Peugeot RCZ R

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Elegance is now available with extra zip

I’ve been waiting so long for Peugeot to produce a car worth driving that, a year or two back, I bought a 205 GTI. It reminded me of a time when seeing that lion on the nose of a car was as close to a guarantee as you’d find of affordable driving pleasure. To be fair, products have improved of late and across the board, but then they needed to: when I bought the 205, Peugeot had one of the most unappealing product ranges on earth and it’s still in the process of clawing its way back to respectability.

This new RCZ R will help. This won’t be in terms of volume, because as a coupé costing £31,995 sales will be but a prick in a pin cushion, but in the way it helps restore some much-needed brand credibility.

The standard RCZ is a pretty coupé with a double bubble roof and just about enough shove and dynamic competence to hold its own against its key competitor, the Audi TT.

Not that this is saying very much: the TT is so old it will be replaced in its entirety this year and wasn’t that great to drive when new.

The R version of the RCZ is an altogether more serious piece of equipment and you’ll know it from the 266bhp it extracts from an engine displacing just 1.6 litres. According to my fag packet maths, that puts its specific output on par with or slightly ahead of the McLaren 12C. Naturally it has its own suspension tune but, tellingly, a torque sensing front differential as well to stop all its energy being fruitlessly spun away by the unloaded tyre.

One squirt is all you need to know no road-going Peugeot ever went like this, not even the 205 T16. The numbers say 5.9sec to 62mph but omit to factor in that the front wheels have to get it there. With rear-wheel drive, that number would be 5.5sec or less. And Peugeot has stayed with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than a faster but less involving paddle. So it’s quick. So what?

Well, it’s also taut and nicely damped. Dry road grip is remarkable and even in the wet it clings with impressive tenacity. I managed a few laps of a fiendishly slippery Club circuit at Silverstone and even discovered it has real balance, letting you brake into the apex without worrying about the fact the back is waving around. As soon as you reapply the power, it yanks you straight and hauls you out of the corner, that front diff working overtime.

All it lacks is some feel. The steering is well weighted and accurate, but it tells you nothing about what the car is or isn’t about to do. That’s a shame, because it spoils what is an otherwise unexpectedly excellent car.

Even so, I would not have bet on modern Peugeot being able to produce a car as focused as this. The fact it has bodes well for more driver-oriented products in future.

Factfile
Price: £31,995
Engine: 2.0 litres, four cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 270bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 225lb ft @ 1900 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 6.1sec
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 44.5 mpg
CO2: 145g/km