x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Peugeot RCZ is a surprise for the senses and the wallet

Road Test Peugeot's rival to the Audi TT is a squat, muscular little car that provides a zen-like experience – provided you're not sitting in the rear seats.

The Peugeot RCZ is equal to the base Audi TT. Sammy Dallal / The National
The Peugeot RCZ is equal to the base Audi TT. Sammy Dallal / The National

In reading this review of the Peugeot RCZ, you, dear reader, must move into a much-more Zen-like attitude. Please, relax, take a deep breath, sit back and empty your mind. Repeat after me: "A-ouuuuum."

It's very necessary for a clear judgement of this car. Forget everything you know; clear your head completely of unnecessary thoughts. Try to forget the Audi TT. Try to forget what you've seen of Peugeots from the last few years. Because this new RCZ deserves so much more.

Don't look at this car and think about how much it looks like the German company's little 2+2; okay, I won't blame you if you do, because it does have similar proportions. But maybe, just maybe, this swoopy shape is what Audi may have wanted to do with the TT, but just didn't think about at the time.

Focus. No more Audi; look at the RCZ. Low, squat, with muscular haunches, a menacing front end, almost perfect proportions; the aluminium roof pillar flowing from front to back accentuates the deep blue colour. And that double-bubble roof with the curved rear window? Very racy. It is one of the more distinctive designs on the road today; sure to draw stares at its gaping mouth or jewelled rear lights.

If you're having trouble concentrating, just sit inside. Comfortable, sporty and very functional, its beautiful aesthetics will help you relax and focus again. Enjoy the rich, supportive leather seats and the leather-look-and-feel, saddle-stitched PVC plastic that wraps the entire cockpit, helping make it look much more expensive than it really is. Sporty gauges highlighted by a centrally located analogue clock allude to a more aggressive nature of this car, and a piano-black insert surrounds quality-feel climate and stereo controls (pity the absence of a sat/nav system, though). Real aluminium inserts bring a bit of flash to an otherwise dark cabin, but you'll have to be a real kung fu master not to flinch when you grab the gear shift after parking the car in the sun; the aluminium at the top will sear the shift pattern logo into your palm from its heat. And, if you want to keep any semblance of sanity, don't ever, ever try to sit in the torturous rear seats; you need to be a martial artist to climb in behind the front seat backs, and you'll have to be a contortionist to stay there. The RCZ is touted as a 2+2, but it's more like a 2+2/3; best left for groceries and as punishment for bad children.

But before you turn the key, this is where you'll really want to try and empty your mind of any thoughts of the day; forget work, forget the rubbish you forgot to take out or that you missed your mother's birthday. You'll want to have a clear head not so much for learning, but for pure and utter enjoyment. Because when you start the 1.6L turbocharged engine and hear the guttural roar as it fires, this is where the RCZ really shines - and you'll want to relish every minute of driving it.

Snick the gear lever into first and release the light clutch while pouring on the throttle; a tiny, momentary lag and then the car leaps forward as the turbo kicks in. The engine sends a deep growl through the cockpit and the car thrusts onwards; not so much shockingly fast, but it feels much more powerful than its rated 200hp.

The little engine revs like a sport bike's and, if you're not careful, you'll be bouncing off the limiter in no time. Not only is it more fun if you keep the engine above 4,000rpm, but it seems to want to stay up there; this is a car that just begs to go fast. And going through the six gears is an absolute joy, with the aluminium pedals almost perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifting. No, this is not your normal Peugeot.

And as good as the engine is, the handling is better. Even though it's a front-wheel drive, the car is extremely balanced and neutral, with little understeer or torque-steer even at the limit, and it's easy to get back under control once that limit is crossed. Steering is crisp and quick, with good on-centre weight and feedback; the chassis remains solid and unflappable under all road conditions; and there is very limited dive or lean in hard braking or corners. All of this makes the RCZ feel lighter than its 1,421kg.

Amazing then, that its ride and comportment aren't as rough as you'd expect. It's a bit on the firm side, but not uncomfortably so, and couple that with a large trunk and its long list of options and features, it's more than agreeable as an everyday commuter.

In fact, the RCZ just feels like a more expensive car, easily the equal of the base-model TT and other more-expensive coupés. For its combination of price, looks and performance, this may be a car that will make even a monk give up his lifetime of austerity.


The Specs

Price, base / as tested Dh129,000 / Dh137,000

Engine 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder

Gearbox six-speed manual

Power 200hp @ 5,800rpm

Torque 270Nm@1,770rpm

Fuel economy, combined 6.0L/100km