When we drove the Peugeot RCZ last year, we loved it so much that we jumped at the chance to try out its range-topping model, the RCZ R.
Given a serious working over by Peugeot’s specialist motorsports arm, Peugeot Sport, the RCZ R posts some pretty lofty performance figures, and it’s the most powerful production car you can buy from a French brand at the moment. You know things are getting hardcore when phrases like “carbon fibre” and “used in F1″ are dripping off the spec sheet.
But is it necessarily an improvement? We’re finding out…
While the overall look of the RCZ is pretty stunning there were a couple of details we didn’t really get on with when we drove the diesel version. The first of these was the silvered rails that form the roof pillars and the good news is that these are gone in the R, replaced by a pair of matte black offerings. The difference this makes can’t be overstated, especially on a black car such as the one on test – no longer is the passenger space set apart from the body, rather it’s tied to it.
Also disappearing on the R is the retractable rear spoiler because it’s now a fixed unit. It’s not a particularly gaudy one and in all honesty we drove the regular car with the wing deployed most of the time anyway, but it does somewhat alter the pretty smooth lines at the back of the car. It’s easier to wash though!
Thankfully, much of the rest of the car is unchanged. The bubble roof remains – now finished in carbon fibre rather than a plain black panel – and with the rest of the car finished in a high gloss Nera Black it has a pretty menacing appearance. There are little accents here and there to enhance this, such as Xenon headlamps, unique “R” alloys, massive two-piston brake calipers finished in red and polished twin tailpipes.
To go with the distinctive exterior, the R gets its own interior too. There’s essentially no change to the layout whatsoever aside from the spoiler position button being replaced with an “R” badge (one of nine we spotted), but the materials and particularly the seats are unique to the R.
Pretty much everything you can lay your hands on is trimmed in black leather with red stitching. The sports seats themselves are part Alcantara, part leather with, as you can probably guess, red stitching (and more R logos) and the rear seats are finished to match.
There are still some foibles with scratchy plastics low down though, again the most noticeable being the trim piece that sits on the transmission tunnel and the panel around and between the rear seats.
Retaining the RCZ’s layout means retaining that rather chunky and weirdly cheap folding sat nav screen which we’d rather wasn’t there. It also means borderline inaccessible rear seats but since few people can actually sit in them, accessing them shouldn’t be much of an issue. The sports front seats have made getting into the back even more of a difficult task – they’re even a little awkward to fold yourself round to even get into the front.
There is though plenty of room for front seat occupants and the pretty good boot remains unchanged. Storage space elsewhere is not terrific and the glovebox is still too small for anything larger than a DVD boxset and what cubbies there are can only barely fit a smartphone.
The R’s engine is something of a party piece. It’s a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the same as you’d find in a Citroen DS3 or a Mini, but somewhat more potent. It throws 266hp to the front wheels. This engine produces a huge 166hp per litre – and no, that’s not a typo.
This is the first sign you’ll get of Peugeot Sport’s involvement in the car and if you’re not a fan of engineering, skip ahead to the next paragraph. The power output is achieved for the most part by a new twin-scroll turbocharger designed specifically for this application, but this is backed up by some pretty serious reworking of the majority of components. There’s F1-grade forged aluminium pistons for a start, while the engine block itself is heat treated before it’s even been milled.
The net result is way more power than is strictly necessary and it has been tweaked to give peak torque from a little under 2,000rpm through to 5,500rpm. There’s no noticeable turbo lag and power delivery is frighteningly linear. 0-60mph is done in under 6 seconds and the car is limited to 155mph – a top speed we have no reason to question at all.
We’re not too convinced by the 44.8mpg combined figure claim though. Even if you can avoid flooring the accelerator at every opportunity, 40 seems optimistic and over the week we had the car we didn’t even manage to beat a 30mpg average. More mature drivers may see better results.
It’s not all good on this front and we’ll deal with the frowns first. The regular RCZ is amazingly firm but, with excellent torsional rigidity, you don’t really notice bumps so much as surf their crests. The R is firmer, almost to the point of it being wearing to drive. Those of us with a little too much post-Christmas padding will become acutely aware of the constant jiggling of outlying body parts.
All is forgiven once you get onto twisty roads and get into a rhythm: the RCZ R is a fabulous driver’s car. Part of Peugeot Sport’s efforts have been to make the rear far stiffer than the front. By changing the spring stiffness and roll bar thicknesses, Peugeot has made the RCZ R able to tuck into just about any corner on the road at whatever (legal) speed you choose.
Indeed we never really got to find out what the car’s limits are on the road even on wet and occasionally icy Northern roads in January because they seem to be far beyond what qualifies as reasonable behaviour – and probably far beyond most drivers’ limits. It would make an excellent track toy on that basis alone, but you’re probably going to need lots of run-off if you do discover where that limit actually is. We didn’t even manage to ignite the traction control light, despite serious effort put into it.
The meaty steering has no guesswork behind it either, but nor does it struggle around town, at least once it has warmed up a little bit; we did find it would complain when crawling off the driveway early in the morning. The prodigious power means overtaking is eay and the brakes are both excellent at scrubbing off a great deal of speed all at once while avoiding the bite of modern over-assisted pedals.
Value for Money
It’s something of an oddity, in that the RCZ R sounds a great deal more expensive than it actually is.
Considering it wears Peugeot Sport’s name and has polymer coating on the con-rods, F1-grade pistons and a carbon fibre roof, you’ll be forgiven for thinking this is a £45k car – or more. It’s a 266hp coupe after all.
In fact the car on test had a book price of £32,000, and that’s a lot of car for not a large amount of money. You won’t find an Audi TT with as much power within £8k of this price – but don’t leap out of your chair just yet. There’s more to the price than you think.
For a start, the RCZ R is a halo car in the sense of performance rather than luxury and you’re going to miss some kit available in other models in the range. Those sports seats are manually operated and not heated, for instance, in order to save weight; the R is 140kg lighter than the next model down. There’s no reversing camera either, although there is park-assist radar (displayed on that unpleasant centre screen).
And then we should mention running costs. The RCZ R wears four Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tyres in pretty chunky 235/40 R19 size, and these are £172 each at our preferred tyre outlet. The press car we received had worn the front ones down to just 4mm in only 1,900 miles (at best, if they were its first set), which makes for an eye-watering £1,500 a year on front tyres for average mileage. Perhaps motoring journalists are not the kindest of souls on cars, but even so…
It’s a stunning driving toy, backed up with equally stunning looks for a price you’re going to have to check twice just to make sure it’s not too good to be true. That said, it probably is – it doesn’t make any sense as a daily driver thanks to the firm ride.
However it’s pretty likely you won’t care all that much once you’re actually driving it. It’s acceptable enough around town that, so long as you’re fit enough to clamber in and out of it, you’ll put up with the ride just for the prospect of getting it to the open road. Ever looked at a National Speed Limit sign as an invitation to enjoy yourself? You will in the RCZ R – probably right up to the 12th point on your licence.