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Car reviews - Peugeot - RCZ - coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Still one of the best-looking coupes on the market, drivetrain is shared with Mini so has to be good, three cars for the price of one.
Room for improvement
Totally impractical rear seats, choppy ride on 19-inch hoops, isn’t a mid-life spritz supposed to bring a price cut?

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Peugeot logo7 May 2013

IN A word, no. But before you turn away in disgust at GoAuto’s appallingly shallow judgment, there is an overriding qualifier – it is still worth buying just for its looks.

The RCZ was, is, and potentially always will be a stunner. It’s one of very few cars that you can stop to look at, and watch as the light plays over its Rubenesque flanks as it passes by you.

It doesn’t have the Teutonic tautness of the Audi TT, the hard-edged manga boyishness of the Nissan 370Z, or the awkward two-box gangliness of the BMW 1-Series. It just has that deliciously swept, ground-hugging profile that will look good in anyone’s office car park.

Spoiling it slightly though, in our eyes at least, is the shift to the dark side. The entire glasshouse and roof is now more than a blackened silhouette, and carried on with a dark face around the grille and equally sombre interior.

Mechanically, little has changed with the RCZ, so in theory we could just cut and paste the road test we published three years ago when the RCZ originally launched here.

But instead of being lazy and leaving you to soak up the eye candy that is RCZ, there is something new to report on that front, and sadly, it is not for the better.

The problem is that the RCZ now sits on 19-inch alloy wheels. They are great to look at, filling the wheel arches with machined aluminium artworks offset by the black brake calipers, but the small amount of flex available in the low-profile Continental rubber that replaces the original car’s Michelins isn’t an improvement.

At speed, the suspension will struggle to keep up with the demands asked of it. Our drive through the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne’s outer east sorely tested the set-up, with lumps and bumps on the road surface translating into at-times violent jolts in the cabin.

It also doesn’t help with cornering. Despite its high price tag, the Peugeot RCZ lacks some of the tricky torque-distributing technology available on other front-drive small cars.

Pitch the RCZ into a sharp bend, and the unloaded inner tyre will try to spin before the car’s stability control system grabs it with the brakes. If the corner happens to have a few bumps in it, too, the steering wheel will kick in your hands as the shock is transferred to the driver.

That said, the six-speed automatic transmission in the car we drove on-road performed well, shifting down a gear under braking to help pull the RCZ up. However, it did not shift down a gear to try and keep the car at a constant speed while running downhill.

No 2.0-litre diesel cars were available on the launch program – the engine accounts for only about one in every 20 sales, so buyers must order one in – instead we were treated to the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

Shared with Mini, it’s a sweet little mill, even as the detuned version mated to the six-speed automatic.

Responsive and rev-happy, it lacks some of the variable valve technology fitted to the manual version’s engine, producing only 115kW of power and 240Nm of torque from fairly low engine speed.

It feels quick enough, though, stepping away briskly from a set of traffic lights thanks to a variable vane turbocharger that minimises lag at low revs.

On paper, the RCZ officially uses 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres and emits 168g/km per kilometre of carbon dioxide. We struggled to meet that figure even with a fair bit of lazy highway work thrown in.

Our drive of the manual RCZ was a little different, and involved the use of Sandown International Raceway.

The manual version includes the variable valve technology that the auto version misses, and steps up performance to 147kW and 275Nm. Official fuel use falls to 6.9L/100km, and emissions to 159g/km.

The racetrack shows the higher-performing 1.6-litre engine’s peaky best. The swoopy Peugeot’s pedal box is still tight, the clutch pedal is soft and missing a definite bite point, and the gearbox a little vague, but you can punt it hard.

It has a rorty soundtrack, too, thanks to a small vane that works a lot like those used in musical instruments, giving a throaty rasp to the engine under hard acceleration. It sounds good inside the cabin, but from outside it could be any other small-capacity four-cylinder donk stretched to the limit of its accelerator pedal’s travel.

You can’t tell much more from the racetrack, apart from the fact that the brake pedal doesn’t get long despite repeated punishment, and the car’s stability control program is happy to intervene and lend a helping hand at any moment.

The RCZ’s cabin is a good place, too, despite its dark and sombre motif. The now-standard sat-nav rises from the dash as soon as you turn the key, the contrasted white stitching on the leather-look dash adds a classy feel despite reflecting badly on the windscreen, and the heavily bolstered front seats wrap around you and hug you in.

Everything looks rich and well-appointed, and makes the RCZ seem more expensive than it really is.

As for the rear seats, well don’t bother. They’re almost unusable to adults and cramped for children, and their best feature is the fact the seatback folds forward, expanding the small boot into a decent amount of load space.

At the end of the day, then, the fresh-faced RCZ is just as good to look at, but just a bit more difficult to live with, both in terms of price and ride.

Beauty is pain, even in the car world.

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