Design has always been right at the heart of the appeal of the Peugeot RCZ, so it comes as no surprise that the mid-life upgrade to Peugeot's hero car is all about styling.
The Peugeot RCZ, which arrived in 2010, has been given a new nose. It also has some extra equipment, but the interior is largely the same and all the mechanical parts have been carried over.
The RCZ now costs $58,990, a $4000 increase, but continues to carve itself a slight niche as the most affordable of the style-led coupes- the most famous of which is the Audi TT.
It’s a sporty coupe, but not a rowdy slide machine like the cheaper Toyota 86 ($29,990) or Subaru BRZ ($37,150 drive-away), and it would be blown away by the more focused and more expensive Nissan 370Z ($69,500).
The cheaper Volkswagen Scirocco R ($47,990) looms as a competitor, although it doesn’t have as much presence.
That leaves the Audi TT ($65,450 - $81,100) as the closest rival to the RCZ, and we’re sure it was the model the French brand was gunning for, but the Peugeot still costs considerably less.
The RCZ has been successful for Peugeot, selling in small but adequate numbers, while working wonders for the brand’s image that was in need of some polish. It is the RCZ’s role as a brand halo that has driven the mid-life facelift.
The sporty coupe has a new nose that takes its cues from the updated 308 and is being adopted across the rest of the family. Designers only altered the shape of the headlights very slightly, but they now contain xenon beams. The front clip now has a double grille design that incorporates new LED daytime running lights.
The only other visual change is the use of matt black rails instead of silver. Other colours are on the options list. You can judge for yourself whether the end result looks good.
Whether it looks better than the original is up for debate, but the facelifted Peugeot RCZ does look different and that is important in the style-conscious world of coupes. The rest of the RCZ design has been maintained and it is still dramatic even after three years.
This design will continue to polarise. Some people just love it and others think the proportions are all wrong, especially when driving down the road.
Either way, it’s a good thing that Peugeot is brave enough to produce such a boldly designed car – and you can’t help but notice the double-bubble roof and rear screen in traffic.
Peugeot has made no changes to the oily bits under the RCZ’s steel skin. That means you can choose between petrol and diesel engines, both of which drive the front wheels.
Pick the automatic petrol option and you get a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder direct injection unit with variable camshaft timing for the intake valve that makes 115kW and 240Nm, the maximum amount of torque the six-speed automatic can handle. This is the most popular RCZ engine/transmission combo, by two to one.
The manual petrol option includes a spicier version of a similar 1.6-litre turbo four that adds variable cam timing for the exhaust as well as valve lift. More importantly, it makes more power and torque, 147kW and 275Nm.
Fans of the oily fuel have one diesel option, a 2.0-litre turbo four-pot that makes 120kW and 340Nm that is fitted with a six-speed manual.
Curiously, all three engine and transmission options are the same price. Fuel economy figures are reasonable, 7.3L/100km for the petrol auto, 6.9L/100km for the petrol manual and 5.3L/100km for the diesel.
The diesel RCZ is only purchased by a handful of people per year, so none were on hand for the national launch in Melbourne yesterday.
We tested the manual petrol cars on the track at Sandown and the less potent automatics on a drive loop to the North East of the city. The track drive revealed how surprisingly capable this stylish coupe is.
The large 19-inch rims and low-profile Continental rubber (235/40s) no doubt contribute to sharp handling and the Peugeot RCZ certainly doesn’t lack traction.
Stiff springs and firm dampers hold the car down through the bends and there is no hint of excessive lean. The light steering makes the driver feel a little detached from the action, but on the flipside, enables easy low-speed manoeuvring.
There is no wheel spin on the way out of corners, no matter how hard you mash the accelerator, so it doesn’t appear to matter that the front differential is open.
It is no STI from 0-100km/h, stopping the clock at 7.5 seconds, but much feels faster around a circuit.
Pushing hard means the needle soon passes 180km/h by the end of the Sandown straight (the maximum top speed is 240km/h).
The engine is just fantastic. It’s torquey enough that it can be left in third for many second gear corners because it will pull happily at low revs, but it also revs sweetly to nearly 7000rpm.
The engine note is rorty, but not over-the-top loud. Peugeot’s in-house manual is solid enough; it’s not the slickest shifter but does the job.
Overall, the manual RCZ is much sharper and more capable around a track than you might expect from such a design-driven concept.
Peugeot then had us test the less powerful automatic version of the road loop.
It isn’t as gutless as you might fear, thanks to the torquey nature of the engine. Of course, it would be nice to have as much power as the manual version, but the people who select an automatic are probably more interested in the car’s looks than the way it surges off the line.
The firm suspension settings and 19-inch rims that contribute to track day fun conspire to make driving the RCZ every day more of a challenge. It results in a ride so stiff that it can be classified as harsh. Some people might accept this as ‘sporty’ but the crashing and bashing over bumps that really shouldn’t cause so much drama, is likely to be enough to put off some customers, especially those who drive on less than perfect roads.
The Peugeot RCZ interior is plush and fitted with supportive seats, which, along with the doors, are lined with supple leather. The dashboard is lined with a similar material. It’s a nice touch, but the interior is the same as the 2010 car and it is starting to look dated.
The centre console and its plain plastics as well as some of the dials look and feel cheap. Other, much cheaper rivals have better instrument cluster information graphics.
The pop-up screen, with sat-nav, is handy, but it looks like an after-thought. There are still no controls on the steering wheel; rather there is a stalk on the column that gets in the way when you turn the ignition key. It’s not a bad interior, but Peugeot could have updated it along with the car’s nose. Only small children can use the cramped rear seat, but the RCZ is still relatively practical as its boot is more generous than you might think, with a volume of 384 litres.
As for the value equation, the Peugeot RCZ could be viewed as under- or over-priced given it is a stylish coupe with no direct competitors.
This new car is $4000 more than the last, a price hike that seems hard to justify. Peugeot says optional items that are now standard, including the xenon lamps, pop-up display with sat-nav and 19-inch rims are worth more than the premium, but it’s still quite a jump. It also points to a new capped-price servicing scheme introduced for the 2013 model.
Overall, the Peugeot RCZ has a refreshed look but remains a boldly styled sports car that is likely to divide opinion.
The nice surprise for those who love the emotional design is that the RCZ is not just a styling exercise; it handles extremely well and is very quick (at least with a manual). Just don’t expect it to be comfortable.