2005 Peugeot 206 RC
– Excellent handling
– Sporting looks
– Affordable price
– Painfully hard clutch pedal
– Nosiy and harsh ride quality
– Some cheap interior bits
There are some people out there who modify cars with passion. There are hundreds of dressed up Honda Civics and what not roaming local streets. Many of these half-baked attempts at building a tricked-out ride are limited to a huge plastic rear wing, some cheap shiny wheels and a bunch of stickers proclaiming performance mods under the hood that do not exist. A number of manufacturers have recently got into the game of building professionally tricked-out versions of their economy cars, but only a handful offer them in the Middle East. Peugeot is one of the few, with their 206 RC hot hatch.
The French 206 RC is a boy racer’s dream–compact economy car, with a high-revving powerful little engine mated to a manual gearbox, riding on stiff suspension, huge 17-inch rims and low-profile tyres, with extras like four-wheel disc brakes, noisy exhaust, carbon fibre interior trim, rear roof spoiler and full-fledged racing seats thrown in. Plus it has the practicality of a proper hatchback with rear seats and luggage trunk space. What’s not to like? Well, there are a couple of things.
The interior is very stylish, with the most glove-like and ergonomic front sports seats this side of a Porsche 911. Embroidered with RC logos on the one-piece back side and head rest, they are fully-adjustable manually, and slide forward to allow rear seat access for this three-door hatchback. But these amazing seats will never fit overweight people, so do not even try. Rear seating is more conventional, but legroom is extremely tight. Headroom is excellent however. Windows and mirrors are electric, and keyless entry is standard. The automatic a/c is surprisingly good for a small car. The radio is a simple unit, with a glovebox-mounted CD changer and stalk-mounted controls behind the leather steering wheel. The stereo speakers are quite decent, with standard tweeters and good bass. Other stylish touches include the Alcantara seating and door trim, chrome shifter, aluminium pedals, carbon-fibre centre console and, of all things, a leather-wrapped gauge cluster. A unique feature is the digital display on the top of the dash that shows everything from radio settings to fuel level warnings.
Now for the interior faults–all plastic surfaces, including the dashboard and handbrake lever, are hard to the touch and look very cheap in texture. In fact, we really did feel like sitting in a cheap car modified with a few aftermarket parts. The really scary part was, while shifting gears during motion, the chrome shifter knob actually came off the gear shaft! After averting disaster, we punched the knob back onto the shaft, as it was put together that way in the first place. The pedals are also very small and close together for the average person. The small rear-view mirrors combined with the numerous headrests make looking behind somewhat of a chore. The fancy fuel tank door requires the key to open it at every petrol station stop. And the supposed cupholders in the small glovebox are a joke.
The engine is quite interesting. The 2-litre 4-cylinder 16-valve unit pumps out a solid 180 hp at 7000 rpm with the help of variable valve timing, revving all the way to a redline of 7300 rpm. Torque is ample for this little car, with 202 Nm coming up at a high 4750 rpm. The motor makes itself heard through the loud exhaust, and feels at home at high revs only. Performance is quite good, gunning from zero to 100 kph in 7.4 seconds, and flying all the way to 219 kph. Its natural predator, the Honda Civic Type-R, is faster but also much more expensive thanks to dealer markups, so the 206 represents good value.
Power is fed to the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. The shift quality is acceptable, but the clutch pedal is hard, and it turned out to be a serious leg cramper in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.
The power is kept in check by well-sized four-wheel disc brakes visible through the open wheels. Helped by ABS with electronic brake force distribution, stopping performance is pretty good, with decent pedal feedback. Of course, the light weight of the car helps it to stop quickly too.
The handling is amazing, to say the least, for a front-driven car. The short wheelbase, combined with the excessively stiff suspension setup, makes the RC turn corners like a go-kart. During our high speed runs, we cornered as fast as we could and managed to swing the tail out slightly with some left foot braking while keeping the throttle floored. A lesser car would start understeering towards the outside of a curve, but the RC could be forced to take a tighter curve easily. The car’s ESP stability system and traction control were on, but they did not seem to interfere. The ESP computer does start beeping and flashing dashboard lights when we pull off a handbrake turn, but it still did not do anything to cancel out the 180-degree spin.
The amazing handling does have its tradeoffs. Highway ride is hard and slightly bumpy, with lots of road noise from the Pirelli-wrapped 17-inch wheels. Add that to the excessive wind noise at high speeds, engine vibration at all speeds, noisy exhaust, fairly hard seats and a stiff clutch pedal, and we have one uncomfortable daily driver. Even with luxury features like automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, make no mistake–this is one raw, sharp-edged sporting vehicle. It may not very fast, but it is definitely tuned for the track. It cannot keep up with a Porsche 911 but, to be fair, it is no more uncomfortable than that overpriced German either.
As we found out, the Peugeot 206 RC is not for everyone. It pretends to look like a daily driver, with luggage room and passenger space, but it is too untamed to drive daily to the office. However, for the occasional adrenaline rush, or even if you can bear the harsh ride regularly, this is one high-value buy in a market where budget sports cars are hard to come by.