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First drive: 270bhp Peugeot RCZ-R

Peugeot straps the world’s most potent 1.6 into its bum-roofed coupe. We cling on

What’s this, then?

Only the most powerful French car… in the world.

What, more powerful than a Bugatti Veyron?

No. The Veyron is not French. It is German and you know it. And though the RCZ-R doesn’t sport a 8.0-litre W16 engine - packaging issues, apparently - it does boast a notable powerplant of its own: a 1.6-litre turbo four making 270bhp. Which makes it the most powerful 1.6… in the world.

Goodness. That’s approximately 168.75bhp per litre! How did Peugeot manage that?

By handing the RCZ over to Peugeot Sport, its Paris-based race division responsible for, among other projects, the 908 Le Mans racer and this summer’s record-shattering 208 T16 Pikes Peak car. So they know a bit about (a) turbocharging and (b) going fast. And Peugeot Sport has gone to town with their box of motorsport bits: the RCZ’s 1.6 gets a bespoke new twin-scroll turbo, F1-spec aluminium pistons, toughened con rods and low-friction bearings.

And four-wheel drive?

Oh no. The RCZ-R remains proudly front-wheel drive, with a new Torsen differential helping control torque steer. It sits 10mm lower than the standard car, on a wider track. Its dampers have been retuned, and the spring rates beefed by 44 per cent at the rear and 14 per cent at the front. And, while we’re on numbers, the RCZ-R manages 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, with top speed limited to 155mph.

So how’s the drive?

Interesting. On a smooth, flowing road, the RCZ-R is an addictive companion. Though there’s a predictable slug of turbo when you get on boost, the 1.6 generates maximum torque all the way from 1900 to 6000rpm, which, combined with the RCZ-R’s modest footprint, makes this a fine point-and-squirt overtaking device. There’s masses of power just where you want it, a muscular surge accompanied by a satisfying snort from the turbo.

And does it torque-steer like an utter ba-

Actually, no. Once the tyres are up to temperature, the RCZ-R is far from the worst in that regard. The steering is pleasingly weighty, less nervous-quick than most modern set-ups, and there’s plenty of bite and stopping power to the uprated Alcon brakes. The six-speed manual, too, is snappier than that of the stock RCZ.

Is there a ‘but’ on the way?

Only a bit of a but. The RCZ gets itself into a gentle mess when you really launch it through 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 control wakes up and shuts down all the silliness. I’m not the sort of driver who habitually switches TC off, but I found myself doing so in the RCZ-R.

Even without electronic interference, the RCZ-R feels a slightly imprecise implement in the knottiest hairpins, certainly less adept at holding a tight line than, say the Corsa VXR Nurburgring. But in truth you need a very empty road and near-pathological commitment to uncover this imprecision. Out in the real world, you’re unlikely ever to notice.

So it’s a winner then?

Hmm. Maybe. We know the phrase ‘we’ll have to wait till we get it on UK roads to find out’ is overworn to the point of threadbare, but… we’ll have to wait till we get it on UK roads to find out.

On the glossy tarmac of our South France test route, the RCZ-R’s ride remained just the right side of acceptable, but anything less than an ideal road set both its nose and tail jiggling about. It felt like the same syndrome that afflicts the JCW Minis, a short-travel bumpiness that sends the wheels skittering around rather than clinging onto the road.

If it feels as unyielding as we suspect it might on bad British tarmac, that could leave the RCZ-R caught between two stalls. A rock-hard ride would be (just about) forgivable had it set out its stall as a no-holds-barred track-thing: a GT3 RS, as it were. But in other regards - the plush cabin, the measured steering, the oddly exhaust (what we’d give for a bit of bit of Mini-esque chunter from the twin pipes) - the RCZ-R seems to be aiming more for rapid GT-coupe than fighty track-day special.

How much does it cost?

A fiver under £32,000, which sounds a lot for a 2+2 Peugeot. But the RCZ-R gives you the same power as an Audi TT S for four grand less, and it’ll be cheaper to run, too: Peugeot quotes economy of 45mpg, along with emissions of just 145g/km - 10g/km less than the 200bhp RCZ, interestingly. And what price can you put on giving a sanctimonious nod to the next Veyron driver you encounter at the traffic lights? You bought the most powerful French car in the world. They didn’t.

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