– Superb futuristic styling
– Loads of cargo room
– Fun and fuel-efficient
– Electronic throttle response
– Vestigial rear seats
– Could be a bit quicker
Concept cars don’t interest us at all. What is the point of automakers showing off cars that they’re never going to build? But every once in a while, a manufacturer surprises us by sending a stunning concept straight into production with very few changes. The Peugeot RCZ is one of the those cars, and it looks like a million dollars.
The new-for-2011 Peugeot RCZ is obviously based on the 308 hatchback, as evidenced by the headlights and bonnet, but the rest of the car’s exterior is original, from the swoopy side fenders to the double-bubble black roof that extends into the rear window glass, with contrasting aluminium roof rails, LED tail lamps, optional black wheels and a pop-up rear spoiler. Comparing it to the docile new Audi TT would be insulting to the French.
The cabin, however, is largely straight out of the 308. But upgrades such as a stitched-leather dashboard as well as more leather all over the hard door panels and padded armrests liven up the interior, as do the very sporty bucket seats, aluminium pedals and metallic door handles.
The body-hugging front seats are infinitely power-adjustable, with a tilt-and-telescoping flat-bottomed steering wheel as well. Space is very good, with ample headroom thanks to the bubble roof, with door pockets, centre-armrest compartment, useful console cubbies and a single shallow cup-holder making up the storage spots. The sizeable glovebox has some ingenious slots to hold cards, pens and sunglasses, while the luggage boot out back is absolutely massive for a sports car, a benefit of having uselessly-tiny rear seats. The rear seats fold down and there is a cargo net to hold down small items too.
The gadgets are limited to the usual power accessories, a good CD/MP3 stereo with USB port, keyless entry, cruise control with speed limiter, front and side airbags, all-round parking sensors, and a powered rear spoiler that pops up above 40 kph by itself or via a button. There is supposedly a Bluetooth phone too, but we never found it. The dual-zone auto a/c coped fine with April weather. Extras like navigation, xenon headlights and the like are not available in the GCC.
What is available is a 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder buzzer of a motor. While those lazy enough to opt for the automatic get a 156 hp version, the one we picked to test was the manual one, exclusively endowed with 44 more horses. Producing 200 hp at 6800 rpm as well as 275 Nm of torque from only 1700 rpm all the way up to 4500 rpm, the RCZ always feels rapid due to the engine’s solid initial kick, though never blindingly fast. The 6-speed shifter was slightly notchy due to its newness, while the electronic throttle response suffered from a tell-tale delay, so our 0-100 kph time was never better than 8.5 seconds. However, the engine has to be commended for its as-tested fuel consumption figure of 7.8 litres/100 km, thanks to its generous overdrive gear.
Driving the RCZ doesn’t bring up too many of the usual problems associated with sports cars, since it is based on a tall hatchback anyway. The seating position isn’t too low and all-round visibility is pretty good. The ride is fairly firm, not helped by its live-axle rear suspension, but it is an acceptable compromise. There is little wind noise at highway speeds, though the road noise can get loud on some surfaces, and the engine is noisy on acceleration. The pedals feel very light, so it is easy to drive in traffic, although their small size is annoying. In contrast, the steering is very firm.
The firm steering offers up decent feedback for corner carving. Hanging on tight is essential though, since side-to-side torque-steer on hard throttle is a given for this front-wheel-driver. Apparently this manual version gets slightly-sportier suspension and bigger brakes than the automatic. All we know is it handles well enough to take on most hot hatches. Body roll is indiscernible, and the 235/40 tyres on the 19-inch alloys grip well, though they are still easy to squeal on the sharpest corners with the stability control off. The disc brakes work reasonably well. Only its mildly-delayed throttle responses keep it from being a complete animal of a driver’s car.
The Peugeot RCZ is the kind of car that dreams are made of. It will sell on its looks alone, though logically, it makes a great entry-level sports car that favours tight handling and cargo space over straightline speed and passenger capacity. But we’re over-analysing it. We repeat, this car will sell on its looks alone. Everything else is moot.