We have some criteria to get a place in our RTOTY line up. It might seem like an excuse to get away for a few days in some exciting cars – and you’d be right in a lot of respects – but we do run our entrants past a loose set of rules too. Cars have to have been launched in the past 12 months, they have to be noteworthy, and come from manufacturers that won’t laugh when we ask to borrow them… But there’s one that overrides all others: We have to want one. And by want, I mean own.
And it doesn’t surprise me that the Peugeot RCZ falls into that category. Ever since I saw the first pictures of the sports coupe I knew the French firm was on to a winner. With the looks of an Audi TT but a more affordable price tag, it’s a premium car from a mainstream manufacturer. And they sell.
Thing is, it may look stunning – just as many Peugeots have in the past – but when it comes to the driving experience would it match our expectations? The 206CC, for example, was a masterpiece in design, bringing metal folding roofs to the masses – but my word was it awful to drive.
So what about the RCZ? My first stint behind the wheel is a snatched one – a cross-country thrash while snapper Dean’s taking some interior shots of the others. And first impressions are of an interior that doesn’t feel as I expected it to. The driving position isn’t as low as you’d imagine – you sit up quite high, much like you do in the hatchbacks the marque’s famous for. Perhaps it’s just in this company where most of its rivals here have bum cheeks skimming the Tarmac, but it is still noticeably lofty in comparison.
The interior doesn’t feel as stand-out as you’d imagine either, especially after the visual drama of the exterior. Don’t get us wrong, it’s well laid out, just lacking in the excitement some buyers may demand.
But what’s it like on the road? Well, that first thrash resulted in mixed feelings. It’s grippy and well balanced in the bends and although the steering is light, it’s precise and well weighted. But there is a fair whiff of body roll in the bends and that comes as a surprise considering its sports coupe proportions, while I found the gearbox a little sloppy.
Despite pleading for the 200bhp version, Peugeot sent us a 156bhp model. In this company, that required an incredible amount of revs and tenacity to keep up. That being said, it was never really left too far behind. It’s certainly an involving car to drive, and surprisingly entertaining. Only problem is, at those revs, the 1.6-litre does sound a little strained.
However, for most buyers it could just as well be powered by steam – they really aren’t concerned with what’s under the bonnet. For them it’s the looks that count. And we have to agree – this could actually be the best-looking Peugeot ever. Those curvy lines, lumpy roof and striking nose are the reason dealers can’t get hold of enough to satisfy demand – and the reason it will become a very common sight on our roads. Whether it’ll have the same visual appeal when they’re two a penny in the staff car park remains to be seen. But for now, it’s one of the stand-out cars of the moment.
A longer drive back to the hotel, relaxed and slower-paced, revealed a different side to the RCZ too. On flowing roads it’s a gem, comfortable to boot and I can’t help thinking, although not as dramatic as its rivals here, we were 100 per cent right to include it.