Not quite the best fast front-drive car of the moment, but a damned good one – and more involving than most

What is it?

The Peugeot RCZ-R is the fastest and most powerful Peugeot production car there’s ever been – and it couldn’t arrive in UK showrooms at a better time. With a highly credible Volkswagen Volkswagen Golf rival now on the market in the shape of the new Peugeot Peugeot 308, the French manufacturer’s reputational stock will be rising. 

Meanwhile, enthusiasts like you and me can only have been buoyed by last year’s very respectable Peugeot 208 GTI hot hatch. Some of us also vividly remember the incredible sight of a Peugeot obliterating the course record at Pikes Peak. Suddenly, anything looks possible from this company.

The new hot RCZ-R was built by the same people that made Sébastien Loeb’s record-breaking hillclimber: the motorsport specialists at Peugeot Sport. They've done a thorough engineering overhaul here. The car has wider tracks and rims, new trick suspension pick-up point and wheel geometry, 380mm performance brake discs and a Torsen locking front differential. 

Unlike some fast Peugeots the last decade or so has brought, the RCZ-R is absolutely no half-measure.

What's it like?

It proves quite civil and unimposing just bumbling along a British B-road. The ride’s short and taut but seldom harsh – it’s probably quieter than an entry-level RCZ on a big set of optional rims – and the damper tuning’s excellent, allowing just enough suppleness to take the edge off. The diff’s torque-sensing talents mean you don’t even know it’s there most of the time. There’s no camber reaction or wheel fight redolent of, say, a Focus RS Mk1 to contend with.

There is, however, an abundance of steering feedback to savour. It’ll be a lot to do with the wider, stickier tyres, firmer springs and firmer bushings. Whatever the causes, it’s wonderful to find a new car with steering so simply done and expertly judged, ready to drag you into the driving experience by your fingertips.

The RCZ-R’s engine is better revving beyond 5000rpm than trading mid-range blows with the modern 300lb ft 2.0-litre turbos with which it must compete. Let it spin and that engine does make this car feel seriously quick. Just not quite quick enough to keep up with, say, a BMW M135i. RCZ-R buyers will need to understand there are punchier options available for the money.

But there’s little that combines such pace with quite so much poise and sporting thrill. The chassis shuns roll and grips very hard on turn-in. Mid-corner, you’re aware that – just as in lesser RCZs – the front wheels of this car are the ones marking the limit of your speed. You’d say the car could be a smidge better balanced, and that the diff could act more aggressively on the overrun, giving those front wheels extra impetus to tuck in.

But through the middle and late stages of a bend, this car comes into its own. On the road the diff chimes in quite smoothly, but ultimate lets you lay on power sooner, and in greater quantities, than you’d dare believe to begin with. There’s little steering interference – just enough to let you know what’s going on – and consistent lateral grip even in slippery conditions.

Should I buy one?

If you’ve got even half a hankering, indulge it. Paris has produced something really convincing here, and deserves a little bit of a hallelujah moment. A RenaultSport Mégane Cup has a tiny hint more handling vigour and a Volkswagen Scirocco R is more refined and usable. 

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But this Peugeot is more than livable-with; you won’t need the commitment of a tarmac rally champion to see the case for chopping in your VW for a significantly more vivid driving experience in the RCZ-R. It’s what we’d do.

Peugeot RCZ-R

Price £31,995 0-62mph 6.1sec Top speed 155mph Economy 44.8mpg CO2 145g/km Kerbweight 1355kg Engine 4cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged petrol Installation Front, transverse, front-wheel drive Power 267bhp at 6000rpm Torque 243lb ft at 1900-5500rpm Gearbox 6-speed manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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DBtechnician 17 January 2014

Best Peugeot for years

Great effort I wish Peugeot luck with the this model.
The inside looks fantastic, the roof is very stylish and must be very expensive to produce, the engine gives outstanding performance for its size. Given Peugeots recent financial position this car represents a substantial investment given the small market for cars this size.
Personally I think this car has a lot going for it & would consider one if I was in the market for a smaller car.
Ofir 16 January 2014

Should have gone further

They should have gone further and shed at least another 50 KG even by removing the rear seats and side airbags. Those who want to pose in comfort can buy the 160/200 hp models or the diesel for that matter. A missed opportunity. 208 GTI is nearly half the price and almost as fast due to being lighter.
michael knight 16 January 2014

Future Classic

Love it - looks like Peugeot have finally started to rediscover their Mojo. Only just in time.
They could do with an interior refresh on the RCZ at the same time, but it bodes well for future Pug Motorsport road cars. 308R should be a cracker.