The Peugeot RCZ has been with us for almost a year now and while you may have only seen a few on the roads, the sports coupe has done considerably well for Peugeot South Africa,
selling out completely and consistently. Thanks to massive demand in Europe, local stocks have been severely limited, contributing to the exclusivity factor thus far. Peugeot SA says they've fixed this problem though, which means sales should start increasing and not least because of the extra volume dealers will be able to sell.
The RCZ, which is based on the 308's chassis, is first and foremost an incredibly beautiful machine to stare at. Based on the original 308 RCZ concept car of 2007, pretty much nothing changed between that first show-stopper and today's head-turner. The familiar Peugeot smiley face is the first port of call and, with the gaping "mouth" and raked-back headlights, the overall effect is both menacing and aggressive, as well as being instantly recognisable. From there backwards though, there's nothing Peugeot about this car.
A very steeply-raked windscreen and low roof line are the first clues that this is no normal Pug – the side view presents a beautifully-proportioned profile, with short overhangs, a long wheel base, stunning 19-inch alloy wheels and a classic coupe shape. Interesting touches include the large pod-mounted door mirrors, a brushed aluminium roof pillar and an upwards kick on the edge of each door, which raises the belt line for the rest of the car. Despite the familiarity imparted by the family-face, the RCZ turns heads fantastically!
At the back a cheeky diffuser-style bumper moulding is in place which features a centrally-mounted reverse and rear fog light cluster (like a Formula 1 car) and two big-bore chrome tail pipes. Curvaceous creases add pizzazz and the pert boot lid features a neatly recessed Peugeot badge. Surprises abound with the RCZ though, the first of which is a neat rear wing which can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button on the centre console.
Then there's the "double bubble" roof arrangement which sees the original concept's contoured roof and rear window still on show, and stunning to behold. Perhaps my only disappointment with the roof is that it isn't glass – it's painted black. Lastly, huge tail lights, which feature full-LED elements and a glorious lighting technique, compliment the backside and look absolutely stunning at night.
On the inside, a huge shock awaits anyone who is familiar with Peugeot. Sure, you know immediately that you're in one and that's brilliant because Peugeot interiors are lovely places to be, but in the RCZ you just won't believe how lovely it really is. Almost everything is covered in fine black leather, including the dashboard and bucket front seats (the rear "seats" are definitely only for toddlers), and with high-quality plastics and metals in use on the console, steering wheel (which is flat-bottomed and features a multitude of cleverly-hidden control switches) and gear lever, you really get a Germanic sense of quality in the cabin. Switches and dials are great, with everything in a logical place and easy to use. I suppose one could criticise the car for not being quirky enough as the French are famous for, but I'd rather have function and quality than funny business in a car like this.
Starting the RCZ for the first time is something special and that is entirely down to the engine. With the RCZ's range comprising of two 1.6 THP turbocharged petrol engines and now the new 2.0-litre HDi diesel, the sports coupe-ness of the experience is definitely echoed in the muscle department. This example is the 1.6 THP manual, which offers 147kW, 275Nm and six forward gears. The engine is the same unit used in other Peugeot models and is basically identical in its state of tune to the engine in the 308 GTi. It offers great performance with minimal lag and in the RCZ, the theatrics are stepped up a notch by the "engine sound system" – a special valve in the exhaust system which augments the engine's tone and fills the cockpit with verve and acoustics. Sure, it's fake, but you forget about this after a few kilometres of driving simply because it is so awesome.
The motor pulls cleanly and rather strongly too, with Peugeot claiming a brisk 7.5 seconds to get to 100km/h and a generous top speed of 237km/h. Fuel consumption is claimed at 6.9-litres/100km and, after a thorough test distance, I returned 13.3 – if you're extremely careful you should be able to get down to Peugeot's claimed level but good luck trying not to put foot and to revel in the acceleration and that exhaust tone. Carbon emissions are 159g/km.
Having such a fine motor would be pointless though if the RCZ didn't handle as well as its looks suggest. With the super-fat tyres stretched to the outer edges of the chassis you can just see the RCZ is going to be quite a driving machine and I am both happy and relieved that my expectations were not only true, but also lower than they should have been. The steering is pin-sharp, with great feedback through the wheel, and you really get the sense that you can just throw the car around. Grip is sensational and throughout my test with the car I kept telling myself that I really needed a race track to truly experience the chassis at its best.
Thankfully I managed to score a few laps around Zwartkops a few weeks after my test in another RCZ and boy was I not disappointed! Turn-in is accurate, body roll negligent and, in the fast-paced environment the car deserves to be driven, in it was simply sensational. The seats are also excellent with just enough lateral support for high-speed cornering and enough comfort for a long cruise (which is a great idea too, seeing as there is enough space in the boot for a one-bed one-bath and the kitchen sink).
Not only do you get a sports car with the RCZ but a standard features list as long as the Midmar Mile. Pretty-much everything features in the car, with luxury items like dual-zone climate control, full electric seat adjustment and heating for driver and passenger, directional and automatic bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers and an automatic-dimming rear-view mirror. Two refrigerated cubby holes, daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors and a great sound system with CD/radio/MP3/WMA/USB/Bluetooth functionality are included, too.
Safety is also paramount in this car, with four airbags, pretensioned seatbelts all-round, ISOFIX child seat anchors for the rear seats, a tyre pressure monitor, ABS (anti-lock brakes) with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and an ESP (electronic stability programme) with traction control system all fitted as standard to keep you safe.
The Peugeot RCZ makes no fuss about taking the fight directly to the Audi TT and not least because of its similar body profile and concept. While I had the car on test, most people complained that it was too much of a stab at the car that started the trend. But I argued that, because the RCZ does everything in its own unique way, offering exceptional value for money in the process, the Audi TT is far more a rival than an inspiration for the RCZ. When you see the price difference, you'll be hard-pressed to go for the Audi rather than the Pug, especially if the RCZ creeps into your price-range when shopping for a hot hatch.
Including all the features I've mentioned here, as well as a 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 5-year/100 000km maintenance plan, the RCZ 1.6 THP manual retails for R376 335, which is a whole R47 000-odd less than the R423 730 TT 2.0T FSI. Sure, the TT offers more power, torque and perhaps a better brand value, but don't forget it comes standard with an options list that's hideously expensive. I don't really see any other rivals for the RCZ which offer similar design, fun and exclusivity; at least none that come anywhere near its keen pricing.
I would happily spend this kind of money on an RCZ. It has the right balance of power, economy, handling and looks which all translate into a highly attractive driving package. It is one of the best cars I've tested this year and remains one of my favourite "I would actually buy this" cars, ever. If the diesel impresses as much as the petrol does (and Peugeot South Africa is adamant that it does), this could be quite the motoring icon in the making...
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