R Rated: the Peugeot RCZ R reviewed

New cars Peugeot Reviews
The Peugeot RCZ R is a reminder that Peugeot knows how to make a thrilling performance car. Which is potentially great news for the 208 and 308. Bring it on

The new Peugeot RCZ R is quick. And by that we mean properly quick. A 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds and a top speed limited to 155mph highlights RCZ’s immense pace. But these are just figures on paper. It’s out on the road where it really counts. And this respect, The RCZ R offers licence-losing potential.

A more driver-focused Peugeot RCZ is an interesting proposition. On the one hand, it’s the RCZ the enthusiasts have always yearned for, with the pace and dynamics to match its undoubted potential. But you have to wonder how many of the 10,000 or so people who have bought an RCZ in the UK have actually demanded a sharper, more focused car.

By Peugeot’s own admission, the RCZ appeals to the kind of buyer who puts luxury and style above all else. It’s a trend the brand is experiencing across the range, with the top trim Allure and Feline models seeing a 30 per cent increase in sales.

The Peugeot RCZ R is an altogether different proposition. To coin a well worn cliche, it’s a bit of an animal.

Sweet spots

Side profile Peugeot RCZ R

That Peugeot has managed to extract 270bhp and 330Nm of torque from a lowly 1.6-litre turbocharged engine is a remarkable achievement. But in standard form, the front-wheel drive RCZ simply wouldn’t be able to cope with its newfound injection of power.

So the ride height has been lowered by 10mm, the brake discs are a massive 380mm diameter and 32mm thickness, the 19-inch wheels are wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 235/40 tyres and the springs have been stiffened. But the most significant upgrade is the Torsen differential, designed to ensure the front-end locks tight and the rear-end follows obediently around corners.

It works.

Capture the RCZ R’s sweet spot powering out of a bend, and it’s as rewarding as any sensibly priced rear-wheel drive hero. Yes, all the planets need to align, but on the occasions when the RCZ R achieves cornering perfection, it’s a genuine butterflies in the pit of the stomach feeling.

On other occasions, there’s a hint of understeer, but this is soon kept in check by the diff. And the more speed you carry through the corner, the more the back-end seems to hunker down, aided by the fixed rear spoiler, which helps to increase the amount of rear downforce.

The entertainer?

Rear of Peugeot RCZ R

In fact, just about everything Peugeot Sport has done to the RCZ R seems to make a difference. Compared to the top-spec RCZ, the weight is down by 17kg, and as a result, the coupe feels more agile and willing to entertain. Be in no doubt, this is no soft-focus, badge-engineered overhaul.

It would be foolish to name it the most entertaining road-going Peugeot of all time. The likes of the 205 GTi, 306 Rallye and 405 Mi16 have the heritage – and the ability – to knock the wannabe top cat from its perch. But it’s by far and away the most exciting Peugeot in over a decade. And perhaps crucially, it gives us hope that Peugeot will deliver a more exciting version of the 208 GTi. And just think what could be achieved with the excellent new 308

That’s not to say the Peugeot RCZ R is perfect. Because it isn’t.

Having spent a week with the new Peugeot 308, the RCZ R’s interior is a bit of a letdown. Like the standard RCZ, it’s based on the old 308, which is beginning to show its age. The sat-nav unit feels dated and the lack of a touchscreen infotainment system puts it at odds with the rest of the range. And oh how the RCZ R would benefit from the new 308’s small steering wheel and raised dials combination.

Bedford rascal

Peugeot RCZ R interior

On the plus side, the Nappa leather and Alcantara sports seats are excellent and the driving position is first rate. It’s a sea of black, with red stitching, plus a smattering of ‘R’ and Peugeot Sport logos throughout the cabin. Although we could do without the metallic ‘R’ plaque on the centre console, which feels like it has been lifted from a discount motoring store.

There are no such doubts over the exterior, which is executed to perfection. The matt black roof arches, the titanium-tint xenon headlights, the 19-inch alloys and the red brake callipers signal the RCZ R's intent. It's just a shame that Peugeot has decided against fitting black door mirrors as standard. At £180, this appears like penny-pinching. But we do approve of the discreet R badging on the alloys and boot lid.

If you’re not convinced by the photos, you need to see it in the metal. And judging by the amount of turned heads we noticed as we took an impromptu detour via Bedford, the RCZ R is suitably different to the standard car to get noticed. After four years on the market, this is no mean feat. And such things matter in this sector.

Mercury Grey Peugeot RCZ R

So it’s a car that commands attention on the streets, but it’s also a performance car that demands attention from the driver.

On the country lanes of Bedfordshire - ravaged by the elements for the past three months - the RCZ R was a real handful. The ride firm enough for your passenger to be seen reaching for the number of the nearest chiropractor. It’s less of an issue for the driver, who’s often blissfully unaware of the potholes peppered along the nearside of the road.

But that said, any driver attempting to make full use of the 270 horses will need to keep on top of the ‘squirrelling’ caused by the rough surfaces. It’s when the front-wheel drive nature of the beast is most apparent, with the RCZ R requiring constant inputs on the steering just to remain in a straight line.

Things are greatly improved on smoother surfaces, where the RCZ R becomes a thrilling B-road companion. The key factor is the torque, with the maximum 330Nm available from 1,900rpm to 5,500rpm. With such a wide power band to play with, cornering becomes an absolute joy.

Lion meets Puma

Rear of 2014 Peugeot RCZ R

So confidence-inspiring are the brakes, you’ll soon be charging into bends, late braking, and using the throttle to help steer an immensely satisfying path through the bends. And the immense torque will ensure you’re swiftly on your way to the next corner. In so many ways it puts us in mind of the Ford Racing Puma. Huge amounts of grip, a total lack of body roll, terrific steering and a firm yet assured ride. But unlike the Racing Puma, the Peugeot RCZ R isn’t lacking in power.

According to Peugeot, nearly 200 orders have been received for the £31,995 RCZ R, although we suspect that many of these will be dealer demonstrators. But even so, that shows confidence that the dealers can see a potential market for the hardcore RCZ.

But that price - is £32k too much to ask for what is undeniably a well-sorted performance coupe? That’s £10k more than the cheapest RCZ and a full £5k more than the 200bhp GT. Well on the evidence of our first drive, it’s worth every penny. And according to Ed Callow on Twitter, it could be available for a smidgen over £27k. At that price, you really should be taking notice.


You'll already know that the rear seats are useful only if you happen to have two small pygmy marmosets for children, but there's a decent amount of boot space, so for empty nesters, it's a surprisingly practical proposition. And - if you're able to resist the lure of the snarling soundtrack from the exhaust, it may be possible to extract as much as 44.8mpg on a combined cycle. See, we told you the engine was pretty remarkable.

It may have taken the best part of three decades for us to be able to say this again, but the RCZ R is proof that the lion does indeed go from strength to strength. If the Peugeot RCZ R is anything to go by, performance Peugeots just became desirable again.

The Peugeot RCZ R - the most exciting Peugeot you can buy. And one that hints at an even more exciting future.

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