Driving the Peugeot RCZ is a little like living with an underwear model. Doesn’t matter if it’s for Calvin Klein or Victoria’s Secret—it’s all the same. The stares you get as you drive down the road. The nagging feeling that maybe, perhaps, you’re not quite as sexy as your partner. Or as athletic. Or even as likeable. Maybe that’s just me. Personally, I always felt a little under-endowed while driving the RCZ. Perhaps I should spend more time at the gym.
That the RCZ’s styling is its defining feature is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it’s simply smashing to look at, with a low-slung, cab-forward stance suggesting a mid-engined layout and a roof that’s disturbingly curvaceous. This is perhaps the only car on the road with exposed cleavage. The front end is a grille away from looking like an Aston Martin, while the tail is an exercise in understatement. If there’s one thing I’d change, it would be the flat rear deck. It really ought to blend into that lovingly curvy rear glass instead.
When I say the designer looks are a curse, it’s because they give the impression that the RCZ is little more than a stylistic exercise. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The RCZ is actually a surprisingly well-engineered and smashingly good sports car.
Duck under the low-slung roof hoop and you’ll find the interior a lovely place to be. Not quite as flashy as an Audi TT’s, but it’s slathered in contrast-stitched black leather. Refreshingly, aside from the buttons for the active rear spoiler and the traction control, there is no extraneous sport mode, drive mode, or damper-adjustment controls here.
Low and supportive seats offer good support, and the wide adjustment range of the flat-bottom tilt-and-telescopic tiller makes it easy to find a good driving position, no matter how tall you are. Just don’t slide forward far enough to provide more than barely adequate seating space in the rear. Granted, it’s roomier back there than in a TT, thanks in part to that curvy roof, but if you’re taller than a fifth-grader, you’re not going to fit comfortably. Oddly, there are Isofix mounts for child seats in the back, and while we did manage to squeeze a baby seat in there (a feat akin to playing Tetris with small furniture), there’s no space for said baby’s legs when the front seat is back in place.
Other gripes? Well, there’s just one cupholder, too narrow for a Big Gulp, and too shallow for a Red Bull. Only a standard soda can fit properly. Until you knock it over with the sliding center armrest, that is. Then again, you don’t buy an RCZ for practicality. And you don’t need Red Bull to get a buzz off it.
The 197hp motor is the same growly 1.6-liter turbocharged engine as in the recently deceased Mini Cooper S coupe, minus the snap-crackle-pop backfire on throttle overrun. Thanks to an oddly hefty 1,270kg curb weight, the RCZ isn’t quite as fast as the Mini or Peugeot’s own 208 GTi (which also has the same engine), but it’s still madly quick. And the aerodynamically curvy body ensures a (theoretical) top speed of 250kph. A speed you will never legally attain on any public road. Thankfully, the engine is also tractable at lower speed, but even the lightest of taps on the gas pedal has you going 20 over the highway limit. Any slower and the car is simply idling along.
The real fun in a good front-driver, however, is in throwing it willy-nilly into turns, slithering about at the limits of adhesion. The RCZ is a completely different animal to the Mini and the 208, though. There’s a lot less of the mad Mini torque steer, and less body roll and pitch versus the 208. While it feels supremely balanced, pivoting about a point just behind your buttocks, the steering can feel a bit aloof as you string together switchbacks. There’s also no sense of the rear end ever becoming involved in proceedings. Aggressive rear camber keeps it firmly stuck to the road until the front end starts to wash wide.
This is not to say the RCZ isn’t entertaining—far from it! It just lacks that extra bit of involvement you expect from a dedicated sports car.
In everyday driving, there’s little to complain about. The RCZ is quiet and comfortable, with good sound insulation and a great stereo. There’s enough space in the surprisingly big trunk for a week’s worth of groceries and one or two golf bags. Those big 19-inch wheels and the rubber-band-thin 235/40 ContiSport Contact 3 tires thump terribly over road imperfections, but the suspension soaks it up in stride. More concerning is the typically esoteric Peugeot control layout, with dashboard buttons strewn all over the place and controls hidden away behind the steering wheel on various knobs and dongles. At the end of the month, I had a feeble grasp of the radio and cruise-control stalk layouts, and I still sometimes fumbled for the eco-slash-trip-meter button. (It’s on the wiper stalk. Don’t ask me why.)
On the bright side, front and rear parking sensors take the pain out of easing into tight spots, though you have to remember to leave space for those extra-long doors. Despite its low-slung stance, the RCZ’s chin clears all but the tallest of parking curbs. In this way, it’s much more practical than, say, a Genesis Coupe.
It even gets decent fuel economy, averaging 10-12km/L over the month and tantalizingly close to 20km/L on the highway, though hypermiling it is an exercise in frustration (read: It’s just too fast). Instead, the RCZ is a car that challenges you to live life to the fullest. All the time. Sadly, it’s a challenge that I was simply not up to. My time with the RCZ came out to 20 days in traffic, several days vainly searching for a decent place to drive.
Yes, living with the RCZ is like living with an underwear model. Unfortunately, 99% of the time, said model will be fully dressed. And while I loved the experience immensely, despite having to drive through soul-crushing traffic, my ever-pragmatic and long-suffering wife didn’t always share the same sentiments.
Then again, she doesn’t like me hanging around with underwear models, either.
SPECS: Peugeot RCZ THP 200
Engine: 1.6-liter turbopetrol I4
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Power: 197hp @ 5,800rpm
Torque: 275Nm @ 1,770rpm
Drive Layout: FWD
Price: P2.850 million
Note: This article first appeared in Top Gear Philippines' March 2016 issue.