Peugeot RCZ review
With concept car looks and a sporty driving experience, the Peugeot RCZ is a left-field alternative to the Audi TT.
Few small coupes will turn as many heads as the sleek Peugeot RCZ. Launched in 2009 and facelifted in 2013, the stylish Peugeot has even the upmarket Audi TT and bold VW Scirocco beaten for crowd-stopping kerb appeal.
Yet look beneath the racy looks and classy interior and you’ll discover humble Peugeot 308 hatchback underpinnings. As a result the Peugeot RCZ delivers four-seat practicality, surprisingly low running costs and an attractive price tag that undercuts the Audi TT.
The Peugeot RCZ is also powered by a familiar line-up of engines. Petrol models get a the 1.6-litre THP unit in 156bhp, 197bhp and highly tuned 266bhp guises, while the only diesel engine available is the punchy and frugal 163bhp 2.0 HDI.
There are four trim levels to choose from – Sport, GT, Red Carbon and R. The entry-level Sport model comes with all the essentials, while the GT adds leather trimmed and heated seats, plus 19-inch alloys wheels for an extra £2,400. The GT is also available with the smooth and responsive 197bhp 1.6-litre THP petrol engine, which also gets revised front suspension for even sharper handling.
The recently introduced Red Carbon model gets the same engine choice as the GT, but will set you back an extra £1,500. However, this additional outlay buys a vast array of upgraded kit, including sat-nav, xenon headlamps, metallic paint and a distinctive carbon red finish for the dashboard.
Sitting at the top of the range is the extremely rapid Peugeot RCZ-R. Based on the GT model, this very special machine features a heavily modified 1.6-litre petrol engine and substantial suspension upgrades. The result is one the most exciting and engaging front-wheel drive cars money can buy – although at £32,000 it’s not exactly cheap.
Our choice: RCZ THP 200 Carbon Red
Good design is what coupes are all about, and the RCZ is no exception. Launched in 2009, it caused a stir with its outrageously good looks and sports car stance. The double-bubble roof and bare metal roof pillars help the Peugeot ooze concept car appeal.
A recent facelift has incorporated the brand’s new family face, meaning the upper grille is now smaller and neater, and sits above a wider, wing-shaped intake. More angular headlights add to the unique look of the RCZ. If you want to attract attention, it still takes some beating.
So it’s a shame the dramatic design doesn’t continue inside. The dashboard is carried over from the previous-generation 308 hatchback, with the only noticeable tweaks being limited to revised trim around the gearlever and on the doors. Still, the circular air vents and dashtop clock add interest, while the stitched trim covering the dashboard adds an upmarket touch.
Even so, there are too many fiddly buttons and the switchgear feels cheap and flimsy compared to the solid build quality of the BMW 2 Series. You’ll find plenty of room up front, though, and there’s lots of equipment included as standard. You get heated leather seats and climate control, plus Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.
Entry-level Sport RCZs get air conditioning, alloy wheels, a USB port for iPods and rear parking sensors as standard kit, whereas GT models get leather trim and front parking sensors thrown into the deal. The Carbon Red model adds distinctive interior trim materials, sat-nav and xenon headlamps for a modest £1,500 premium over the GT.
The hottest Peugeot RCZ, the RCZ R, gets its own styling to underline its performance credentials, with bigger forged 19-inch alloy wheels, matte black roof rails and a fixed rear wing. The sporting theme continues over to the interior of the RCZ R, and owners are given some racy red stitching, a pair of figure-hugging front seats, and the short-throw gearknob from the excellent Peugeot 208 GTi hot hatch.
If you want a Peugeot RCZ for its concept car looks more than pure driving thrills, then either the lower powered 156bhp 1.6-litre petrol, or 163bhp 2.0-litre diesel should suit. Drivers seeking a more involved experience with their RCZ should opt for the 200bhp 1.6-litre petrol, which feels more nimble and has its own front suspension geometry and quicker steering.
The Peugeot RCZ R with its 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds and a rear suspension that's 44 per cent stiffer than the 200bhp car, feels completely different. Due to its higher level of engagement it should appeal to the more hardcore driver. While it offers buckets of grip in the dry, the RCZ R can be unforgiving in the wet if you are brave enough to switch of the electronic stability control.
Yet the RCZ R delivers much more than more power and a stiffer suspension set-up. For instance, the front brakes come from the brand’s 206 WRC rally challenger, while the engine internals have been lightened and strengthened with exotic materials such as titanium.
Furthermore, the limited-slip differential at the front axle prevents there being too much torque steer or wheel spin. It displays impressive composure and suffers virtually no body roll, while the sharp, direct steering is backed up by a slick six-speed manual gearbox and decent brakes.
Push this car hard, and you’ll find loads of reassuring grip, helped by the electronically activated rear spoiler, which rises at speeds above 53mph and helps boost stability. The RCZ is certainly more agile and engaging to drive on twisty roads than the ageing Scirocco, and it even gives the rear-wheel-drive BMW 2 Series a run for its money.
Plus, the ride is smoother than we expected from the low-profile 19-inch tyres, although things do deteriorate quickly over poorly maintained roads, with the suspension crashing into larger potholes. Buyers looking for a smoother ride should stick to the softer Sport with its 18-inch wheels.
Low-slung leather sport seats and a lower centre of gravity give the Peugeot more of a sports car feel than the hatch-like Scirocco or grown-up 2 Series. It also provides plenty of seating and wheel adjustment, which means a great driving position – although taller owners may be concerned by the high-set pedals and lack of an off-clutch footrest.
The RCZ hasn’t been crash tested by EuroNCAP, but it only features four airbags as standard; the BMW and VW offer six each. Still, stability control is standard, as are automatic lights, while xenon headlamps and tyre pressure monitoring are available on the GT as part of the £680 Vision Pack.
Peugeot has struggled with reliability and quality in the past, but recent improvements by the brand are starting to reap rewards. For starters, the RCZ finished in 20th place overall in our 2014 Driver Power satisfaction survey, while the firm’s 2008 crossover model was placed just outside the top 10. But perhaps the most remarkable turnaround in form was reserved for Peugeot’s dealers, which rose from 26th position 2013 to ninth in 2014.
As you’d expect, there’s a price to pay for the Peugeot’s sleek looks and low-slung stance. The rear is cramped, with seats that are too upright to be comfortable and a sloping roof line that offers very little in the way of headroom. Still, there’s enough room for small children, plus the seats can be used as handy extra storage for luggage.
Not that you’re likely to need it, because the RCZ provides a surprisingly spacious boot. It’s not as deep as the VW Scirocco’s, but offers 309 litres of capacity, and when you fold the split rear seats, you can increase that to 760 litres.
Elsewhere in the cabin, you’ll find a decent amount of storage space, including handy door bins and a number of cup-holders. As with all Peugeots, though, most of the RCZ’s glovebox capacity is eaten into by the fusebox.
Strangely, the flagship Peugeot RCZ R model returns better economy figures than the THP 200. On the combined cycle it manages 44.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 149g/km, as opposed to the 1.6-litre THP 200's 42.1mpg and 155g/km of CO2.
If, however, you want to spend the least amount of money at the pumps, then the Peugeot RCZ with the 2.0-litre HDi engine is the one to go for with a combined economy of 54.3mpg and a CO2 level 135g/km.
Other good news about the Peugeot RCZ's running costs, comes in the form of firm residuals which come as a result of strong used demand.
However, while the RCZ isn't as costly as an Audi TT or Volkswagen Scirocco to run, don't except it to be as good as its German rivals in terms of overall quality.