Peugeot’s sporty coupé has punch

The French carmaker has come up with the goods with this car that marries performance and style

THERE are, no doubt, plenty of French products you’d be proud to call your own – a Christian Dior suit, maybe, or a bottle of Dom Pérignon. But when was a Peugeot last one of them? Probably the 1980s, when it launched the fabulous old 205 GTi? Now, though, let me introduce a sultry new contender: the brand spanking RCZ R.

Yes, it might have a name that sounds like a games console accessory, but the RCZ R is the latest version of Peugeot’s Audi TT-rivalling coupé. You know, the one with the double-domed roof that looks like a pert set of buttocks underneath a silk sheet.

There’s already a 200 horsepower RCZ – about the bare minimum for a sporty car these days. The RCZ R deploys 270 rampaging ponies, making it an altogether more enthralling proposition. And rampaging is pretty apt, since all 270 are fighting their way to the tarmac using only the front wheels.

This kind of arrangement has traditionally posed a bit of a problem, since the front wheels are also responsible for the steering. Either the performance or the car’s ability to whip its way round corners tends to be a bit out of control. Audi solves this by offering its more furious TT models with quattro four-wheel drive, enabling the rear wheels to take some of the beating. While this is effective, it makes the ride a little less thrilling.

Peugeot’s approach is rather more bloody-minded. In fact, this whole car is bloody-minded. That prodigious power is conjured up from just 1.6 turbocharged litres, making this one of the most power-dense engines on the market. Ever. And instead of using electronics to tame that power – the modern way of doing things – Peugeot has instead handed the project to its racing department, which solved the problem by fitting a mechanical device – a limited slip differential.

It’s also made some significant adjustments to the suspension, and dressed up the outside in a form-fitting body kit and a knockout set of big wheels. On the inside there’s a fabulous pair of sports seats in the front, which are both comfortable and satisfyingly restraining, complemented by a subdued but racy black and red colour scheme.

Let’s face it, you buy a coupé because you’re looking for some excitement. The RCZ R is utterly obliging, though testing it in the French Alps I was initially concerned it was going to be all thumping, heavy-handed engine. But Peugeot Sport has breathed a playful vigour into the RCZ’s chassis that says: yes, you really should throw me into that hairpin bend with the kind of careless abandon usually reserved for a Friday night in Soho.

The power isn’t quite as explosive as I was hoping, but it has a rapacious appetite for corners and the kind of big-lunged feel that speaks of enormously satisfying stamina. The RCZ R just wants to go and go and go, and it’s down to you to keep up with it – something the superb six-speed manual gearbox encourages.

The ride is on the firm side but that’s the price you pay for a car that grips and gallops as hard as this one. And although there are elements of the interior that seem a little cheap and nasty, the RCZ R compensates by being surprisingly accommodating. The child-sized perches masquerading as a back seat even fold forward to extend the already generous boot capacity, so there’s reasonable stowage space for adventurous weekends away.

Audi’s TT is a better all-rounder, with a classier image and higher quality finish. But the RCZ R has an aura of je ne sais quoi the straight-laced German car just doesn’t offer. It also makes you want to keep going back for more.

CJ Hubbard works for motoringresearch.com

THE FACTS: PEUGEOT RCZ R
PRICE: £31,995
0-62MPH: 6.1 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 145g/km
MPG COMBINED: 44.8mpg

THE VERDICT:
DESIGN Three Stars
PERFORMANCE Four Stars
PRACTICALITY Two Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Three Stars