If coups are all about style, then Peugeot has the market sewn up with its RCZ. As the first modern Peugeot to bring real excitement back to the brand its also a car that has attracted attention from enthusiasts and the style-conscious alike.
As a high on chic French style, low on price competitor to Audis TT, how does the RCZ fare? We spent a week with an RCZ HDi in GT trim, and can now bring you our verdict.
Few cars make it from the concept stage to production without significant alterations, but the RCZ, launched in 2010, joins the Range Rover Evoque, Honda CR-Z, Nissan Juke and the original Audi TT in staying true to its concept roots.
Styling is always the most subjective of car criteria, but we think it looks stunning. The long, curved roof beams that look more like a work of engineering than they do a styling flourish, helped by the contrasting aluminium finish.
They flank the RCZs most distinctive feature, the double-bubble roof, which flows down into the rear window. Peugeot says it was inspired by the roof of its Le Mans prototypes, but if anything the detail is more distinctive on the road car – and we applaud Peugeot for pushing it all the way through to production. A neat pop-up spoiler rises from the boot lid at higher (read: illegal) speeds, but can also be operated using a button on the centre console.
The car is also more elegant than pictures suggest, and turns heads like few other cars on the road. This is no doubt helped by its rarity – nobody bats an eyelid at an Audi TT anymore, but the RCZ really stands out among the hordes of hatchbacks.
Could Peugeot have been more imaginative with the RCZs interior? Possibly. Did they need to be? Perhaps not – we had very little cause for complaint with the interior during our test.
The devil is in the details. While the RCZs cabin is very similar to the regular 308 hatchback with which it shares a platform, the ambience is quite different, owing to the high scuttle, low seating position and curved roofline. One of the central air vents makes way for an analogue clock, and the dials have a high-tech, metallic finish that looks fantastic.
Our GT model also had electrically-operated leather seats, embossed with the Peugeot lion logo. They look the part, and after a bit of adjustment of both the seats and the rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, we found a comfortable driving position. The leather trim, and stitched imitation leather that covers the dash, also raise the interior ambience.
If youre buying an RCZ to embark upon long, romantic weekends with your other half – surely the perfect journey for any coup – youll also be pleased to hear that the boot is large and easy to access. The rear seats fold down to increase space further.
Its not all perfect, though. As a 2+2 rather than a full four-seater, the rear seats are occasional at best. With a short passenger youd fit another person behind them, but even relatively short drivers will leave barely any legroom in the back.
We also found that, while it looks attractive, the stitching on the dashboard causes distracting reflections in the windscreen – though curiously enough, the curved rear screen doesnt distort the view backwards too badly, and visibility isnt bad at all for a coup.
Our only other wish would be that Peugeot had added just a few more styling flourishes to the interior. We cant help feeling that the standard Peugeot gear stick would be perfectly replaced by a Ferrari or Audi R8-style open-gate gear lever – something to really make the interior feel special.
Lastly, while the pop-up infotainment display looks the part, it was frustrating to use. The interface for inputting addresses into the sat-nav was fiddly, and even after consulting the handbook we were completely unable to get the stereo to play songs from our iPod. We had more success with a CD, but even that was needlessly complicated.
Lower, wider and grippier than the 308 on which the RCZ is based, it thankfully feels little like a regular hatchback to drive. In fact, its one of the most entertaining Peugeots in years, with meaty, direct steering and huge reserves of grip from its 19-inch wheels and 235-section tyres.
You can really throw it through corners with confidence, even on water-sodden roads – which was lucky, since not a single day of our test was dry! Steering feel isnt at Porsche levels but theres enough accuracy that it rarely matters. Only the cars width can occasionally be an issue – combined with the low driving position, its sometimes difficult to judge the corners of the car.
The aforementioned 19-inch wheels and rubber-band tyres do result in a hard ride, though. Its not bone-shaking and the car never shudders over bumps, but drivers looking for a more comfortable ride might wish to seek out models with smaller 18-inch wheels. You may also find that cars on narrower tyres reduce the RCZs tendency to tram-line over bumps.
The brake pedal was a little soft for our liking, but always pulled the car up sharply, and was easy to modulate for smooth stops.
Like the Audi TT, wed be hard-pressed to call the RCZ a sports car. Instead, wed recommend it as a great Grand Tourer. Its a car in which youd happily drive to the south of France and back, enjoying the speed, refinement and economy, while travelling in more style than cars of significantly greater expense.
Our RCZ was equipped with Peugeots 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine. It develops 163 horsepower at 4,000rpm, and generates 320 Nm of torque at 2,000rpm. You can certainly feel the torque output, and the RCZ pulls strongly from low revs in pretty much any gear – though the engine does its best work above about 1,500rpm.
Peugeot claims 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds, and a top speed of 134mph. The former feels conservative (as is often the case in diesels), and the latter certainly feels attainable, where legal
Well cover economy in the next section, but suffice to say the engine allowed a good mix of rapid progress and impressive parsimony, and the six-speed gearbox meant motorway cruising was an easy and relaxed affair. The engine is happy to take 5th gear from 30mph and 6th from around 40mph, provided you dont ask too much of it – which works wonders for economy around town.
Noise levels are kept to a minimum – theres a traditional diesel rattle at start-up, which quickly settles down to a muted rumble. That grows to a growl under rapid acceleration, but its rarely intrusive.
The gears are well-spaced, but the gearshift action leaves a little to be desired – its accurate but a little notchy. We dont mind some firmness in the shift, but at times it was a little reluctant to give us a gear when changing at a relaxed pace.
Value for money
The RCZ represents great value. Our RCZ in GT trim, with the HDi engine, retails for 25,395. To the casual observer that may sound a lot for a Peugeot, but its worth that for the style alone – youd pay similar for a dubiously-styled rival like the MINI Coupe, although next to the more conservatively-styled Volkswagen Scirocco, the Peugeot is a little more expensive.
Still, consider that the RCZs closest rival in terms of design, the Audi TT, would cost another 6,000 or more with an equivalent diesel engine (and Audis quattro all-wheel-drive system), and you cant help but consider the Peugeot great value. Not only that, but theres not an RCZ on every street corner, either.
The car we drove had three options, detailed below:
Dolphin Blue metallic paint (440) – To us, Dolphin Blue is the RCZs best shade. It works perfectly with the silver roof bars, and shows off the cars stunning lines. Well worth the money.
Onyx Black wheels (210) – The Sortilege wheel design is standard in GT trim, but to upgrade from the regular silver colour costs 210. Again, wed be very tempted – the colour combination looked pretty much perfect on the RCZ.
JBL Hi Fi (420) – The price doesnt seem too bad for a big-name brand, but since weve not heard the standard system, we cant comment on whether the JBL system is worth the extra. Given the complication of simply using the stereo, wed probably advise against it.
The Peugeot RCZ HDi achieves an official EU fuel consumption figure of 53.2mpg combined. It also achieves 41.5mpg in urban testing, and an extra-urban figure of 62.7mpg.
The unrealism of official testing makes these figures difficult to achieve on the road, but we consistently achieved average economy figures of around 45mpg, which we suspect most people would be more than happy with. That took in a mix of driving, from easy schleps around town, to blasts around the Yorkshire countryside, and a few steady motorway journeys of between 70-80mph.
At 70mph, the fairly accurate on-board computer was reading between 50-55mpg, and showing around 40mpg at 80mph. In town we saw figures of below 30mpg in heavy, nose-to-tail traffic – making us question why Peugeot hasnt seen fit to install a stop-start system as found in many other vehicles these days – which really help improve city economy, in our experience.
Road tax is relatively inexpensive, owing to the 139g/km CO2, and band E vehicle excise duty rating. Youll pay 120 for the privilege of using Her Majestys highways for a year in the RCZ HDi.
The chief criteria by which cars must be judged is that of fitness for purpose. The purpose of the RCZ is to function as a stylish, quick, comfortable and economical coup – and it succeeds on all counts. Its certainly talented enough to make someone think twice about spending several thousand more on an Audi TT, and youd also be glad of not seeing a dozen other identical cars on every journey you make.
Preventing the RCZ from a perfect score is the infuriatingly unintuitive stereo system, the lack of a few more special touches in the cabin, and those last few percent of driving interaction that would turn the RCZ from a great car to drive, into a true drivers car.
Its still a very impressive effort though, and a car to make you feel special every time you drive it. Buy one, and book a holiday to the Cte d’Azur
What the press think
The RCZ has been very well received – the press are unanimously positive about the RCZ, and many agree that its a return to form for Peugeot, after a string of uninspiring models.
Criticism echoes our own – its missing that last little dash of dynamic sparkle, and the rear seats really are pushing the boundaries of usability. Still, thats the price you put on style
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