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First Drive: 2014 Peugeot RCZ R [Review]

Join us as we take the fastest full-production French car for a spin.

Historically one of the more conservative automakers in Europe, Peugeot is in the midst of revamping its entire lineup in order to offer cars that appeal to the heart, not just to the mind. The RCZ R was designed before Peugeot set out to change its image but it perfectly embodies the automaker's new identity.

The RCZ R is a far cry from the average Peugeot. It is the fastest regular-production French car currently on the market and the most powerful street-legal model Peugeot has ever produced. Fittingly, it is built by Magna Steyr alongside the Mercedes-Benz G-Class in Graz, Austria.

Specifications SheetThe Peugeot RCZ R is the ultimate evolution of the RCZ, a sleek coupe that shares its platform with the previous generation of the Golf-fighting 308 hatchback. The standard RCZ was introduced at the 2009 edition of the Frankfurt Motor Show and given a slight facelift in time for the 2012 Paris Motor Show.

A small team of engineers from Peugeot Sport, the automaker's in-house racing department, was tasked with developing the R. Visually, it stands out from its more tame sibling thanks to minor updates like the addition of a rear spoiler, discreet R emblems on both ends and model-specific 19-inch alloy wheels but the almost mid-engined-esque silhouette remains unchanged. The RCZ R measures 168 inches long, 72 inches wide and 53 inches tall, dimensions that make it a couple of inches bigger in all directions than the Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S twins. It weighs 2,987 pounds.

The most important difference between the standard RCZ and the R is found by opening the large clamshell hood. Mounted transversally in the engine bay is a 1.6.-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mill that generates 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpms and 247 lb-ft. of torque starting at just 1,900 rpms. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and a mechanical limited-slip differential manufactured by Torsen.

The turbo four is part of the Prince engine family that was developed jointly by BMW and PSA Peugeot - Citroën. Over the past couple of years Prince engines have powered a long list of cars including the Peugeot 308, the Citroën DS3, the MINI Cooper and even a Europe-only version of the 3-Series dubbed 316i. However, for use in the RCZ R the engine is fitted with aluminum pistons, beefier connecting rods and a new twin-scroll turbocharger.

The modifications carried out to the R aren't limited to the engine bay. The coupe's chassis has been totally re-worked by Peugeot's skunkworks and the suspension has been entirely re-engineered to provide a sportier ride. Notably, Peugeot Sport used relatively basic components instead of going the electronic route and fitting the R with an adjustable suspension.

At the WheelAt low speeds, the difference between the R and the standard RCZ is not immediately perceptible. The coupe remains docile to drive, the ride isn't as stiff as one would expect given the 19-inch alloys and the re-tuned suspension and the bucket seats are surprisingly comfortable even on longer trips.

When the pace picks up the RCZ R feels more like a brand new car than an evolution of an existing one. The punchy turbo four encourages the driver to beat the "estimated time of arrival" displayed by the navigation system while the exhaust system emits a rasping sound worth tuning off the radio for. The wide torque band provides plenty of low-end grunt until the turbo unabashedly comes in with a bang and continues to push until the engine bounces off the rev limiter.

Commanded through a flat-bottomed wheel, the steering is communicative and direct. All the driver needs to do is point the RCZ R where it needs to go and the coupe follows suit without fuss or surprises. The transmission is precise to operate and geared to help the driver make the most of the turbo four.

The RCZ R powers through corners with plenty of grip, and torque steer is largely kept in check by the limited-slip differential. In fact, we've driven far less powerful front-drivers like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta that were more eager to veer under hard acceleration than the RCZ R. Large discs up front bring the action to a stop without fade.

On the freeway, the RCZ R changes back into a composed driver and the only hint of the potential that's lurking under the hood is the deep-but-muffled groan of the exhaust. In mixed driving with a light right foot we averaged about 34 mpg.

Life AboardThe RCZ R's cockpit is a little bit of a five-footer. When the door is opened the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the bucket seats upholstered in leather and Alcantara, the red contrast stitching and the metal shift knob immediately catch the eye. However, once behind the wheel it becomes painfully evident that the cockpit isn't up to par in many respects.

The build quality isn't bad but it's not as good as one would expect to find in a car priced well into TT territory. Additionally, many bits and pieces like the key fob and the stalks are sourced directly from the Peugeot - Citroën parts bin without the slightest modifications. Although admittedly a little costly to develop, model-specific components would go a long way in creating a more premium ambiance that would further distinguish the R from the standard RCZ from an aesthetic point of view.

Like many coupes on the market, the RCZ R is billed as a four-seater but the rear seats are so cramped that even small children would likely have a difficult time fitting back there. They are best used as a parcel shelf, though trunk space is generous at nearly 11 cubic feet.

The infotainment system is controlled with either a handful of buttons on the center console or the aforementioned stalks. Displayed on a screen that pops up from the dashboard when the ignition is turned on, the system is intuitive to use and the quality of the display is perfectly acceptable.

Leftlane's Bottom LineThe RCZ R is a big improvement over the standard RCZ, which is lukewarm at best. It is quick and nimble yet it remains efficient and comfortable enough to drive on a daily basis. It's the kind of car that driving aficionados would be hard-pressed not to like provided they look past the rather low-rent interior.

Peugeot has previously hinted that part of its on-going metamorphosis involves introducing more R-badged cars designed either by or with input from Peugeot Sport. If these models combine the thrills of the RCZ R with a better-finished interior, Peugeot is going to have more than a few hits on its hands.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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