The Numbers

1.6-litre, 4cyl turbo, 199kW, 330Nm, 6sp manual, 0-100km/h 5.9secs, 6.3L/100km

The Topgear Verdict

A well balanced and properly executed performance package. Shifts the RCZ from style to substance.

2014 Peugeot RCZ-R

So, what is it?
A harder, more focused version of Peugeot’s striking RCZ 2+2 sports coupe, produced in collaboration with Peugeot Sport, the company’s in-house motorsport and performance road car specialist.

Why should I care?
Peugeot claims the RCZ-R is the most powerful production car it has ever produced, its 1.6-litre turbo four producing 199kW/330Nm, up from 142kW/240Nm in the manual version of the base car.

In fact, Peugeot says it’s been, “developed as a sports competition model for use on circuits and tracks”, and it doesn’t hang around, running 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds.

What's new about it?
The 1598cc engine is one of several derivatives in the ‘Prince’ family of powerplants, jointly developed by PSA (Peugeot Citroen) and BMW, and until recently used in the Mini. But its development for the RCZ-R has been led entirely by Peugeot Sport and the factory R&D group.

It’s hand built at Peugeot’s Herimoncourt factory, and features a reinforced block, as well as forged alloy pistons and upgraded connecting rods, produced by Mahle Motorsport in Germany.

A retuned exhaust system, including a new steel manifold, has been designed to extract maximum power, and enhance the engine’s note.

The six-speed manual gearbox (no auto) is reinforced through case hardening of key gear elements, reinforced bearings throughout, and double shot-peening of the primary shaft. A dual mass flywheel and heavy-duty clutch also chip in to help beef up the driveline.

There’s a fixed spoiler at the rear in place of the standard car’s ‘pop-up’ active unit, a Torsen limited slip diff, revised dampers (developed in-house), stiffer springs and revised geometry for the anti-roll bars, with tweaks to front toe-in and camber settings.

The ESP has been recalibrated specifically for the R, and can be switched off completely for on-track work. Ride height has also been dropped 10mm and unique 19 inch rims (up from 18s) shod with top shelf 235/40 Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber help extend the front and rear tracks by 18 and 12mm respectively.

Stopping power has been upgraded with the addition of 380x32mm slotted rotors at the front, clamped by sturdy four-piston calipers.

That's all fine. What's it like to drive fast?
The R instantly feels sharper and more determined than the ‘standard’ RCZ. The raspy engine hits max torque at just 1,900rpm, and that pulling power remains on tap right up to 5,500rpm, with power peaking soon after at 6,000rpm.

Power delivery is strong and linear, without a hint of turbo-lag right up to the 6,800rpm rev-limiter, the gearbox is more precise than standard issue, and the standard sports front seats grip firmly without any comfort compromises.

While the steering is relatively light on-centre it loads up rapidly in quick cornering, and delivers excellent feel, especially as the Torsion diff feeds power to the loaded drive wheel. Continue to press on enthusiastically and the R keeps working with you, the taut chassis telegraphing its every move and keeping the front wheels on track. Yes, you can muscle it in to understeer, but it takes a lot of intentionally clumsiness to get there. The brakes are brilliant.

And driving from home to the office in the city?
It might be a track-focused special, but the RCZ-R becomes a civilised tourer or city commuter when the pressure’s off. Engine noise under partial load is muted, ride comfort is especially good for a car of this type, and despite the swoopy roofline, all around vision is fine.

Is there anything bad about it?
If you’re hoping for genuine 2+2 seating practicality, forget it. The rear seats are a no-go zone for adults, with the cool ‘double bubble’ roof profile compromising rear headroom significantly. And if you have legs, you’ll need the cooperation of a driver and front seat passenger willing to get up close and personal with the dashboard before you can jump in the back.

How much would I have to pay for one? And is it worth the coin?
At $68,990, the RCZ-R is exactly $10k dearer than the manual RCZ. Along with all the performance and dynamic upgrades the R retains a healthy standard equipment list including cruise-control, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers and a fold-up colour-infotainment screen displaying everything from audio connections, to sat-nav instructions and phone settings.

The loss of electric adjustment for the front seats is off-set by their sportier profiling, lighter weight and specific leather and Alcantara trim combination.

Close to $70K is getting into serious performance and dollar territory, but demand is likely to outstrip supply anyway, with an initial 2104 allocation of just 30 cars already snapped up by dealers. So get in quick if you want one.

Would you take this or the Audi TT 1.8TFSI?
With the new TT launching locally in the second half of this year, there’ll be the odd run-out deal to be had on the out-going model, and the base 1.8 manual is a lot of Bavarian metal for your money. But the RCZ-R has it all over the Audi in terms of performance and exclusivity. We’d go the Peugeot.

Driven: May 26, 2014