The Peugeot RCZ is one of those rare beasts - a car that made an almost seamless transition from concept car to showroom model. The RCZ-R adds the urge that the normal RCZ has always cried out for – and the result is something even greater than its parts, as DEON SCHOEMAN finds out.
Let’s not argue about the visual appeal of the Peugeot RCZ. Its detractors might say its streamlined contours and arced roofline are too reminiscent of the Audi TT to be truly original. But in the metal, the RCZ is nothing like the German sportster – in fact, it’s unlike anything else out there.
As I’ve pointed out before, its mechanical allegiance to the mainstream 308 hatchback means that exotic looks don’t translate into astronomical acquisition and servicing costs. In fact, just like all Peugeots it’s covered by a five-year maintenance plan.
As for performance, the RCZ is rapid, its talents divided between engaging handling and a decent turn of speed – although with 147 kW of turbo-assisted power from its 1,6-litre engine, progress is swift rather than red-hot rapid.
That, and the fact that it might be almost too pretty to be taken seriously in purist performance terms, has handicapped the RCZ’s standing as an involving machine, and led many petrolheads to consider it a soft option – a problem ironically shared with the TT.
The reality is that the RCZ is fun to drive. The chassis set-up is more than competent, and nicely balanced with the engine’s lively output. And the cockpit offers all the right tactile and ergonomic elements to ensure a close rapport between car and driver.
All of this is important because the RCZ is the point of departure for a car that still ticks all of the above boxes, but adds real vim, and a more aggressive mien, to the original equation. It’s called the RCZ-R.
One of the spin-offs of events like the recent Johannesburg International Motor Show is that it compels brands to bring cars to our shores that may otherwise only have arrived on our shores much, much later. The RCZ-R is a case in point.
It took some bowing and begging for Peugeot SA to release this car, the only one in the country, for me to drive – and to include in a feature on performance cars due to be broadcast on RPM TV early next year. But it was worth the trouble – even more so than expected.
The RCZ-R is not a special-edition model, offered as a once-off in limited numbers only. It’s a genuine addition to the RCZ line-up. Peugeot seems to have cottoned on to the fact that arch-rival Renault has added real lustre to its bread-and-butter cars with a its performance-focussed Renaultsport models, because there may be more R-editions of existing models in the future.
It’s not difficult to spot the differences between the new, hungrier RCZ-R and its normal sibling. The R hunkers down lower and more menacingly, while the wider 19-inch wheels add to the coupé’s more planted and purposeful stance.
Those wheels are unique to the R, with matt black accents, and featuring a milled ‘R’ logo. The characteristic roof arches, usually decorated in brushed metal, boast the same, ominous matt black finish, while the headlamps get a darker tint.
Behind the spokes of the front alloys, red callipers draw attention to the fact that bigger brakes and larger discs have been added to match the uprated performance of the coupé. The rims, by the way, have also been designed to assist with efficient brake cooling.
But perhaps the most obvious departure from the RCZ aesthetic norm is the big wing at the rear, promising more downforce and stability during high-speed cornering, and thus suggesting that there’s more to the R-apparel than more macho looks.
It’s partnered by a rear diffuser that provides the perfect home to the twin large-bore exhaust tailpipes – another performance-specific clue.
If, after all of that, you’re still not sure what the RCZ-R is all about, stepping into the cockpit will leave you under no illusions. The predominating hue here is black: big, heavily bolstered black bucket seats promise the kind of support only required when cornering with intent.
The thick-rimmed steering wheel is dressed in a mix of leather and suede-like Alcantara. And the heft and action of the short-throw manual gearbox is emphasised by the solid alloy gearlever knob.
The deep-set, analogue instrument dials are carried over form the normal RCZ, as is much of the switchgear. The low-mounted seating position, and the coupé’s high waistline, mean that once ensconced behind the wheel, you feel part of the car. And yes it feels special and exclusive, with a strong tactile appeal that has you champing at the bit to find out just what the RCZ-R is capable of.
The specifications are promising – so much so that the output figures seem too ambitious for a 1,6-litre engine. The factory figures promise 199kW – 52kW more than the standard car, and enough to set a new specific power record of 125kW/litre.
The accompanying torque peak of 330 Nm is also admirable, more so because it’s sustained along a broad plateau that extends from 1,900 rpm to 5,500rpm. That’s a lot of shove for a small engine, even a turbocharged one.
But it’s the claimed CO2 emissions figure of just 145 g/km that’s perhaps the most astonishing – although I’d be surprised that such thrift would be achievable by anyone intent on exploring the Peugeot’s capabilities.
One of the contributing factors is a weight saving regimen that seen the RCZ-R shave off some 17 kg compared to its normal sibling. The resulting power-to-weight ratio of 155 kW/ton is perhaps the most telling statistic when it comes to the RCZ-R’s dynamic talents.
That, and the rather more animated growl of the engine when you turn the key, and the starter whirrs the four-potter into life. There’s a zest and a zing to that sound, underplayed by a sonorous growl, that confirms the two-door’s performance intentions.
Despite all these positive signs, there’s still the lingering doubt that comes from wondering just how Peugeot’s engineers have managed to squeeze so many horses from such a small engine – and a suspicion that the amount of turbo boost involved will surely result in loads of turbo lag.
And lag there is – but only momentarily so. There’s the slightest of hesitations as the turbo spools up and initial momentum is forced to rely on the four-potter’s unassisted muscle … and then the boost kicks in, delivering all the power you could wish for.
Okay, so let’s be realistic. In pure power terms, several hot hatches have already crossed the 200 kW power barrier, so that kind of urge channelled to the front wheels isn’t anything new. Nor will it transform the RCZ-R into a Ferrari-bashing monster.
But it does endow the slimmed-down, harder-sprung, altogether sportier RCZ-R with the kind of muscle it deserves. It means that the chassis, fine-tuned to provide extra agility and response, can be pushed much closer to its considerable reserves, and that driving swiftly becomes driving hard, and fast.
There’s sufficient tractability on offer here to allow easy commuting through town, or relaxed cruising on country roads. But that’s not what the RCZ-R was designed for. Its best savoured unleashed and running free.
The Peugeot knows how to make full use of its special little engine. Progress is rapid in straight-line terms, and the four-pot mill revs with a willingness that sees it knock into the limiter at around 6,500rpm all too easily. For once, you don’t feel like short-shifting – no, you want to use the full offering or revs.
Straight-line stats are certainly rapid: a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.9sec, a 14.1sec quarter-mile, and a governed top speed of 250km/h.
But it’s in the corners that the RCZ-R really shows its colours. The steering, deemed on the light side of responsive in the standard coupé, has been given real weight and purpose, so that there’s some meaty action on the wheel when the first twists loom.
A Torsen limited-slip differential is the second, telling change: it allows all that muscle to be utilised meaningfully even during cornering, without simply capitulating too tyre-screeching understeer. It allows the car to slice those curves right on the intended apex, and to maintain a sense of real manoeuvrability, even when giving it stick.
It’s a task that requires some welcome effort on the wheel, while the lively chassis isn’t shy to tell you exactly what it’s doing. The bespoke Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres contribute plenty of grip, but there’s enough lateral movement and liveliness to keep car and driver entertained.
Grip levels and composure are high in absolute terms, to the extent that switching off the stability control still won’t turn the RCZ-R into an unruly beast. The chassis communicates its intentions with lucid honesty, and you can drive the pants off the car without much danger of ploughing into the scenery.
Clearly, the many tweaks applied to the suspension, including different spring rates and The uprated brakes add the necessary stopping power to the RCZ-R formula, ensuring that rapid and stable deceleration is always on offer – useful when you encounter a logging truck chugging along at 20km/h on the other side of a blind corner …
The Peugeot RCZ-R exudes a certain vitality, an unbridled enthusiasm that demands to be explored. It’s still no match for a Porsche Cayman in outright dynamic terms, but there’s a closeness of involvement, a standing invitation to drive with gusto, and to be enthralled by the process. It’s the kind of car you keep on inventing excused for just to drive one more time.
There’s no indication of price as yet – European sales will start early next year, and South Africans can expect SA-bound cars to arrive around mid-year, at best. Global demand is expected to be strong, so pricing won’t be cheap
But this is easily one of the most entertaining front-wheel drive coupés I’ve experienced in a long time – a car that exudes passion, and rewards at every turn of the wheel. And if this is to be the first of many R-badged Peugeot’s, the fun seems likely to continue