By on January 22, 2016

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As I exit the sleek, svelte coupe and to buy some ice cream, the car is crackling and popping like a campfire doused. I feel there’s something contradictory about this. After what I did for last hour or so — blasting around back roads at speeds far above socially acceptable levels, manhandling the tiller just to keep it straight under throttle, thundering through hairpin turns and using massive traction provided by a limited-slip diff — I should be doing something manly. Chomping on a fat steak and downing a beer; not licking a sweet cone filled with a frozen, sugared dessert. And the car behind me should be a butch, masculine coupe; not a curvy, chic little Peugeot.

It used to be that you could recognize a proper, hardcore sportscar just by looking at it. Defined within the text of The Sportscar Bible was, almost invariably, an exceptionally long hood to tell the world there was an equally massive engine below. Short front and large rear overhangs communicated a message of outrageous power fed aft of the passengers. And the bodywork itself was to be naturally angry, aggressive, and peppered with various scoops, vents and wings to keep cool its mechanical might.

With the RCZ-R coupe, Peugeot conjured its inner Peter Stormare, picked up that holy book of speed and machismo, and hurled it into a wood chipper.

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Peugeot has always been more GTI than GT. The French company has never been in the business of making high-powered, muscular coupes. There’s no model in Peugeot’s history that can be leveraged as inspiration for a hardcore sports coupe, nor for capturing the ingrained nostalgia of those looking to sink money into ungranted pubescent wishes inspired by posters on bedroom walls. That meant starting from a clean sheet of paper to build the RCZ-R – something surprisingly uncommon in this business and contrary to the established lineages of the 911 and Mustang. Even the Toyobaru twins and Alfa 4C are based, more or less, on ancestral spirits.

Of course, that sheet of paper wasn’t bleached-white 20 pound stock. It never is with any modern car — and even less so for cash-strapped maker Peugeot. Therefore, the French marque went with gridded sheets provided by the last-generation Peugeot 308 (and the 307 before that), which dictated the front-engine/front-wheel-drive layout. It’s within those grids that designers and engineers found enough freedom to create the RCZ.

Four or five years ago, the original RCZ was the first car in a dog’s age to give me hope for Peugeot’s future. It put style above substance, yet handled surprisingly well: the steering was lovely, gear changes precise, and the engine — borrowed from a Mini Cooper S — was a marvel. Still, the RCZ was more of a gentleman’s GT than a raw sportscar, and I didn’t expect its R variant to be much different.

More power? Probably. Better traction? Maybe, courtesy of its limited-slip diff in the front. Fake engine noises? Almost certainly, as those have become a staple of fast Peugeots as of late. Needless to say, I didn’t expect an honest-to-goodness hardcore sportscar.

But I got one.

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In today’s world of adaptive suspensions, artificial steering and electronically adjustable throttle response, the super Pug doesn’t even have a sports mode. Or maybe I should say it doesn’t have a normal one. It’s all out, all the time.

Floor the pedal and your tympanic membrane is battered by an engine’s wail that only gets louder when you open the window. The RCZ-R is not an adult actress with aftermarket bolt-ons deceptively vocalizing her pleasure for dramatic effect. Instead, it’s a refined turbocharged four when milling about with the neighbours and surprisingly hungry for jackhammering revs when not.

That’s not to say it isn’t temperamental; the RCZ-R has a mind of its own if you’re not driving atop surfaces smoother than, say, the lens of the Hubble Telescope. Torque steer allies with the wide tires’ tendency to tramline. Steering is a democratic process where you and road undulations get equal votes. It’s like playing with a docile lion: You know it doesn’t want to kill you, but you’re never completely sure.

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The fat tires, limited-slip diff and rev-happy engine to power it all combine to make the RCZ-R a handful, but it’s those same traits that deliver an exhilarating driving experience when pushed hard. The limited-slip diff and fat tires that make the car difficult to keep on a straight line also conspire to provide enough traction to put down 270 horsepower through the front wheels — no easy feat. That same mechanical team is able to utilize every last horsepower and pound-foot of torque without uttering even so much as a single tire screech in protest. Goofing around and wagging its tail isn’t the Peugeot’s forte. It excels at being stupid fast — road conditions permitting.

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Find a great road, though, and you find Nirvana. As your feet dance on perfectly spaced pedals, you start to really appreciate the old-school feel of the RCZ-R’s controls. Blipping the throttle comes natural, as does rowing through its gears. The steering is slightly heavy and one of the last sports cars to have a proper hydraulic assist. It all feels a bit like a sports coupe from the 1990s — but with 270 horsepower.

The RCZ-R is certainly not a soft GT. It’s a true, uncompromising sportscar that requires a real driver behind the wheel. Quite ironically, in age when traction control can save your bacon if you’re a bit too lead-footed in a rear-wheel-drive car, no kind of electronic nanny will help you in the fight against tramlining and massive torque steer. You feel the RCZ-R’s limited-slip diff helping you power through the corners while at the same time knowing it has the potential to send you into a ditch if you cock it all up. In comparison, driving the the current Mustang GT is a calm and steady experience; an old man’s gran turismo.

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Even the interior in the Mustang feels more modern and sophisticated in comparison. The RCZ-R is home to outdated displays and a buttonless steering wheel cribbed from the old 307. It all feels a bit cheap compared to the newest compact Pugs.

Which brings us to the last, and quite massive, problem with this car: price.

In most European markets, you will pay a bit over €42,000 ($45,000 USD) for the privilege of owning the French hooligan. That makes it more expensive than the aforementioned Mustang. You know, the proper Mustang, with the V-8 and GT badges. Or, alternatively, you can buy nearly two entire Miatas.

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But maybe you love fast front-wheel-drive cars. Or maybe you just hate convention and want a sportscar designed from a nearly clean sheet of paper. It’s even possible that you’ll select the Peugeot because you consider the eight-cylinder muscle car to be too soft and timid. Either way, it’ll be a very bold decision. And, ultimately, an admirable one.

Vojta Dobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography: David Marek

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25 Comments on “European Review: Peugeot RCZ-R...”


  • avatar

    These things always reminded me of a European Mitsu Eclipse. Cool car and unexpected from Peugeot.

    • 0 avatar
      MarionCobretti

      Funny that this is the first comment. I own a 4th-gen Eclipse GT, and that’s exactly what I was thinking as I read the article. It sounds like this car is similar both in its charms (raucous motor, nice gearbox, hydraulic steering, 270(ish) hp), and its foibles (torque steer for days, compromised platorm based on more plebian car, same price as a contemporary Mustang GT). Of course, it sounds like Vojta was a little more enamored by the Pug than this site’s founder was with my car back in the day… https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/06/mitsubishi-eclipse-gt/

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Thanks for the review, Vojta, it is always interesting to read about cars that don’t exist over here. It sounds like a little riot.

    But you can tell I’m not a sports car guy when the one of the first thoughts I get is “I’ll bet that double-wave rear window glass is hella expensive to replace if it breaks.”

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I always find comments like this amusing. It will cost whatever your insurance deductible is. And in my experience, cost to repair makes very little difference to premiums. Fixing YOU or someone you hurt is far more expensive than fixing the car.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        It’s a light-hearted comment, don’t be so pedantic. And if you are going to nitpick, you should notice I did not write “expensive for the owner to replace”. I’ve had windshields replaced before, I understand about deductibles.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    One of the worst business decisions I ever made involved a Peugeot 505 diesel wagon. I cannot get past that – it’s like tasting mold on ciabatta bread – no second bites. Lovely lines, however.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    Love that waved roof and rear glass. Otherwise, the car is all Audi TT to me – which is not a bad thing. However, after bad experiences with an Alliance and a Fuego (early 80’s and mid-80’s, respectively) I am in no hurry to even look twice at a Peugeot.

  • avatar
    donyas

    I want one

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “Steering is a democratic process where you and road undulations get equal votes.”

    This is good stuff, Vojta!

    The driving experience described reminds me a bit of a raw-er Saab 9-3 Aero. Not necessarily a bad thing.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    How is this anything other than a funny looking, less reliable Audi TT?

    I am seriously asking. Not that we could buy one in the US for another 25 years…

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Vojta – thank you for a superb example of written art. Your prose was as enjoyable as the subject. Thanks also for avoiding the hammered cliche of referring to an engine as a “mill” … others take note!

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Vojta,
    I enjoyed reading your article. I have seen very few of these on the roads in Australia, but they do exist.

    I remember stopping at a Peugeot dealer what seems more than a few years ago and looked at one, it was expensive I think around $50 000 AUD.

    The car in real life is a fantastic looking vehicle. The vehicle is larger than you would think as well. I didn’t test drive it as I had no interest in buying one.

    Thanks for the good write up.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      I have literally seen more McLaren MP4s around here than RC-Zs. The RC-Zs I’ve seen are mostly on dealer plates. There’s a case for the McLaren. There’s pretty much no case for the RC-Z.

      The problem is this, in the EU, the RC-Z is a competitor of sorts to the Toyota 86 and its hampered by the fact its only two seats and its wrong wheel drive and its vastly more ‘European’ read unreliable. But they are priced about the same.

      But here? It’s almost twice the price of the GT86, with significant drawbacks. So they end up being the dealer principal’s wife’s car.

      Lastly I do like the design overall and I do like the sheer audacity of Peugeot make this car knowing it will end up not making them any money… I think the car may even work better as a convertible. But eh, Peugeot already lose enough money as it is.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Even if I lived in Europe I would not be the target market for this, but I do think it’s just about the coolest French car on the market. Love the look, it’s got character not just another souless hatchback.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    What’s with that weird cutline on the trailing end of each fender. Does this car have a clamshell hod, or something?

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      It’s hinged at the back, so while it’s not quite a full clamshell you do get to see a lot of the internal structure when it’s open. That means the entire front cap is a huge section of plastic, making that nose very pedestrian-friendly in an accident. I note there are also no acute angles in the forward steel, thus preventing the formation of spears upon impact.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I enjoyed this review – extremely well written. This seems like a very interesting car, too, with enough funky styling cues to ensure it won’t be mistaken for anything but French. I’m not sure that it would be the car for me, but I’m glad it exists.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Just for the record the Alliance was manufactured by American Motors and was owned by Renault. The Fuego was manufactured and sold by Renault thru American Motors dealers.

    Peugeot made a great GTI back in the eighties do not remember the no. but a wonderful car to drive around Paris.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Vojta;
    The prose, the car, and the scenery are all beautiful. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Doesn’t hit the BMW mark. Over-priced lamented 304 Cabrio redux. Looks stubby from the side profile. U.S. has much better domestic product. No jealousy here.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Nice write-up. If I were a wealthy man, I would have one of these just for people to gawk at when I went for ice cream. Scraping ice from the rear window would never enter my mind.

    By the way – nice photos as well, but J.J. Abrams might be giving you a call :-)

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    Nice review, cool car, unique website. Keep up the good work and thanks.

  • avatar
    motormouth

    Good write up, too bad Peugeot is being reported as having no successor to the RCZ.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Does PEUGEOT actually light up on the front? If so, that’s fantastic.

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