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Peugeot RCZ R review (2014 onwards)
Peugeot RCZ R: summary
Peugeot cranks the RCZ’s 1.6 turbo engine up to 270hp and calls on Peugeot Sport to overhaul the chassis – this is the RCZ R, and it’s got the Audi TTS right in the centre of its sights…
What: Peugeot RCZ R
Where: Nice, France
Date: November 2013
Available: on sale now, arrives January 2014
Key rivals: Audi TTS, Volkswagen Scirocco R, Nissan 370Z, Renault Megane Renaultsport, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Toyota GT86
We like: great to drive, intriguingly characterful engine, subtly enhanced looks, definitely a grower
We don’t like: ride could prove choppy in the UK, interior not quite Audi quality
Peugeot RCZ R: first impressions
The RCZ R coupe is the fastest, most powerful car Peugeot has ever offered – but it doesn’t want to shout about it. Yes, the look is tougher, with 19-inch wheels, matt black roof arches, a fixed rear wing and those twin exhaust pipes. But it’s not as 'in yer face' as you might expect a 270hp range-topper to be.
There is real credibility simmering just below the surface here
Yet, the RCZ R is also the first Peugeot to make explicit use of Peugeot Sport, the French firm’s racing division. You know, the guys and gals responsible for Sebastien Loeb’s Pikes Peak record-smashing 208 T16, amongst many other projects.
Real credibility is simmering just beneath the surface here, packed in tightly around the overhauled chassis. And the deeper you delve, the more interesting it gets. That 270hp? It’s provided by a 1.6-litre petrol engine – heavily turbocharged of course, but still, a one point six.
The RCZ R is also refreshingly free of artificial enhancement. There’s no flappy-paddle gearbox, no variable weight steering or suspension or driving modes, no torque vectoring electronics. Just a mechanical limited-slip differential, an uprated six-speed manual gearbox, and electronic stability control you can switch all the way off.
Peugeot RCZ R: performance
You don’t get 270hp out of a 1.6-litre engine without putting the effort in, and Peugeot has certainly gone to great lengths in this case. Although the cylinder head is the same as other 1.6 THP engines – and therefore similar to 1.6 turbos employed by BMW-MINI and Citroen – the rest of the RCZ R’s motor is new.
The obvious starting point is the enlarged twin-scroll turbocharger. But in order to cope with that, everything else under the bonnet has to be stronger. So the block is heat-treated, and there are special Mahle Motorsport pistons forged from Formula One-grade aluminium, harder con rods and low friction bearings.
This is a remarkably flexible engine
Helping the gases flow there’s the usual direct injection, dual variable valve timing and variable valve lift, plus a unique steel header, an upgraded catalytic converter and that dual-exit exhaust – which also provides the bass to the turbo’s whooshing, urgent high notes under hard acceleration.
You’d anticipate a certain amount of lag, given the big blower and the small engine – and you’d be right. Pulling away from hairpins there’s a momentary lull, waiting for the turbine to wake up. Something you can overcome with cruelty by slotting down into first or using your left foot on the brake to hold the car back as you increase the revs. Or by simply accelerating earlier and hanging on.
What’s more unexpected is that the turbo doesn’t then come in with a massive bang. Although different in character to a larger capacity unit, this is a remarkably flexible engine, producing a lovely, rich 243lb ft of peak torque all the way from 1,900rpm to 5,500rpm, before hitting peak power at 6,000rpm.
Standing-start acceleration isn’t astounding – 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds on paper feels about right in real life. But you have to remember the RCZ is only front-wheel drive; once up and running and in the meat of that torque band you’ve got a mighty amount of poke under your right foot, and a chassis that’s keen to make the most of it. There's lovely, strong, snicky gearbox action, too.
Peugeot RCZ R: ride and handling
The standard RCZ is by no means a bad-handling car; it's notable for its impressive grip levels and distinctively eager front end. But you don’t have to understand engineering to see that Peugeot Sport had a very different take on how the RCZ R should behave – the changes aren’t just comprehensive, they’re clearly focused.
The whole car is 10mm lower, the track wider, the dampers retuned. But while the front springs are 14% stiffer, the rear spring rate has been increased by a massive 44%. The rear anti-roll bar is also thicker, whereas the front anti-roll bar has actually been reduced.
Together with wider wheels and specific geometry settings, this has created a coupe that’s now better balanced front to rear. While it can still turn into corners with eye-popping conviction, the RCZ no longer feels as if it’s being led by its nose. And it’s a quicker, more playful car as a result.
Over dry, smooth surfaces, traction is excellent. You can occasionally detect the Torsen limited-slip differential tugging at the steering wheel, but it never causes the car to deviate significantly from your chosen line, and for the most part seems beautifully judged in relation to the weight of the steering – digging in and dragging you through the corners, rather than working against you.
Incidentally, Peugeot says it chose a mechanical differential over the latest whizzy electronics-based alternatives because those use the brakes to control wheel slip – which means, however imperceptibly, they’re slowing you down. Thus, even the RCZ R’s stability control is optimised for maximum velocity.
The RCZ R draws you in with warm enthusiasm and genuine ability
With very little body roll, it can carry a huge amount of speed through sweeping bends. But it’s also neatly throttle adjustable – bung it in, lift off and it tightens its line. Really bung it in, and you sense it will probably do much more than that. So although we have absolutely no complaints about the awesome French mountain roads of the test route, the RCZ R is begging to be let loose on a racetrack.
We can’t tell you how it will react in wet conditions – with so much power going through the front wheels, it could get exciting – but this is far from being the hard-edged handful the spec sheet initially suggests. Instead it draws you in with warm enthusiasm and genuine ability; it's a car that we think you could easily come to love very much.
The only fly in that particular potion may be the ride quality. The standard RCZ is already firm, and the R is stiffer with even less damper travel. While it never crashed over French bumps, we certainly noticed them, and British tarmac could prove an entirely more challenging proposition.
Peugeot RCZ R: interior
Like the outside, the inside of the RCZ R is subtle rather than dramatic. There’s a smart, supportive set of Peugeot Sport-developed seats, plenty of highly crafted R badges and a heavy black-with-red-stitching theme. Enough, without being overwhelming.
Beyond that it’s RCZ business as usual, which means some occasionally unimpressive plastics and a big windscreen pillar to see around. But you do get plenty of kit – including sat-nav – a satisfyingly low-set driving position, a 321-litre boot and a pair of rear seats perfect as perches for small children (if little else), which fold down to increase carrying capacity still further.
Peugeot RCZ R: economy and safety
Peugeot Sport’s first overt attempt at a road car
For all those horses and torques, somehow the RCZ R claims 44.8mpg combined on the EU testing cycle and emits just 145g/km CO2 – 10g/km less than the 200hp version. It’s 17kg lighter, too, in spite of the larger wheels and bigger brakes, not to mention 19% more aerodynamic, with a lower centre of gravity.
The brakes feature Alcon four-piston calipers and 380mm ‘floating’ discs at the front, showed no sign of fading on the road, and can apparently stop the RCZ R from 80mph in under 61 metres.
The lack of creaks or rattles from the structure also suggests the RCZ, with its curving roof spars, is very strong. All of which joins the four airbags, stability control and fine handling to augment the coupe’s safety credentials.
Peugeot RCZ R: the MSN Cars verdict
With the proviso that bumpy UK roads may yet prove its undoing, the RCZ R isn’t just the most powerful Peugeot ever, it’s also one of the greatest.
From the taut styling to the taut, engaging chassis and that wonderfully unlikely engine, it gives every impression of being a car that would become a superb long-term companion. Even the running costs are sensible.
At £31,995, it’s aimed squarely at high-power hot hatches as well as the £36k Audi TTS and just discontinued Volkswagen Scirocco R. It will also give the Nissan 370Z and Toyota GT86 something to think about.
As Peugeot Sport’s first overt attempt at a road car, it is very much 'mission accomplished'. One of the surprises of the year.
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