Road test: Peugeot RCZ-R - big money ambitions come close to reality

so is sports car Pug Porsche-Cayman-good? No, but it gets closer than you would ever have thought possible.

So is sports car Pug Porsche-Cayman-good? No, but it gets closer than you would ever have thought possible. Video: Neil Briscoe
Peugeot RCZ R
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Year: 2014
Fuel: Petrol

Peugeot sits, as a company, at something of a crossroads. 200 years on from its formation as a maker of tools and kitchen implements, its 20th century dalliance with car making shuddered and shook this past decade as faltering sales and plunging profits saw come dangerously close to failure.

That has at least been averted for now, but nonetheless, figuratively speaking, Peugeot stands looking one way and another along a variety of possible routes. Really, it needs to try and mould itself into the same quasi-premium slot currently solely occupied by Volkswagen, something that would give it the chance to sell its cars for higher prices, with more profitable options fitted to them. Making the move from mainstream to premium is a route fraught with difficulty, and really only VW has ever successfully managed it.

While the vast corporate edifice of Peugeot stands at the roadside, considering its options, a small skunkworks within has somewhat different ideas. It’s powering through that very crossroads, on the wave of an angry bark of tyre noise and a streak of cherry-red paintwork. If Peugeot must realistically weigh up its options carefully, at least for a moment it’s going to cut loose and remind itself how to have some automotive fun. Welcome to the RCZ-R.

Peugeot’s new RCZ-R with those figure-hugging sports seats
The RCZ-R’s ‘double-bubble’ roof that pays homage to sports racers of the 1960s

The RCZ coupe we’re familiar with. Launched in 2010 to modest commercial but significant critical success, it gave us the first inkling that Peugeot really could swim among the sharks of the premium pool. Low slung, dramatic and with a gorgeous ‘double-bubble’ roof that pays homage to sports racers of the 1960s, it could stand toe-to-toe with the iconic Audi TT in pretty much any arean. However, a choice of 200hp petrol or 180hp diesel engines never really felt like quite enough. The RCZ would need to hit the gym to convince us that it could seriously compete as a drivers’ car.


That’s why we now have the RCZ-R. The R signifies that Peugeot’s engineers have tinkered and tweaked the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine (familiar in its basic form to anyone wh’s ever driven a Mini Cooper S) so that it now develops a whopping 270hp. Combined with a diesel-like thump of 320Nm, that’s enough motive power to push the RCZ-R from standstill to 100kmh in 5.9secs.

That however, is not the best thing about the RCZ-R.

Is it the styling then? The mid-life facelift that took away the gaping radiator grille (which made it look rather like Batman’s The Joker in full cackle) wasn’t an entirely successful one in these eyes, as it made the car look rather too fussy. Still, it sits lower than a robot vacuum cleaner, that double-bubble roof is still gorgeous and the matte-black finish to the roof and pillars makes a gorgeous contrast to the glowing, cherry-red paint job.

Nope, still not the best thing about it and neither are the body-hugging leather-and-Alcantara seats, nor the handsome clock in the centre of the dash nor the practical boot sitting beneath that big rear wing - now fixed in position rather than adjustable as in the standard RCZ.

No, the best bit is the steering. For more than two decades now, we have been castigating Peugeot for not producing a car as enjoyable to drive as the original 205 GTI. Some have come close but none have yet managed to live up to that lofty standard. Well, not until this RCZ-R came along. It has one of the best steering systems that I've ever held in my palms. Quite aside from the lovely tactility of the leather-wrapped, flat-bottom wheel, it just feels as if Peugeot has somehow managed to remove all the cotton wool and rubber that apparently blights the steering of most other cars. The RCZ-R's steering feels astonishingly delicate, responsive and absolutely full of feel. You can actually feel the treads of the front tyres squishing and rebounding as they adjust to the tarmac beneath them and it even jiggles and writhes occasionally in the manner of an old Porsche 911. It is brilliant.

The rest of the chassis can just about keep up. Clearly, a car based on the old front-drive 308 hatchback is never going to be able to deliver the sorts of driving sensations that an actual Porsche can manage, and never mind how good the steering is, but the RCZ-R gets amazingly close.

A little more flex in the springs, to allow the car to breathe over bumps rather than skip over them would make it an even more devastating twisty road weapon but it still manages to display excellent grip and balance in almost all conditions,as long as the bumps on the road aren’t asking too much of the dampers. Is it Porsche-Cayman-good? No, but it gets closer than you would ever have thought possible.

Which brings us to the thorny issue of the price. Yes, the RCZ-R is a strictly limited edition and yes it’s been breathed on by the experts who created Sebastian Loeb’s amazing 208 T16 Pikes Peak racer. Even so, €52,000 is a heck of a lot of money to pay for a car with a lion badge on it. That the RCZ-R gets close to justifying that price tag is demonstration enough of its talents.

Put it this way - if you think of it as an Audi TT rival, then it’s very, very expensive. Think of it as a Porsche Cayman rival, which it very nearly manages to be, and it’s an astonishing bargain. Consider the roads crossed.

The lowdown:

Peugeot RCZ-R

Price: €52,995

Power: 270hp.

Torque: 320Nm.

0-100kmh: 5.9sec.

Top speed: 250kmh

Claimed economy: 6.3l/100km (44.8mpg)

Co2 emissions: 145g/km.

Motor tax: €390.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring