Colin Hubbard reviews the Peugeot RCZ R
Peugeot has bragging rights to one of the finest hot hatches ever made, the 205 GTI. Blessed with pretty looks, a chassis brimming with feedback and perky little power plants it was a brilliant little car and a halo for the rest of the range.
Since the 205 went out of production Peugeot lost its way for the spirited motorist and only recently started to regain its mojo in the form of the 208 GTI which is real corker.
Now they have just launched their fastest ever production car with a surprisingly small engine - just 1.6 litres and 4 cylinders.
Welcome to the RCZ R. Based vaguely on the RCZ Coupé, Peugeot Sport has absolutely gone to town to ensure that the car is a genuinely capable and thoroughly enjoyable drive - ignoring the accountants every step of the way.
The engine is a development of the 1.6 found in other cooking Peugeots but it has been treated to some fairly serious upgrades to not only boost power but also retain long term reliability.
The engine block is heat treated and reworked for improved circulation and cooling and the standard pistons replaced with high performance Mahle Motorsport items. Uprated con rods and bearing shells with a polymer coating withstand high pressures and operating speeds so the 170bhp per litre is safely within limits.
A twin scroll turbo has been fitted so that it provides strong power from lower revs and at higher revs provides very high boost levels.
A sports exhaust with twin round outlets finishes off the power element and should provide the voice the standard car cries out for.
The result is a power output of 270bhp along with 243lb/ft torque but the more astonishing figures are the combined fuel economy of nearly 45mpg and the CO2 rating of 145 g/km. By making the modest sized engine work harder they have made it more efficient so it's cleaner and more fuel efficient than the standard 1.6 turbo engines in the range.
Power is laid down by the front wheels via a crisp, 6 speed manual gearbox and forward motion balanced by a Torsen mechanical limited slip differential.
The chassis has been lowered by 10mm on shorter, uprated springs with more aggressive damper settings and, unique to the R, 19" lightweight alloys which were designed to channel cool air to the brakes.
This has not just been a quick lower and harden exercise, many man hours have gone into the development of the R's chassis - tweaking and fine tuning bushes, roll bars, dampers, springs and suspension arms until the desired set up was achieved.
From the driving seat it is obvious this has been honed on a racetrack and engineering to the nth degree. This has massively increased wheel control over the standard RCZ so it feels much more solid and accurate through the steering wheel.
Braking has been heavily uprated with 380mm diameter and 32mm wide front floating discs which ride on aluminium pins. These are clamped by 4 piston calipers which look purposeful behind the alloys.
On the outside Peugeot didn't really need to do much as the fabulous RCZ shape remains, instead they have tailored the look so you can see where your £32k has gone.
The main external change is a fixed rear spoiler increasing downforce and stability at speed. The roof 'arches' are finished in matt black and the Nera Black paint scheme on the test car extenuates the double bubble effect from the roof down to the fixed rear back windscreen.
The R is also available in Opal White, Pearl White, Mercury Grey, Moroccan Red and Charcoal.
There are other subtle little touches like red Peugeot lettering on the grill and titanium tinted headlights which all combine to create one of the best looking cars in its class.
On the inside and it's the seats which first get your attention. Seriously supportive and perfectly comfortable they look like they have just been lifted straight out of a Lamborghini. I drove 428 miles in one day on a combination of motorways, fast A roads and hideous B roads and at the end of the day got out of the car feeling ache free.
Both the front and rear seats are trimmed in Alcantara and leather. They've been cleverly designed to provide grip in the right places so you can move around to reach within the cabin but come to a corner and they grip you in the right places.
The steering wheel is slightly fatter than the standard RCZ's which is a good thing as it provides just the right grip to hold onto when all 270bhp through the front wheels start to beg for your attention.
As per the base RCZ the leather trimmed dash and door cards bring an upmarket air to the cabin but here there's red stitching on black leather which is a great looking combo. Add in an almost erotic 208 GTI polished alloy and red trimmed gear knob, carbon style trim to the dials and piano black dash trim and it's a pretty special place to be.
This car is fitted with a banging JBL speaker system which is a £420 option but well worth the paying for as the sound is great and in keeping with the head banging chassis.
The only let downs on the inside are a sat nav which won't take UK postcodes and a clutch pedal which is set too far high and too left so you sometimes fumble to get onto the clutch if wearing boots.
On the road the RCZ is an absolute joy to drive, a proper driver's car that ticks all the boxes a spirited driver would want.
Considering the engine is fitted with a sports exhaust it sounds almost weedy at tickover, even at 2,000 revs it's surprisingly quiet but as the revs increase the gruffness deepens then hardens and sounds like a proper sports car.
The chassis works brilliantly on twisty B roads - make no mistake it is a firm ride but not at all crashy, almost elastic in feel and it quickly inspires confidence to push harder. Peugeot's plan to use a small, tuned, light-weight 1.6 engine makes for a chassis which is finely balance front to rear providing little understeer and which flows nicely through meandering corners. Not once in a week's driving did I feel out of my comfort zone, it just turns in to a corner, grips and flies out of the corner.
The tyres are enormous for the size of the car, at 235/40/19, but the suspension coped really well. Some over-tyred cars suffer when hitting undulations and quick direction changes but the R's lightweight alloys and thicker roll bars keep them in check.
From a standing start it does suffer from torque steer at higher boost levels but it adds to the enjoyment of the drive, I wouldn't say it is anything to worry about unlike my old 250bhp Astra Coupé which would go seeking hedges but it is felt nevertheless. Just a small tugging motion is experienced through the wheel as the front wheels fight for grip but the LSD manages to keep the R in a straight line and without lighting up the tyres in the process.
Once up to speed all is good, all is secure and it's proves to be a very quick, enjoyable car. Overtakes are handled quickly and efficiently helped loads by a sweet manual gearbox with well picked ratios so YOU choose which gear you need, wait, wait and then go for it safely past said car or two.
The race-spec motor likes to rev all the way to six and a half thousand revs then change up and it drops nicely into the sweet spot with the sports exhaust acting almost like an aural rev counter. The engine really is a cracking unit, almost docile at low revs using part throttle but wind it up and it goes all banzai on you. Just brilliant.
Knowing what has been done to achieve these power levels is good to know so you can feel confident that it won't self destruct within a few thousand miles - this is a proper job just like the rest of the chassis.
After a week, in fact after a day, I absolutely loved the RCZ R. The overall package has been thoroughly engineered and fine tuned to create a proper sports coupé with no single area being skimped on. Yes, £32,000 is a lot of money but will be worth it for the rarity factor which may help retain the resale values, but also in that it is a seriously good car and very different to the competition out there.
The Peugeot Sport team has done an excellent job and thoroughly regained Peugeot's mojo to 1980's levels so once again Peugeot has a halo car for the range.
If you are looking for a fast accomplished classy coupé then look no further, the RCZ R is an absolute hoot.
Price - £32,000
As tested £33,180
Engine – 1.6 turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 6-speed manual
Drive – front wheel drive
0-62mph – 5.9 seconds
Top speed - 155mph
Power – 270 bhp
Torque – 243 lb ft
Economy – 44.8mpg (combined)
CO2 - 145 g/km
Kerb weight – 1,355 kg