Sunday 15 December 2019

Head turner has va va voom but its details need attention

Peugeot RCZ R sports copue
Peugeot RCZ R sports copue
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It is funny how the obvious can elude you for so long. It has evaded me on sports cars for years. And I think it slipped by Peugeot on one critical element in this. Now, thanks to the cousin, I reckon I've cracked one great truism about sports motors. And maybe, if I'm not being too presumptuous, I can bring something fairly straightforward to the French carmaker's attention.

First, the truism about sports cars. Driving a high-powered one like this Peugeot RCZ R isn't about speed in absolute terms. It's about the sensation of speed and change of direction all the time.

The cousin crystallised that for me when we took a brisk sprint with the steam rising from the road after a heavy shower. Atmospheric.

I've driven faster in a saloon, or a 4x4, but this sits so low and hugs the tarmac it lets you feel like you are whizzing when, in reality, you are only tickling legal limits. And the note from the exhaust makes you believe you're at Le Mans.

You have just got to be careful. This crescent-shaped speedster, a muscled-up (plus 70bhp) version of the RCZ, is a potential penalty-points printer.

Even though it has 'only' a 1.6-litre turbo engine, it extracts phenomenal power (270bhp) for such a small powerplant – so much so they went and completely overhauled the suspension to deal with the greater pressures, gave it 19in wheels and dropped the body by 10mm so you get even closer to the ground.

It was quick off the mark (0-100kmh in 5.9 seconds) but not tyre-smoking. More impressively, it was sharp between the gears when I stabbed the accelerator. I pushed it all the way to the red line in lower gears and never once heard a harsh note from that engine. Truth to tell, it was only warming up at our motorway legal limit.

So why bother buying one? It costs a lot and has its drawbacks (I'll come to them in a minute). By extension, why buy a sports car at all, because you'll only ever be able to legally tap a tiny amount of its potential?

Of course there's an ego boost involved here. With its double-bubble roof, this looks great. Mine was in red, with twin exhaust pipes, Titanium coloured headlights and matt black roof arches. I got my share of looks and a few thumbs-up.

It is a two-seater (two little yokes at the back are tiny) and unashamedly targets drivers of the iconic Audi TT (new one recently unveiled) so it has to catch the eye. But you would have some ego needs to pay €53,000 solely to boost them on visuals.

You'd need a lot else. It has to be about savouring that sense of sudden movement, controlled change of direction where you feel the dynamics through the steering wheel and the chassis reacting (stiffened springs). It does something to you – it thrills or, in the case of some of my passengers, frightens a little.

You can gather from this I enjoyed the energetic driving a lot, but a couple of things took from it. One in particular would put me off considering it, and the reason is laced with irony. In a nutshell, the flat-bottomed steering wheel was far too large. It intruded on my driving and enjoyment.

Basically, I could not adjust it or the seat so my knees were not always touching or too near to it. Try as I might, it didn't work.

Now that is so ironic because Peugeot have the smallest steering wheel in the business adorning their excellent 308 (car of the year here), and its claim to fame is that you can see all the relevant instrument information over it. I love it. The big buster in the RCZ R, I didn't.

The combination of sports seats (I was disappointed not to see them electrically adjustable) and deep wheel represented a big blot on my landscape. I was never comfortable with it. Peugeot might look into that.

It is also too pricey. I know there's great performance in it – I think it's a cracker – but I also think it needs to cost less to tempt you away from a TT. There I am awakening to the obvious again.

My side of the road

I've seen cars put to different and bizarre uses in my time. But an open-top and, relatively speaking, small Mercedes CLK carrying a great big, plush armchair has to be among the strangest.

More luck to the lady driver; she took her time and dealt with the stares.

I've known calves to have been ferried in the back of a Ford Cortina, neatly wrapped up in bags with only their heads and necks protruding. But there was something about a hood-down Merc with the chair perched like a baby elephant that made me laugh. Must be the only CLK in the country with five 'seats'.

Do let me know if you are aware of unusual uses to which a car has been put.

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