Posted 24 March 2010 - 04:19 AM
To our surprise, two and a half years later the production RCZ stands in front of us. Moreover, its exterior and interior design is virtually the same as the show car. This signals a significant change in the product strategy of Peugeot. The dancing lion used to be rather conservative. Now in the attempt of migrating upmarket, it needs more image-boosting models - certainly more than the lukewarm 407 Coupe. RCZ will be the first one. This car is the French response to Audi TT. It is a very design-led product, or what people called "hairdresser's car".
Unquestionably, style is by far its greatest strength. Everything else is less significant. The RCZ not only looks exactly like a concept car happened on the road, its visual impact is, dare I say, greater than that of Audi TT ! Not believe ? Look at that cab-forward and wide-track proportion, that Zagato-style double-bubble roof and rear screen, those brushed aluminum roof rails and that kick at each shoulder line. They deliver a stronger message about style than the Audi masterpiece. Its road presence is absolutely stunning.
Unfortunately, everything else is rather ordinary. Take the dashboard for example, it comes straight from 308, although the center air-vent is replaced by an analogue clock, oddly. It's an upmarket piece of work by the standard of hatchbacks, but not quite in the league of Audi TT, where you will find more stylish gauges and more extensive use of real aluminum decors. Peugeot's version of flat-bottomed steering wheel is not as tasteful as Audi's. Its seats are not as classy too. One thing it does match the Audi: the tiny rear seats are purely cosmetic. Head and legroom are barely enough for small kids. For this reason, the Peugeot coupe will be compared with 2-seaters like BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Nissan 370Z, although its closest rival is still Audi TT.
Price-wise, the Peugeot coupe undercuts all the above rivals by considerable margin. Its price starts from £20,000 and tops out at £25,000, which is about the entry point of Audi TT. Mazda MX-5 is the only cheaper alternative (at sub-£20,000), but it is no where as substantial or as visually attractive. Peugeot found a sweet spot in the marketplace.
However, the keen price comes from the simplicity of its mechanicals. This coupe is built on the 308 platform. In other words, it is front-wheel drive and rides on cheap suspensions consisting of MacPherson struts up front and semi-independent torsion-beam at the rear. To save the game, Peugeot lowers its ride height by 20mm, widens its front and rear tracks by 54mm and 72mm respectively. Its center of gravity is 40mm lower than the sportiest 308 hatchback, thanks to the lowered roof, ride height and aluminum roof rails. Besides, the top 200hp model comes with an additional tower brace reinforcing the front suspensions. Springs and dampers are considerably stiffer than the regular 308's. Moreover, to improve steering feel, the electric power steering is reverted to hydraulic one.
The TT-style body profile is likely to generate a great deal of aerodynamic lift at speed, so Peugeot equipped it with a pop-up rear spoiler, which adjusts its height between 2 positions depending on speed.
Engine range also comes from the modest 308. You have the choice of 3 engines: 156hp 1.6 DI turbo, 200hp high-pressure version of the same engine and 163hp 2.0HDi turbo diesel. Even the 200hp engine cannot propel the car much beyond 144 mph and 0-60 mph under 7.2 seconds. Such performance is definitely not as wild as its looks suggested. In isolation, the BMW-sourced engine (with Peugeot's specific tuning) is not bad. It displaces only 1.6 liters yet produces 200 horsepower. Its maximum torque of 188 lb-ft can be lifted momentarily to 203 lb-ft, thanks to overboost, to aid overtaking. It delivers power smoothly and linearly. Its exhaust sounds quite sporty once you rev it to the upper half of rev range. However, owing to the 1300 kilograms it needs to haul, the 1.6 turbo engine feels exactly as it is - a small engine squeezed to work on a large car. Floor down the throttle, acceleration feels soft initially. It takes a moment to gather rev and get into its sweet zone, which spans from 2200 to 6000 rpm, by then it feels reasonably punchy. You will enjoy the shift quality and the closely stacked ratios of the 6-speed manual box. Nevertheless, the powertrain combination is no match with Audi's 2.0TFSI engine and DSG gearbox.
Because of its mechanical basis, the RCZ drives more like a hot hatch than a thoroughbred sports car. Its handling is neat, with plenty of grip from its 235/45 tires, well-contained body roll and precise steering. Its balance is quite neutral thanks to the endless front-end grip. However, it plays neither power slide like a rear-drive sports car nor lift-off oversteer like the old 205GTi. All it does is grip, grip and grip hard on the tarmac. Ultimately, when it runs out of grip, it runs into terminal understeer like most hot hatches – the nose-heavy diesel car is especially obvious. Some may prefer such a precise and secured driving manner, but driving enthusiasts will find it quite boring to drive. Regarding ride quality, the RCZ feels firmly suspended. It's by no means uncomfortable, but on rough surfaces the wide tires and semi-independent suspension do transmit more shocks and noise into the cabin than Audi TT, contributing to a less sophisticated impression.
We wish the RCZ could have had more firepower and more driver interaction in its handling. However, this would have required to develop a dedicated platform for the car, which means the keen prices infeasible. By keeping its price in the range between £20,000 and £25,000, the RCZ is safe from competition. It may lure many buyers who put style over driving excitement. Peugeot believes it could find 15,000 such customers every year. Production is to be subcontracted to Magna-Steyr in Austria. Peugeot had a good time of outsourcing production of 206CC, which was a runaway success. RCZ might be the same.
Posted 07 June 2011 - 04:17 PM
Posted 07 June 2011 - 04:53 PM
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