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Driven – Peugeot RCZ THP156

Written on:October 17, 2011
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Peugeot RCZ THP156

My week with Peugeot’s RCZ didn’t start well. Unusually it came with no paperwork, no spec sheet and no exterior badging, so when it felt a bit sluggish I assumed that the THP200 was just slower than I would have expected. On further checking it turned out that the THP200 that I’d ordered (well, you would, given the choice, wouldn’t you?) was actually a THP156, its slower, smaller brother. Hmm.

For those who aren’t familiar with the RCZ range there are two petrol-engined versions: both are turbocharged and displace 1.6-litres but one produces 156hp and the other 200hp. Both are designated ‘THP’ (Turbo High Performance) and are a result of collaboration between BMW, PSA Peugeot and Citroen, which means that you will find this powertrain in the MINI John Cooper Works too.

The RCZ (‘Racing Concepts by Zagato’) is, to my mind, a good-looking car. Sure, there are hints of the Audi TT there but it’s a neat, clean design with a wonderful double-bubble glass roof. It’s squat and purposeful and looks even better in natural light than it does in photographs. I liked it a lot and the people who spoke to me about it thought that it looked much more expensive than it actually is.

The interior is just as attractive with a very clear dashboard and modern styling that’s in keeping with the exterior. The firm, wide leather seats are more comfortable and supportive than appearances would suggest and the taut, shiny, thick leather covering them will probably outlast the rest of the car…

The RCZ does have rear seats but they are essentially useless due to limited leg and headroom. You can fold them down to extend the size of the boot but if you are tall they’ll restrict the rearward movement of the driver’s seat; the boot is a good size though, so it’s not quite as annoying in practice as it could have been.

The gearchange is notchy at times and was sufficiently coarse to detract from driving in the city, something that isn’t helped by the Peugeot’s width, which you are always conscious of. The low roofline also means that tall drivers will struggle to see traffic lights if they are the first in a queue, although overall headroom in the front is very good.

Freed from the confines of city streets and traffic the RCZ improves immensely. Performance is strong without being overwhelming (you’ll need to change down from 6th to overtake on the motorway, for example) and yet, like so much of the car, it felt balanced and composed. It illustrates perfectly that sometimes moderate power is enough; I was rarely left wanting more and the smaller engine provides useful savings in both the initial purchase (£21,210 against £23,595 in Sport trim; the diesel, with 163hp, is £23,045) and ongoing running costs. Engine noise is noticeable but never intrusive; like so much of this car it is perfectly judged.

The ride is very good for a sporting coupe, with firm damping that rarely jars; it’s also extremely comfortable on long journeys, which made it our default car for the week. Lateral grip is very good and it’s handling is balanced with consistent understeer that isn’t intrusive; the RCZ tucks in neatly with mild oversteer when you lift the throttle. It isn’t an inspiring drive, just a very good one.

The whole car is restrained and thoughtfully executed. No element or component overwhelms or overpowers and there is fluidity and a harmony that is very rare. Some have suggested that enthusiasts will find the RCZ disappointing, a car that promises so much but fails to deliver dynamically; I disagree.

I think that the engineers at Peugeot should be congratulated. The RCZ is aimed at a specific demographic and it meets their needs perfectly. It looks terrific, has strong, refined performance and neat handling and should prove to be a very satisfying car to own.

Like: Comfortable seats, decent performance, good handling, refined at speed. Every element of the RCZ works as a whole; nothing dominates

Dislike: Rears seats are no use, even for young children

Summary: If you are an enthusiastic car owner (which is often more sensible than being a car enthusiast) you will love the RCZ

Images: Carlton Boyce, except interior, which is courtesy of Peugeot

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