Peugeot RCZ

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Peugeot RCZ R Driven

Driven December 2013

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"Win on Sunday; Sell on Monday" ran the mantra of America's Big Three in the Sixties. Boss the race tracks at the weekend, watch the punters pour into the showrooms for your latest muscle car.

And now Peugeot has adapted the old Yank motto for our modern, quick-moving digital era: Win in June; Sell About Six Months Later. It may not have escaped your attention that Peugeot pulled off one of motorsport's great knockouts this summer, its deranged, turbocharged 208 T16 carving 92 seconds off the Pikes Peak hillclimb record in the hands of Gallic helmsmith Sébastien Loeb. As proof your company knows a bit about fast cars, that's not a bad one.

Problem is that, beyond the 208 GTi, an admirable quick hatch, but hardly a racing thoroughbred, Peugeot didn't have a whole lot of hot road-going stuff to tempt those inspired by its obliteration of a big American hill.
Until now.

This is the RCZ R, the most powerful French car in the world, provided you don't classify the Bugatti Veyron as a French car, which you shouldn't, as it is German. It packs the most powerful 1.6-litre production engine in the world, a turbo four making 270bhp. That's an output of 168.75bhp per litre, more than even the Veyron can muster.
More than that, the RCZ R is the first production model built by Peugeot Sport, the firm's Paris-based motorsport arm responsible for the 908 Le Mans racer and, you guessed it, the Pikes Peak project. It's the first of Peugeot's new double-hot R line, which will sit above the GTi range as Ford's RS models do to ST. Next year, we'll see a 308 R hatch with the same engine, and then a 208 R, which will live north of the 200bhp 208 GTi.

But the RCZ R is more than a badge and a twist of boost. Squeezing 270bhp from a paltry 1598cc of displacement took plenty of Peugeot Sport's know-how. The 1.6-litre has been treated to F1-spec aluminium pistons, a bespoke twin-scroll turbo, toughened conrods and low-friction bearings.
The upgrades beyond the engine bay are subtler but no less thorough. The RCZ R remains front-wheel drive, but with retuned dampers and spring rates beefed by 14 per cent at the front and 44 per cent at the rear. It sits 10mm lower than the standard RCZ, with fatter tyres and a wider track. (During the press conference, the man from Peugeot said the RCZ R's stance made it look "glued to the road like a wild animal". Not sure if you've ever attempted to Pritt Stick a rhino to a dual carriageway, but...)

On the road, the RCZ R proves to be what the French call, I believe, un sac mixé. Yes, it's fast - 270bhp and a constant 243lb ft of torque from just 1,900rpm to 6,000rpm will do that for you. And yes, on a smooth, flowing road, the RCZ R is a damned effective point-and-squirt overtaker. The predictable slug of boost is backed by a surprising willingness to run to the red line, which means masses of power everywhere you want it, a muscular surge accompanied by a satisfying snort from the turbo. In fact, the engine feels not unlike a junior version of the twin-turbo V8 from the Audi RS6. That's high praise indeed.

There's more goodness. Once the tyres are warm, torque steer is surprisingly restrained. The reinforced six-speed manual gearbox is crisper than that of the standard RCZ, and the 380mm Alcon brakes are sharp and fade-free.
However. The RCZ gets itself into something of a mess when you really launch it into a tight corner. There's a predictable smidge of understeer as you throw it in, but, just as the diff starts to shove power to the outside front wheel, the traction wakes up and shuts down all the silliness. And even with electronic interference vanquished, the RCZ R feels slightly imprecise in the knottiest hairpins, less adept at holding a tight line than, say, the Corsa VXR Nürburgring or Megane RS. In truth, you need a very empty road and pathological commitment to uncover this imprecision, but here's the thing: the RCZ R combines said vagueness with a ride so firm we suspect it may require its driver to undergo a lengthy course of psychological counselling before tackling a UK B-road.

On the glossy tarmac of our South of France test route, the RCZ R's ride remained just the right side of acceptable, but anything less than an ideal road set the nose and tail of the RCZ jiggling about in the same calm-down-dear fashion as the biggest-wheeled JCW Minis, a short-travel bumpiness that sends the wheels skittering around rather than breathing over the road.

If the RCZ R feels as unyielding as we suspect it shall on Britain's world-famously crap roads, that rather leaves it caught between two stools. A rock-hard ride would be (just about) forgivable in a no-holds-barred track-thing - a GT3 RS, in Porsche-speak. But in other respects, the RCZ R seems to pitch more for rapid GT-coupe than fighty track-day special. Its seats are pillowy and plush, the steering - though weighty - is far less nervy-quick than most modern set-ups, and the exhaust is oddly muted, without the snap-crackle-pop of the hot Minis or Merc's A45.

The RCZ R is no clunker. It gives you as much power (albeit with two fewer driven wheels) as an Audi TTS for four grand less, is interesting to look at and decently rapid. If it rode with a little less head-banging fury and was badged as a RCZ GTi, we'd salute it as a fine effort. But for a car to launch Peugeot's R-line into a new and dizzying dimension of race-inspired performance, the RCZ R feels a mite... mis-focused. Next year's 308 R, however, might just be a cracker. Win in June; Sell About a Year Later?

Sam Philip

Verdict: A brave effort, and a mighty little engine. But thunking ride and slightly confused brief keep the RCZ R from the top table.

Stats: 1598cc, 4cyl, FWD, 270bhp, 243lb ft, 44.8mpg, 145g/km CO2, 0-62 in 5.9secs, 155mph, 1280kg, £31,995

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