The cars we loved.
Pikes Peak is a grueling uphill race that tests the mettle of both driver and machine. There are multiple classes, so it’s not uncommon to see a little bit of everything. In some years the race can look like a moving automotive history exhibit with vintage Ford RS 2000s going up against the ubiquitous Evo and WRXsti racers. The broad playing field means that anyone (who qualifies) can bring their car to the 12.42 mile course.
Everyone loves a good race, and car companies are no different be they in Detroit or Paris. For European companies, a modification of the American adage ‘Win on Sunday and sell on Monday’ concept usually means race in June and sell in January. That was the ideal behind Peugeot’s record shattering run in a specially modified 208 T16. When Peugeot was selling cars in America, it usually some variation of the 205 T16 for the race. During that time it had all but left the American market but remained in the consciousness of Europeans.
Peugeot’s racing arm called Peugeot Sport would maintain a presence consistently at Pikes Peak and were in the winner’s circle on more than a few occasions. In 2013, a 208 T16 would be the first rally or hill climb car to have both four-wheel drive and all wheel steering. These advances were lost on most Americans because Peugeot had long left the market and had become just another odd off-limits brand to enter the race.
Since Sebastien Loeb’s record breaking 8 minute 13 second run (beating the previous record by 92 seconds!), PS has used the trickledown effect to turn its race winning cars into a sales winning performance ‘R’ line for Peugeot. The current flagship of the line is the RCZ R. As a proper 2 door coupe the RCZ is an increasingly rare breed in Europe (and America).
The RCZ harkens back to a time where affordable performance coupes like the Calibra, Rover 200 and Celica were common place on the roads of Europe. As an American, the RCZ reminds me of that great time during the late ’80s to mid ’90s when the Probes, Celica, 240sx and Diamond Star coupes ruled the compact coupe market.
The RCZ R is not likely to be confused for any of those cars. It strayed little from the 2009 concept version when it first went on sale about a year later. A small refresh only heightened its distinctiveness. It’s design language is typically French, in that it’s unusual and can be somewhat polarizing. At first glance the RCZ resembles a fourth generation Eclipse with an Eagle Talon styled blacked out top. Further inspection recalls the Audi TT (its closest competitor) in the rear.
It’s not an instantly loveable design. Its bold and forces a definite like it or hate it response. The RCZ lacks the Audi’s gracefulness due to lines that are both jarring and flowing. The look is kinetic and purposeful, thanks to wider stance, fatter 19 inch tires and the dual exhaust the R model brings.
Beyond the slightly more aggressive front fascia, what makes the “R” in RCZ R special is under the hood. A 1.6 liter twin turbocharged engine produces an amazing 270 hp! That power is fed to the front wheels unlike the race car that inspired it’s R badge. That’s more than 168 hp per liter, a figure that tops super exotics like the Bugatti Veyron. Aside from being the most powerful Peugeot ever, the RCZ R is sporting the most powerful 1.6 production engine in the world.
Despite all that power to the front wheels, the RCZ R is linked to a 6 speed manual transmission. The stick is the only option, so anyone choosing it as a fashion accessory will need to learn the ancient art of self-shifting. For everyone else the 200 hp standard RCZ is available with a automatic transmission.
The impressive technical numbers are backed up by more practical performance benchmarks. 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, top speed of 155mph and 44 mpg (by European ratings). Those qualities have endured the RCZ to the European motoring press. Even the folks at Top Gear love it for its smooth power delivery and balanced handling (if not rough ride).
My guess is that the innovative yet quirky French engineering Peugeot were known for in the past is probably still there, but modern best practices of production and parts logistics have made all cars more reliable. Could that also be the case for the somewhat independent PSA Peugeot Citroën group? It must be because the RCZ R is sold in 80 countries with the vast majority of those sales being standard models.
A fashion accessory is likely what the RCZ would become if it were sold in America. The non R versions of the car could very well be popular here for those who miss the Eclipse or despair at the dwindling number of affordable coupe choices in our market. In strengthening it cause as a fashion accessory, the R model has one of the most beautiful interiors of the current coupe class. It’s simple, understated elegance features a full array of technological gizmos like a collapsing ‘navatainment’ screen.
Which brings us to a puzzling appearance that the RCZ will have in a new film Will Smith film Focus. The some of the story takes place in New Orleans and looks like just another action packed drama, except that the star is seen driving a RCZ with its steering wheel on the left hand side. The car is available in both left and right-sided driver versions. It’s an odd choice but given New Orleans’s French heritage I could see how it could be worked in to the story.
Film studios and car companies have a long history of co dependence, but it’s usually centered on products that can be sold in the film’s primary market. Of course it will be shown in Europe, but Americans will likely be curious. Could Peugeot, who is winning races in June hope to be selling here soon? Not likely. We may just have to be content to look at the screen and dream.