For the last 15 years, I've been heartbroken. And the culprits, unsurprisingly, are certain carmakers. The main offender is Lancia, one of the greatest engineering companies of all time, the same marque that used to solve every problem with a blueprint and a spanner.
Whenever things went wrong — the car didn't sell, company assets were deflecting in all directions, the centre of gravity wasn't low enough — Lancia always engineered its way out of a rut. If a D50 Grand Prix car ran out of fuel, Lancia wouldn't just whip out a jerrycan, they'd replace the skin with thinner gauge aluminium sheets, calm down the hot cams without (somehow) losing power, increase the intake charge temperature and raise the compression ratio. Lancia died with the Delta Integrale, and in 1994 I was much too young to grieve.
In pictures: New Peugeot RCZ
But I had to get used to mourning quickly anyway. Because pretty soon Hondas strayed so far off the enthusiasts' path Soichiro struggled to forge, they were last seen crawling in the slow lane with one of the indicators still blinking from an insecure lane change three kilometres earlier.
I'm not even going to begin raising my blood pressure with talk of Saab, but I will fume at the French. However, since Renaultsport is doing amazing things (including dabbling with Alpine's resurrection), and Citroën is winning every rally outside politics, my main gripe is with Peugeot.
Here we go… World's first car with independent front suspension, Group B World Rally titles, Peugeot 405 GTi T-16 and Ari Vatanen's "Climb dance", Pininfarina's achingly-pretty 406 Coupé — the poor man's Ferrari 456, 905B Le Mans victor, 106 Rallye, 205 GTi... And today? Well, um, Peugeot's ahead of Smart and Daewoo in reliability ratings. Will that do? No, it won't. But the brand new RCZ coupé most certainly will.
last chance kidThe French are front-wheel drive pioneers. Citroën set the ball rolling with the Traction Avant, but it was half a century later, after VW cashed in on the hot hatch craze with the Golf GTI, that Peugeot decided to perfect FWD with the 205 GTi.
Its hot hatches began dominating FWD rallying for two decades. And then it all went down the drain. But mirroring sister brand Citroën's rise from obscurity last year — thanks primarily to the awesome DS line — Peugeot is churning out fabulous new models faster than Hugh Hefner.
And the RCZ is its dynamic new chapter. And I do mean dynamic. This car is so vibrant, it's like a kid who dreamed its whole life of being a sportscar when it grew up. And now the Peugeot RCZ is living that dream. Every twist of the wheel, prod of the throttle, and nudge of the six-speed automatic gear lever is met with a fervent burst towards a corner.
With a direct injection 1.6-litre turbo engine nestled transversely under the bonnet (the same BMW-co-developed unit as in the Mini Cooper S), 156 horses never felt so rebellious. It's like all 156 of them have a serious case of ADD and the medication ran out last month.
They just can't sit still. Progress is feverish, with maximum power coming on song at 5,800rpm which encourages extremely close relations with the redline… Even though this is totally unnecessary as 240Nm of torque is available from just 1,400rpm. Here's an engine bursting with character, and I just can't imagine how much fun it would be with Peugeot's gruff six-speed stick-shift.
And even though it sounds like a sick diesel with the bonnet up, from behind the wheel all you hear is a gruff little bark, like a dog begging at the dinner table, "gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme…" So you can't help but give, feeding in more and more throttle to your little puppy. This car really endears itself.
Inside, everything is covered in leather, and I do mean everything. OK, I don't mean everything, because the tunnel console is naked plastic and so is the steering wheel column, but honestly, that's it.
The dashtop is soft, double-stitched (white stitching, for some classy contrast) leather, the door cards too, and even the instrument binnacle shield. The cabin is a resounding success, and apart from a nice, big touch display, nothing is missing. The seats are a shapely pair with incorporated headrests, which themselves have embossed Peugeot lions.
Piano black plastics surround the AC and audio controls, while the steering wheel is a flat-bottomed classic shape, its centre discerningly reminiscent of the Ferrari 456 wheel. It's marvellous to hold, stout, and links you quite heavily to the action up front. Its feel is enhanced by the fact that you're sitting in the perfect driving position, thanks to the hugely-adjusting seat and column.
Visibility too is excellent, as there's a lack of a proper B-pillar and that large double bubble rear window-cum-roof lets you glance at your blind spot without snapping your neck. Everything you feel and everywhere you look, you touch and see a sportscar.
And then there is the level of traction, which is just ridiculous. At first glance I thought 19in wheels and tyres might be overkill for a 1.6-litre car, but the rubber isn't too hard or too noisy, and the ride is firm yet without judders. Even the turn-in is amazingly instantaneous.
The Continentals never squeal in protest, so a lot of the RCZ's excellent dynamics are surely down to the 235/40 profile ContiSportContact 3s (haven't they heard of a spacebar?!) but the Peugeot's chassis can't go without its due praise.
The RCZ's direct cornering, lack of body roll and swift weight distribution management is an area handed over to the typical MacPherson type front suspension and rear torsion beam. Only it's been specially tweaked for this coupé, and the ride height dropped by 20mm (it still sits visually too high) with the centre of gravity going down an additional 20mm.
With the widening of the front track by 54mm over other Peugeots sharing this platform, and a 72mm wider rear, the Peugeot is on a winning track. Shocks are also stiffer and this is immediately noticeable, but the ride never gets too rigid in the RCZ, only uneven.
You'll bounce periodically over road imperfections, and the sporty nature of the chassis also likes to follow the road camber and tramline now and then. Just hold on to the meaty steering wheel and you'll be fine, as it's nothing sportscar drivers aren't unaccustomed to.
An eager engine hung right over the driven wheels, which just so happen to be wrapped in superglue instead of rubber, means you can enter corners at insane speeds. And even then you only need to feather the brakes with your left foot to get through to the other side facing the right way. Lift-off oversteer? Check. FWD Scandinavian flick? Check. Depressive understeer? Sorry, no, they left that one on the Peugeot 308.
Seriously, the RCZ possesses amazing grip and at the same time feeds loads of data into your hands through a hydraulic steering system that shouldn't really have anything to say. Another commendable feat is the car's 1,372kg kerb weight, which is a huge saving when you consider that the 308 CC weighs in at 1,512kg.
Mid-corner bumps, though, will upset the stiff suspension quite a lot and throw you way off line, but once the front tyres land and claw at the tarmac again, you'll spring back onto the desired trajectory with alarming ferocity.
It's almost as if because you're so much in control, you're losing control.
Love this car. Don't like the looks at all, which is why you've read pretty much nothing on that subject so far (rear is way too long, cat-fish mouth is goofy, tail and headlights are more on the sides than the ends, but the Zagato-style double bubble is a pass). Otherwise I absolutely adore this Peugeot, and I haven't said that since I had a go in a 1.9-litre 205 GTi.
The RCZ has awesome handling, gives a hugely involving drive even if it's a sprint to Spinneys, from a connecting and ergonomic interior and a give-me-all-you-got engine in front of a quirky but deadly FWD chassis. What a return to form…
So even though I've been cruelly betrayed, left in the gutter by cars I've idolised all my childhood such as Lancia and Honda, the Peugeot RCZ has taught me a valuable lesson. You can mend a broken heart.
There's nothing special about thisfigure on its own, but boy, do these horses make themselves felt...
- Model RCZ
- Engine 1.6-litre inline-four turbo
- Transmission Six-speed auto, FWD
- Max power 156bhp @ 5,800rpm
- Max torque 240Nm @ 1,400rpm
- Top speed 212kph 0-100kph 9.0sec
- Price Dh129,000
- Plus Awesome dynamics, bursting with eager character, great cabin
- Minus Looks are a personal thing, no sat-nav
The only TT you could consider in similar-ish price range is the 2.0-litre model producing just over 200 horsepower. Although there's a quattro all-wheel drive version available, the peppy FWD version is our pick of the bunch. You get the prestigious badge and Audi cabin and at Dh149K it represents good value. Oh, and it's faster too.
Although it's dynamically far inferior to the Audi and the Peugeot, the big and beautiful Renault has a V6 on its side (even if that 3.5-litre engine is detuned to 235bhp) and usable rear seats. The Laguna Coupé's main party trick, however, is a Renaultsport-developed four-wheel steer system that aids manoeuvrability. Just one trim is available at Dh125K.
- 1 Double bubble roof is a styling feature that has made it to production from the concept car. We expected a distorted view in the rearview mirror, but there are no issues.
- 2 Roof arches feel a little plasticky, but they are actually aluminium; another concept-to-production reality.
- 3 Traction control adapts the grip of both front wheels continuously, but it never feels intrusive. Switch it off though, and it stays off.
- 4 The RCZ is low and broad, perfect for a sportscar; it's 1,845mm wide and just 1,359mm tall.
- 5 The boot is simply gigantic for such a small car (a downside is the elongated rear end), 384 litres exactly, and the rear seats fold flat to reveal even more cargo room.
The model we had on test was the 1.6-litre turbo six-speed automatic RCZ, which is considered entry-level here while a diesel takes care of that in Europe. But Peugeot — Swaidan Trading in Dubai and Omer Bin Youssef & Sons in Abu Dhabi — can also sell you a 200bhp six-speed manual which does 0-100kph in 7.6 seconds.
Considering that the 200 THP weighs exactly the same as the 156 THP, we expect dynamics to be just as spot on and everyday usability more forgiving with 275Nm of torque available from 1,400rpm. It will cost you Dh137K.