Peugeot is on a bit of a roll right now. The 208, despite its flaws, marked a huge step forward for the French firm, while its bigger 2008 brother showed that they can turn out a car that’s amongst the best in class. The 308 is huge jump forwards in quality and design (on the inside, at least) so that leaves the RCZ R with some tough acts to follow.
The standard RCZ is a fine car, although it always feels as though it could use more power. Fortunately Peugeot Sport have fiddled with it and extracted 270bhp from the engine while also taking the time to tweak the chassis and suspension.
The end result is very much more than the sum of its parts. While some new pistons, a new twin-scroll turbocharger and some stiffened suspension should improve matters, it just doesn’t get across how much of a change has been made. The RCZ R is amongst the finest sports cars on sale today.
The new seats hug you tight as you lower yourself in to the snug cockpit, although they could do with a little more lateral support around the shoulders. Bring the steering wheel close to you, fire up the engine, and reach for the short throw gearstick and you could be in a race car. Peugeot were keen to promote the RCZ Racing Cup links, but don’t let that deceive you – there’s nothing shared between the race car and the road car.
You do however get a rumbling engine note resonating through the cabin, reminding you that there are more horses than usual up front. Pull away enthusiastically and you’ll soon discover that they’ve also taken the time to fit a limited slip differential, while just a few metres down the road you’ll realise the suspension really is stiffer – up 14% at the front and a massive 44% at the rear.
This makes the urban sprawl a little uncomfortable, but once on the open road, and once the speeds increase a little, the suspension somehow becomes more pliable, more rewarding. The RCZ R comes alive.
Turn in to a corner and the front end sticks. Put the power down abruptly and there’s a hint that the car wants to misbehave but then you feel the differential work its magic and the car simply slingshots itself towards the next test of its grip. It almost asks you to try harder, push further, but nothing you might do on a public road seems to unsettle it.
Physics takes over eventually, with the R naturally understeering, but it’s possible to balance it using the brakes and throttle, sending the back end darting ever so slightly sideways. Traction control and stability control only interfere if you’re being particularly unruly. Even with a few areas of snow and ice on the road, it never felt as if the safety systems were being over protective.
The wider track and sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres help give you the precision and control you need, while 380mm brake discs brings it all to a stop quickly. The pedals, while mounted slightly high, are spaced perfectly for a little heel and toe action, making downshifts a burbling delight. There could be a little more feel through the steering wheel, but that’s a small issue in an otherwise excellent driving experience.
Beyond the driving, it’s pretty much RCZ business as usual. There’s a little more leather in the cabin with some swish stitching around the dashboard, but it’s immediately familiar to anybody who has experienced the standard car.
Peugeot continue to fit rear seats, but I’ve yet to figure out what they’re for; people of any size won’t fit in the back, and the gap to squeeze through is too small to even use for luggage. Besides which, there’s a surprisingly spacious boot to be found.
The smaller-than-you-expect 1.6 litre engine should also offer economy benefits if you’re simply cruising along the motorways, with official figures suggesting 44.8mpg is possible. Haring around the mountain roads of southern France left me with a figure of 16.8mpg, but that’s a reflection of how much fun I was having…
At £31,995 there are a lot of very capable cars to spend your money on, but few will leave you smiling like the RCZ R.
After 20 years in the wilderness, Peugeot has found its mojo once more. Long may it last.