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 Golf rival now on the market in the shape of the new 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.