Regardless of what you think about the Peugeot RCZ, if you’re a petrolhead then you should be mighty pleased that it exists. Because, although the RCZ is far from perfect, it represents a clear turning point for Peugeot and is quite possibly the first genuinely desirable Pug in a decade. Who knows, maybe Peugeot will shortly be making a car that finally puts an end to the tiresome ‘is it as good as a 205 GTi’ comparison used for modern hot hatches?
But back to the RCZ and in particular, the GT THP 200 that I recently had on test. It has been labelled, perhaps somewhat unfairly, as a poor man’s Audi TT, but in my opinion it probably deserves to be known as a thinking man’s Audi TT. It has the same amount of presence on the road, shows more design flair and adventure and, against the TT at least, is something of a bargain. I use this word with caution, because at £29,485 with options, the RCZ I drove could hardly be called cheap. A price knocking on the door of £30k is a lot to ask for what is to all intents and purposes, a two seat Peugeot. But there are nearly 3,000 RCZs on the roads of Britain, so they’ve clearly found favour. What’s more, the GT THP 200 comes with a high level of standard kit, with a similarly specced Audi TT 2.0 S-Line weighing in around £35k. So if toys are your thing, the RCZ can make a strong case for itself over the TT.
As an example, the GT comes with, amongst other things, front and rear parking sensors, electric and heated leather sports seats, automatic lights and wipers, 19″ ‘Sortilege’ alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control. Of the £3.5k of optional extras fitted to my test car, the ‘Vision Pack’ consisting of xenon self levelling and directional headlights and tyre pressure sensors looks like good value at £680. I’d also recommend opting for the brilliant NG4 Connect media navigation pack. At £1,470 it isn’t cheap, but the system is one of the best pieces of manufacturer-fitted kit I’ve experienced. The NG4 is controlled via the centre console, with the display popping out from the top of the dashboard. Through it, you control your music, handsfree mobile phone and sat nav. Once you’re familiar with it, the control system is intuitive and I found the sat nav to be very good.
So, the RCZ scores highly in terms of price and level of equipment. But what about the all important area of exterior styling? For a sports coupé, kerbside appeal is a major selling point and in a sector that includes the TT and Scirocco, the RCZ has strong competition. It’s a subjective issue of course, but I happen to think the RCZ’s exterior styling is brilliantly executed. The ‘double bubble’ rear window and roof may divide opinion, but shouldn’t design create a response? It’s features like these that help the RCZ to stand out and I say hats off to Peugeot for allowing a key part of the original concept make it through to production. As designer Boris Reinmöller said on twitter last year, “the bubble shape on the rear window wasn’t easy to get through”.
For sure, the front end is a little too corporate and the Peugeot badge looks like it would be more at home on a Boxer van, but you can’t really blame the company for wanting people to know this is a Peugeot. Besides, the side profile is quite lovely, as is the straight rear and rear ¾ view. Blimey, an attractive Peugeot? We haven’t been able to say that since Pininfarina penned the design for the 406 Coupé.
There’s more good news on the inside too. For anyone familiar with Peugeots, the interior will be instantly recognisable, so it isn’t exactly adventurous. But the optional full integral leather pack adds leather to the fascia panel, the side and central armrests and the centre console surround and helps to add a level of quality to the inside. However, some pieces of plastic trim are a little on the cheap side and were already showing signs of wear, even on the test car. The handbrake lever is also ridiculously huge and totally out of keeping with the otherwise elegant interior. Strangely, it never feels totally disengaged, which is probably down to the size of the leather gaiter needed to shroud the lever. Also, the single cupholder is poorly positioned. I wonder if an electronic handbrake could be an option in the future, freeing up some space and allowing for a more complete solution to the section between the seats?
Speaking of which, the GT’s sports seats really can’t match the RCZ’s sports coupé promise. They lack support during a spirited B-road drive and aren’t particularly comfortable over long distances. Some research on the owners’ forums also suggests that they’re not particularly hard wearing either. Maybe the Asphalt special edition with its upgraded sports seats would fare better?
One area where the RCZ scores highly is the engine. It’s available with a 163 bhp diesel unit or choice of two 1.6 litre engines, one with 156 bhp or, as in my test car, 200 bhp. Opinions are split on whether 200 bhp is enough for the RCZ, but for me it is. For a 1.6 litre engine, the RCZ is quite a punchy thing and yet still manages to return a combined MPG figure of 40.9. Also, by emitting just 159 g/km of CO2, the GT THP 200 only costs £155 a year to tax. Clearly, Peugeot has fallen on the side of economy and efficiency and, given the need for most of us to cut costs, who can blame them? I’m genuinely very impressed with the THP engine. Although it doesn’t quite have the all round brilliance of Volkswagen’s 1.4 TSI unit, it provides a fantastic mix of performance and efficiency. It’s worth remembering that you’ll also find it in Citroën’s DS3 and C4, as well as the Mini Cooper S.
I became quite addictive to the noise of the engine too. Although it’s blatantly obvious that Peugeot has artificially tuned the acoustics, the throaty note brings a spirited drive to life and ultimately means you’ll spend more time accelerating through the rev range than you probably should. What was I saying about maximising economy and efficiency?!
Sadly, the engine is not the only thing that feels artificial with the RCZ, the overall driving experience is too. That’s not to say that the RCZ isn’t fun, as it really is. But there’s an undeniable and overriding feeling that the car’s been electronically engineered, rather than mechanically. A true drivers’ car should put you at the heart of proceedings and make you feel that you’re in control and in this respect the RCZ misses the mark. It does have phenomenal grip and there’s a complete lack of body roll, so it’s great fun to chuck about, but there’s little in the way of involvement. The gearbox has a neat, snappy gear change and the seating position is excellent, but the RCZ is let down by a lack of feel through the pedals and the steering wheel.
But in fairness, I’m not sure the vast majority of Peugeot RCZ buyers will be that fussed. It does a whole host of things very well and if it misses being a true drivers’ car, it does so by a small margin. After some decidedly lukewarm efforts in recent years, things aren’t going to change overnight. OK, who am I trying to kid, after some decidedly awful efforts in recent years, things are definitely not going to change overnight. But the RCZ gives us hope. Hope that Peugeot can return to form and I for one will be crossing my fingers and praying they do so. The world needs exciting Peugeots.
This world will also need to have patience too because, as previously alluded to, the RCZ is far from perfect. Regardless of whether you buy the RCZ as a true drivers’ car or not, there are one or two niggles you’ll have to put up with. To start with, open the boot lid after a bit of rain and you’ll find the contents enjoying a bit of a shower. A case of design overriding function perhaps, but in fairness, the same thing happened to my old Ford Puma. Also, according to the enthusiastic people on the Peugeot RCZ forum, there’s a bit of an issue with the door mirrors. Apparently they have a habit of filling with water and corroding the inside of the mirror. You’ll notice this when streaks of rust start forming a vertical line down they shiny new paintwork of your RCZ. There is a cure and it involves a hairdryer and a certain degree of patience. I wonder how many TT drivers can be seen at weekends blowing hot air into their door mirrors?
A number of the other issues pointed out by owners seem to be personal opinions rather than specific problems. There are a lot of happy RCZ owners out there.
And happy they should be, for in my book, the RCZ is a cracking little car. It may not have the brand appeal or the overall quality of an Audi TT, but it’s more individual and has a bucketload more flair. It’ll also retain 41% of its value after three years, which compares with 50% for an equivalent Audi TT or 46% for a Volkswagen Scirocco. In short, you’ll save around a £1k for a standard RCZ GT over a TT at purchase, but will get around £3k less for it in three years. So a net loss of £2k in 36 months, which equates to £55 per month. A small price to pay for individuality and you mustn’t forget that the RCZ comes with more kit as standard. Food for thought, isn’t it?
So there we have it, the lion no longer sleeps tonight. It’ll need to clear its throat a couple of times before we can say that the roar is finally back, but the RCZ is highly likeable and significant car. Too early to call a future classic perhaps, but in years to come we’ll be remembering it with fondess as the car that finally put Peugeot back on the map.
Still, it’s no 205 GTI is it?!