If you’re the sort of person who suffers from occasional bouts of paranoia then I suggest you steer clear of the Peugeot RCZ 200THP. This is a car that turns heads and when you’re behind the wheel you will certainly have the feeling that people are looking at you – because they are. OK, maybe they’re looking at the car, not directly at you, but you get what I mean.
Looking good is one thing but is the Peugeot RCZ more than just a pretty face? It’s time to find out.
Hey, Good Lookin’
Of the cars that I’ve had in for review on Driving Spirit it is the Peugeot RCZ that wins the award for Biggest Head Turner. It’s low, curvaceous body draws admiring glances wherever it goes, helped in part by this car’s optional 19-inch wheels. There is no doubt in my mind that from most angles the Peugeot RCZ is bloomin’ gorgeous to look at. It is, as they say, very easy on the eye. The only exception is looking head on at the front where the large corporate grille seems to take up too much space.
At one point I parked it outside a well known brand of coffee shop and sat watching passers-by. I lost count of the number of people who had long, admiring looks at the Peugeot, and a large number of positive comments wafted my way on the breeze. ‘Looks like an Audi TT’ was a popular theme but not one I’d agree with – I think the Peugeot RCZ looks far better than the TT, it’s curvy hips, aluminium pillars and distinctive double-bubble roofline giving it an elegance the German lacks.
The good looks continue in the interior where a smart cabin awaits you. The GT specification of this car includes full leather that extends to the top half of the dashboard. It’s a simple touch that makes the cabin seem more luxurious and you won’t find the equivalent in an Audi TT or Volkswagen Scirocco. There’s plenty of chrome trim to brighten up the interior and also one of the nicest analogue clocks I’ve seen for some time, which matches the pattern of the dials in the instrument cluster.
Standard GT specification also includes 19-inch wheels, dual-zone climate, cruise control with speed limiter, radio with a host of multimedia options, front and rear parking sensors, heated seats with electrical adjustment and automatic lights and wipers. All included as standard, making some rivals look rather spartan in comparison.
There are some areas that could do with a little more attention. Some of the buttons feel a little delicate and there are some rough edges in places, such as the steering-column stalk for the radio and cruise control. The sloping centre panel looks good but I found myself having to to lean forward to reach the highest buttons, something I don’t remember having to do in a car for some time.
Then there are the rear seats, or what might be more accurately described as the parcel shelf. They are small, to say the least, and suffer from limited legroom. I did manage to squeeze my 3 and 6-year old little ones into the back but I did have to move the driver’s seat forward to give my youngest room to move her little legs. I tried the back seat for myself and my 5’10″ frame just about squeezed into the seat but my knees were jammed against the driver seat and my head was pushed down by the rear screen. So it’s kids only in the back, I’m afraid, and little ones at that.
The rear seats might not be very big but the boot is surprisingly generous. You won’t be heading off to Ikea in the RCZ to pick up a new wardrobe but there’s plenty of room for a few weekend bags or even a full size suitcase.
Enough of the interior, you want to know how it drives.
This GT is equipped with the most powerful engine in the range, a 1,598cc turbocharged petrol engine that produces 200bhp. You may not realise it but this engine, codenamed ‘Prince’, was developed jointly with BMW and is used to great effect in the 116i and 118i, as well as MINI’s Cooper and Cooper S models.
Turn the key and the engine fires up with a purposeful burble that gives a hint of the enjoyment to come. This engine is a lively unit and has a keen appetite for revs that is accompanied by a throaty growl from the exhaust. The delicious soundtrack combines with the peppy nature of the engine to encourage you to make the most of every gear and makes it one of the most enjoyable turbocharged four-cylinders I’ve driven for a while.
There’s a good reason the exhaust sounds so good and that’s because Peugeot’s engineers have resorted to technical witchcraft. By fitting a resonance chamber to the silencer they have developed an exhaust note with incredible character that rewards when you’re pushing on and remains quiet when cruising. Other manufacturers have deployed similar systems, such as the Golf GTD I drove last year, but this is probably the best I’ve sampled up to now. If you can read French fluently and have a good understanding of technical drawings (neither of which applies to me) you might enjoy looking at the patent application.
Mated to the THP200 engine is a six-speed gearbox that has a short, light throw and moves with precision. Each of the six-ratios is very well judged and you can use them to keep the engine in its sweet spot or you can block shift and use the turbo-assisted torque for relaxed cruising.
With ‘only’ 200bhp on tap the RCZ might struggle to keep up with the cream of today’s hot hatch crop but that doesn’t mean that it is lacking pace. The 0-60mph sprint takes 7.4 seconds and a top speed of 146mph is theoretically possible, performance which is more than adequate for fast road driving. Another bonus is that all of that power can be deployed with ease and you get the feeling that it could handle a fair bit more than 200bhp. As it stands the RCZ is a very rewarding car to drive quickly and doesn’t suffer from the torque steer and scrabbling wheels of more powerful front-wheel drivers.
The chassis setup is stiff but not uncomfortably so. The busy ride makes it difficult to completely relax behind the wheel but the payoff is taut handling and an incisive front end that tackles corners with negligible roll. There’s also plenty of grip on offer and you really would have to be driving like a complete berk to unstick the front in the dry. You have to have a little faith in that grip as the steering, which is light at low speeds and firms up at higher speeds, does mask some of the signals coming through from the front wheels.
Stamp on the Peugeot’s middle pedal and you’ll discover that the brakes are very strong. The initial pedal response is sharp and it took me a while to adjust, resulting in the occasional unexpected lurch as I tried to gently slow down in traffic, but there’s no doubt that the RCZ’s brakes are up to the job of hauling it down from the high speeds that it is capable of.
The 200 THP engine is surprisingly economical to run considering its 200bhp potential. It is officially rated at 42.1mpg, a figure I equalled on one gentle 30-mile run, and at the end of the week the trip computer was showing an average of 36.1mpg. CO2 emissions are 155g/km and that means your Band G tax disc will cost £170 per year. Insurance is likely to be high at group 34.
If you’re looking at a RCZ as a company car or you just want better fuel economy you should look at the 163bhp HDI, rated at 53.2mpg and emissions of 139g/km. That should be easier on the wallet than the 200THP but you’ll be sacrificing some performance, that enjoyable exhaust note and the ride will be softer (you may consider that a bonus).
The Final Reckoning
There’s been a lot of talk in the not-too-distant past about Peugeot having lost their mojo. After the amazing drivers’ cars they produced in the ’80s and ’90s their range of the ’00s lacked sparkle and it seemed like they had lost their way. Well, based on this RCZ and the 208 I drove earlier this year I would say that they might not be back to the heyday of the 205 and 306, but they’re certainly close.
I really enjoyed my week with the Peugeot RCZ. Threading it down some of my favourite country lanes was a joy with the bark from that exhaust a constant encouragement to drive faster and make the most of the engine and chassis.
There’s also enjoyment to be had from the appearance of the the RCZ. The low, wide stance and wonderful curvy roof look great and whenever I walked away from the RCZ I found myself taking a last glance over my shoulder to admire its shape.
The RCZ may not be the most practical of cars, particularly if you ever have to carry more than one passenger, but you don’t buy a car like this for running the family around. You buy a car like this because it looks good and drives well. The RCZ has those boxes well and truly ticked but also adds a little character and flair that its German rivals lack, making their styling seem conservative and a little … dare I say it … boring.
If you are in the market for a sporty coupe then I strongly recommend you give the Peugeot RCZ 200THP a try. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Peugeot RCZ GT Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Lively engine with strong performance and rorty exhaust note||8|
|HANDLING||Taut, precise, grippy, stable, just short of brilliant||8|
|AFFORDABILITY||Not cheap but compares well to rivals with decent spec||7|
|DESIRABILITY||Admiring glances included as standard||9|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Lively and fun, a joy to drive quickly||8|
Peugeot RCZ GT Specification
|Engine:||1,598cc 4-cylinder Turbo|
|Top Speed:||146 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||155g/km (Band G)|
|Official Economy:||42.1 mpg|
|Actual Economy:||36.1 mpg|
|Distance Covered:||490 miles|
|Price (As Tested):||£29,330*|
*Prices taken from Peugeot website, August 2012
All photographs © Chris Auty