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First drive: One size fits all for slinky Peugeot RCZ

French fantasy: RCZ comes in three flavours for Oz, all priced under the luxury car tax threshold.

We drive Pug's sleek new RCZ Coupe, priced to please at $55K for all three models

Peugeot logo3 Sep 2010

PEUGEOT'S curvaceous RCZ sports coupe will sit in a niche of its own with a one-price-fits-all price across its three-powertrain range when it arrives in Australian showrooms at $54,990 on October 1.

That price undercuts the 2+2 Peugeot's nearest natural rival, the entry-level ($63,900) 1.8-litre turbo-petrol version of Audi's conceptually similar TT coupe, by more than $8000.

Buyers might be tempted to shop it against BMW's 125i Coupe ($55,400), but in reality, those who fall in love with the slinky style of the RCZ are not likely to have much to match it against at that mid-$50K range.

Peugeot Automobiles Australia (PAA) said it decided to peg all three of its RCZ variants at the same price for simplicity - “we thought 'why not?'” - and the policy seems to be working as it has already pre-sold 60 cars sight unseen to early adopters.

Some buyers are going to have to wait, however, as Peugeot's Australian operation will be rationed to about 30 units a month from the strictly limited supply of 22,000 units a year from contract builder Magna Steyr's factory in Austria.

It is the first time Peugeot has used this independent supplier, chosen because the RCZ, although based on the French car-maker's 'Platform 2' that spawned the 308 and 3008, is so modified with unique features such as its “double bubble” roof with arched aluminium beams and uniquely moulded glass that it needed special care to turn it from the acclaimed concept car first shown at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show into production reality.

The Australian RCZ range is available with a choice of three engines – two 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines co-developed with BMW and a 2.0-litre HDi turbo-diesel.

The petrol engines are not only split by performance – the top-of-the-range unit has 147kW while the lesser engine has 115kW – but also transmission, with the performance leader mated only with a six-speed manual gearbox and the lower-output unit getting available just with a six-speed automatic.

The 120kW turbo-diesel also only comes with one transmission choice, a six-speed manual.

23 center imageThe 147kW direct-injection petrol engine gains its extra punch mainly through more sophisticated overhead gear – variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust valves, and BMW's Valvetronic variable valve lift that adjusts the lift of inlet valves to control air flow into the cylinder, essentially doing away with the throttle body valve.

The engine, lesser versions of which do duty across a number of models in the PSA and BMW ranges, achieves its maximum power at 5500rpm and peak torque of 275Nm at 1700rpm.

Zero to 100km/h acceleration is a modest 7.5 seconds, but the benefit of the smaller capacity/direct-injection turbo combination is seen at the petrol pump with combined fuel consumption of 6.9 litres per 100km and carbon dioxide emissions rated at 159 grams per kilometre.

PAA says it would have liked to have offered an automatic transmission with this unit, but none was forthcoming from France.

Instead, it had to settle for the 115kW/six-speed auto combo for those demanding self-shifting. This engine is missing some of the niceties around the cylinder-head, but torque remains a respectable 240Nm.

While Peugeot claims this transmission is more efficient than the previous auto iteration, fuel economy suffers compared with the manual, with this unit returning 7.3L/100km and 168g/km of CO2.

The Aisin-supplied transmission offers two modes – standard and sport.

The torque king of the range is the turbo-diesel, pumping out 340Nm from 2000rpm to 3000rpm, which contributes to its 5.3L/100km fuel economy and low 139g/km CO2 consumption reading.

Many of the chassis underpinnings are carried over from the 308 but beefed up to suit the sporting intent of the RCZ. Bigger front uprights grace the MacPherson strut front suspension, while the rear suspension is a version of the 308's torsion beam set-up.

The RCZ – the RC of which is said to stand for 'rally car' – sits 20mm lower than the 308, while the body is 30mm wider.

This low, road-hugging appearance is enhanced by flared mudguards housing fat wheels on a track that is wider by 54mm at the front and 72mm at the rear.

Standard wheels are 18-inch, but 19-inch hoops are available for $600 extra.

Electronic wizardry includes hill assist for tricky starts on slopes, electronic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution and the usual ABS brakes and so on.

The ESC can be switched off by thrill seekers, but at least there are meaty disc brakes – 302mm on the front – should it all go awry.

Steering is rack-and-pinion controlled by a hydro-electric pump, while the RCZ with the more powerful 147kW engine gets front axle and hub assemblies from the bigger 407.

The signature “double bubble” silhouette - with twin humps running across the roof and down the rear glass – improves interior spaciousness, as does the noticeably wider body.

Peugeot describes the two rear seats as “occasional”, with limited legroom.

That rear seat most likely will be better used as additional luggage space, with the rear seatback folding forward to increase boot capacity from a modest 384 litres to a usable 760 litres.

No spare wheel is offered, even though the boot has a 308-style wheel well. Instead, a can of tyre goo is supplied for flats.

The bonnet, which overlaps the wheel-arches at the sides for a uniquely seamless presentation, is armed with two explosive devices to instantly jack up the bonnet by 55mm to increase crush space to protect pedestrians.

The devices are triggered by a fibre-optic cable at the front of the car, which, when the light beam is broken on impact, sends a signal to the pyrotechnic devices in just 0.1 of a second.

Leather-trimmed seats are standard, with the dash cloaked in a matching soft leather-like material called Nabuck, which is cross-stitched for classy effect.

An analogue clock sits front and centre on the middle of the dash, while the speedo and tacho dials are backed with a carbon-fibre-like material and surrounded by faux chrome rings.

Metallic paint is either $800 or $1300 extra, depending on the level of sparkle.

USB, Bluetooth and MP3 connectivity are all standard, hooking up with a six-speaker JBL sound system.

Eight paint schemes are available – Opal White (the only solid colour), Tourmaline Red, Tuanake Blue, Mercury Grey, Shark Grey, Haria Grey, Perla Nera Black and the only premium metallic paint, Pearl White.

Five enhancement packs are also offered, ranging from additional leather for the dash and trim (not recommended for the Aussie sun, apparently), to $4000 Sportif personalisation packets.

These can include a carbon-fibre-look roof, which is included as standard with other enhancements on a 200th Anniversary edition that will hit the showrooms in December for $62,490.

That vehicle will be unveiled at the Australian International Motor Show in October.

Peugeot RCZ pricing:
RCZ 1.6 147kW manual$54,990
RCZ 1.6 115kW automatic$54,990
RCZ 2.0 HDi manual$54,990

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