What is it?
Peugeot calls this the first of a new range of ‘special cars’, meant to add an edge of exclusiveness to a French marque better known for big-selling small cars.
The company, celebrating its 200th anniversary as an industrial entity this year, is in the throes of a product re-think and a change of styling direction, and the RCZ is meant to show off these new aspirations.
The idea has been to combine the proven but relatively simple mechanicals of the PSA transverse front-drive “platform 2” cars - which include the Peugeot 308 and Citroen C4 - with a much-admired two-plus-two coupe shape of the Peugeot RCZ concept unveiled at the Frankfurt show just over two years ago, to make a £20,000-plus model that poses the first French threat for years to the Audi TT and VW Scirocco.
To go with the sporty shape, Peugeot offers three relatively powerful engines, two versions of the same 1598cc petrol turbo engine, producing 154 and 197bhp respectively, and a 1997cc turbo diesel that makes an impressive 161bhp.
The diesel’s peak torque of 251lb ft (at 2000 rpm) easily exceeds the high-power petrol engine’s 203lb ft at 1800 rpm. There are two model lines, a mid-spec Sport and a high-spec GT, both of which can be ordered with any engine.
Only the low-powered petrol unit is offered with a six-speed automatic; the others come only with a six-speed manual stick-shift.
Prices for the RCZ, which goes on sale late in May (though the 197bhp version will be a couple of months later) range between £20,450 for the lower-powered petrol Sport, to £25,050 for the GT THP200, the model tested here.
Production is handled by Magna Steyr in Austria, and around 20 per cent of the 15,000-a-year production (50 per cent diesel/petrol) is earmarked for the UK.
What's it like?
Short answer: it’s another good Peugeot. After some lacklustre models, the company has recently started launching good ones: notably the decent 3008 crossover and the impressive 5008 MPV.
The RCZ is instantly impressive for its sheer road presence. RCZ project manager Marjorie D’huillier says every effort was made to capture the show car’s looks in production, and it has worked. The RCZ looks much better, much more exotic with its forward cabin, metallic cabin rails and race-bred double-bubble roof, than any rival.
The interior isn’t quite so special. It’s oka: a logical layout and bright work make it seem more upmarket than previous Peugeots, but there are few surprises. However, the cockpit is roomy in front, and access is easy through big doors.
Peugeot makes a big issue of the car’s overall practicality - pointing also to the impressive boot which practically doubles in size when you fold down the (very) occasional rear seats. Less impressive are the ultra-thick windscreen pillars and the somewhat oppressive black headlining in some versions.
On the road, it’s a fun to drive car, with neat handling, plenty of grip (our car had the optional 19-inch wheels running 235/40 tyres) and nice steering. But it’s not really a car for the hard-core enthusiast. It’ll always understeer when pressed, and there’s a shade more body roll than you expect, to signal the fact that the spring rates are only mildly sporty, leaving room for a fairly supple ride through the suburbs.