way. The R, because it’s a bit lively, feels like it might be way off target audience. I mean, you don’t see many RCZs around as it is, do you?
Day six: A window cleaner comes round. ‘That your Peugeot?’ he asks. I tell him it is, sort of. He says some nice things about it and then dismisses it as a girl’s car so I’m not sure if he likes it. I’m sure he’d like running his squeegee over the rear window which is saucily curved in a quite a buttockular way. There are a few nice design touches on this car and it’s generally rather good looking. Only the nose spoils things. It seems to have about seven things going on, and none of them quite right.
Day seven: There are, I’m sorry to say, several things wrong with the RCZ, starting with two specific faults on this press demonstrator. Firstly, something in the back of the interior rattles. Secondly, the brakes squeak. It’s intermittent but annoying to the extent that the other day in town I stopped braking just to make the noise go away and then realised I was about to drive into the back of a Toyota. There are some fundamental problems too. The cock-eyed driving position for one thing, and the way the windscreen vents reflect in the screen on sunny days. Oh, and the sat-nav that takes longer to programme than it does to get you there.
Goodbye: Farewell sporty Peugeot. As a car to drive the RCZ R is generally pretty good. It also suggests that Peugeot hasn’t forgotten how to build fun cars rather than grey mush for buffoons. As a car to own, however, it’s harder to endorse. It’s too flawed and too old, never mind that it costs 32 grand and you’d never see that back again. It’s a valiant but ultimately pointless effort.
The car talked about here is a Peugeot RCZ R. It has a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine making 266 horsepower. Peugeot says it can go from 0-62 in 5.9 seconds and is limited to 155mph. It costs £31,995.