Handling handling handling. Think of any great Peugeot, and an ability to dance on tippy toes will be what defines it. Brittle interiors, moody electrics and Rizla-thin panels are all forgiven if the Pug can cock a wheel and shimmy a tail. All memorable Peugeots handle better than they look.
Which puts a massive weight of pressure on the brand new RC Z – because it looks amazing. The double bubble roof, an Olympic swimmer’s shoulders and the peachy rear of a keen female jockey manage to distract the eye from the genetically flawed Lesley Ash gob. And that’s not the only pressure. Seeing as the top spec RC Z (the only one you need care about) is a 200bhp turbocharged coupe costing about £25k, it’s heading for a flouncy cuffed fist fight with the VW Scirocco and Audi TT. So, that handling we were on about…
70mph, spread eagled over both lanes of a Spanish A-Road with a clean line of sight for at least half a mile… 10 corners of handling indulgence. Gingerly into the first left-hander, not braking but lifting, touching the apex and easing away. Already there’s a sense of weight, an impression of width to the RC Z that builds your trust. Accelerate back to a right that’s a mirror of the first left. Don’t lift this time. Steering develops more weight… a few nudges as it kicks back over ridges. Hydraulically assisted, consistent and linear – not overly chatty but the tyres aren’t loaded up yet. There’s still time for it to shine.
Approaching a downhill corkscrew. Taking the first right-hander on the brakes to shed speed before the tighter left that follows. Car’s led by the front, with understeer at the limit – but the back will shimmy under braking. Not what you’d call oversteer, not something you’d deliberately provoke but satisfying to feel all four tyres doing some work, even if the rears seem like passengers.
Right, left, right all dispatched in 2nd, barping off the limiter with the final corner left behind. Not overly sharp or too quick and fidgety – just agile but easy, accurate but flattering. Three corners to go. Sounds awesome. Crunch time.
Massively egged on by the meaty noise now. 3rd gear into a right hooker that’s sensibly 4th, just for the rort. Outside wheels loaded up as the RC Z leans on its springs, front tyres starting to have their sidewalls nibbled away as they succumb to understeer… but it won’t be thrown off line. Hanging on, riding the humps, keeping its feet on the ground, lift as the bend straightens out for the left that follows. Turn in, carrying too much speed, ABS rattles the front wheels on a damp patch and tightens their line – good steering feel now, rubbery, grippy, connected. Blast out of the bend, still in third, into 4th for the final sweeper… car banks in, sits on its springs, holds its line and is away. Still holding onto each gear to make the most of the noise, only easing off to spare being hexed by the approaching villagers.
That was fun – not electrifying, but fun. The RC Z is no dynamic scalpel, no overly focussed track addict. But it’s balanced, fluid, softer than you’d expect and satisfyingly physical to chuck about. Perhaps not as tight, tactile or adjustable as a Scirocco, but definitely more fun than an Audi TT. Easily the best handling Peugeot since the 106 GTI disappeared in 2002.
But, somehow, it’s not the way it corners that defines the Peugeot. There’s more to it than that.
The ride is better than a Scirocco or TT – still firm, but not crashy. The interior, while very clearly related to the 308, feels special. You’ll need a GT spec car to get the leather-trimmed seats and dash but it makes it feel a cut above. Also, despite the roofline, the RC Z has also got a decent boot – long and flat as opposed to short and upright like a Scirocco’s. The back seats are as useless as you’d expect, but if you need better you should be buying a 3008 anyway. And while the 200bhp version’s 0-62mph of 7.5 seconds might not sounds amazing, it never feels underpowered and should do nearly 40mpg. Go for the 156bhp version of the same engine or the 163bhp 2.0HDI diesel and you can bump that up to 40.9 or 52.3mpg. It’s all incredibly convincing.
Compromise is usually a dirty word. It makes cars comfortable instead of fun, frugal instead of fast, practical instead of stylish – but the compromises in the Peugeot RC Z are actually what make it so easy to like. A Scirocco might be a better handler, but it’s not as pretty, satisfying, economical or enjoyable. Instead of sacrificing any aspect for another, Peugeot have given the RC Z a perfect blend of them all. It’s a Peugeot that’s memorable not just for handling, but for everything else as well.