Ray Leathern samples a French car that qualifies as a sports car in every possible way, except for its engine.
We all love a good looking coupé. You’re on the SACarFan website, so I’m assuming I’m talking to a petrol head here. Page through a dusty, old car almanac like Holloway and Buckley’s 20th Century Cars (which is very good by the way), and you’re not going to find too many MPVs, SUVs or C-segment estates cluttering up the pages. For a car to cut a path through time, it needs to be expensive, impractical, powerful and most importantly… a coupé.
The coupé throughout the years has mostly come with hard riding suspension, rear wheel drive, enough cabin noise to deafen a border collie, low noses that scrape on underground parking exits and highly impractical interiors, but why suffer the impracticality?
What if you got to keep the action packed styling that turns heads, makes women bite their bottom lip alluringly and makes men grab at their private parts and wince, but its narrative was driven by a generic plotline you’ve experienced a hundred times before? I mean, we love genre, that’s why we all end up at Ster Kinekor half-price-Tuesdays, watching a computer animation of the White House exploding and not at the ‘art house’ cinema, reading four hours of subtitles for fun. Sports cars are the latest release by Ang Lee, expensive, complicated and unrelatable to the majority. Everyday cars are Bruce Lee being played by Jack Black, as an enormous, animated Panda.
A great looking coupé that’s front wheel drive, comfortable, practical and efficient around town must surely be at the top of people’s wish lists these days? Never mind that fuel is soon going to be touching R13-per-litre. Unless we’ve all gone stark raving mad, the car I’ve just described is the Peugeot RCZ 2.0 HDi.
Many of my colleagues tell me I’m strange, but I have a soft spot for good looking, diesel powered cars. I’m fond of the idea that you can have 100% of the street presence, but a fraction of the fuel bill headaches. If the asking price is low enough below the fast, petrol version, I believe trading in the performance would be worthwhile, because for 95% of your driving life you won’t miss it.
This brings us onto the RCZ. Forget everything you think you know about Peugeot, when I drove the 147 kW turbocharged, petrol version (THP) in 2010, this was my surprise car of the year. This car was far too good for the normal Peugeot world of hand-me-down 207s with bung tail-lights, which hold up the fast lane. The Peugeot RCZ THP was a fully-fledged, road strafing sports car. Not only was it fantastic on the eye and comfortable like any other French softie, but the willfully stylish design felt like it was built with genuine attention to detail. The cabin welcomed with the alluring aroma of quality leather and the subtle double bubble roof was an absolute turn of genius. As was the elegant, elongated tail and the bonnet that opened over the front wheel arches like the clam shell of a supercar. The best part of the RCZ THP though, like all sporty Peugeot’s in fact, was the handling. Totally poised and fluid enough to have gorgeous lift-off oversteer – which is all you can ever really ask of a front wheel drive car.
What about the 120 kW & 340 Nm diesel version of the same RCZ sports car? Well, the short and unsurprising answer is that the HDi is not as good. I got to sample it for a few days, on a short visit up to Johannesburg and the first thing I immediately noticed was how much heavier it felt than the petrol version. The bigger, 2.0-litre, cast iron engine must certainly account for this and perhaps there is overcompensation in the body rigidity to handle the extra weight. As a result the heavier disposition permeates all the responses of the vehicle. The ride is much firmer and because the ride is firmer the 18-inch wheel and tyre combination judders with more intensity into the cabin. The HDi feels less eager off the line (0 – 100 km/h in over 8 seconds), less fizzy through to its lower rev limit and less delicate through the bends when you ask it to change direction. That immediately takes away 50% of the RCZ’s skill set right there.
There were some other problems with the car too. The clutch vibrated so strongly as you came on or off it in slow traffic, that all your fillings shook out instantly. The tyre pressure monitors were convinced I had one and then ‘more than one tyre deflated’ for a lot of the time. I checked the tyres twice thinking they might be the key to unlocking the mystery of the very firm, un-Frenchman like ride quality, but alas, they were perfectly inflated.
‘It is a diesel after all,’ you may be saying to yourself, but there are still a few things I’d count in this cars favour. First of all the steering is still perfect. Really, it is brilliantly weighted. Secondly, the interior is just as good as it is in the THP model. Thirdly, nowhere on the body work does it say HDi, or anything to signify its got a tractor engine under that pebble smooth bonnet. That means you can still do good medium to fast speed posing. Unfortunately when you do pull through Melrose Arch at lunch time, everyone will hear and probably smell you in your diesel. That’s not cool, when a McLaren SLR burbles by right behind you.
The economy and eco-worthiness a diesel provides is obviously another upside. Peugeot claim a combined figure of 5.3 L/100km, which I’m sure can be done in a laboratory with a laptop controlling the throttle cable, but the RCZ is a hard, low to the ground sports car with great steering. You want to drive it hard and you want to feel it working underneath you. It’s not a car for eek-ing out your best fuel consumption, like a Prius or even a Honda CR-Z. In the RCZ HDi, I averaged 7.5 L/100km with quite a heavy foot, which isn’t too bad I suppose, but the diesel engine and the sports car body are just not a good match as it turns out.
All the RCZ 2.0 HDi drive really made me want to do was go back in time to 2010 and drive the proper THP version again. At R391 500 the THP is only R10 000 more than the HDi. A bargain for the immense style and poised drive it provides.
What we like…
- The ‘idea’ of an RCZ HDi being an ‘all comers,’ diesel sports car.
- The styling and the rear biased, sloping tail that makes it look mid-engined.
- Its sports car steering.
What we would like…
- Someone to loosen up the ride on the HDi.
- Some fittings like Sat-Nav, etc, from the Citroen DS range.
- A six cylinder diesel would be too much, but oh so fantastic at the same time.
- The THP model quite frankly.
|Base Price||R381 500|
|Warranty||3 year / 100 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||1 997 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||120 kW @ 3 750 r/min|
|Torque||340 N.m @ 2 000 r/min|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0 – 100 km/h in 8.2 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||220 km/h|
|Fuel Consumption||5.3 l/100km (claimed combined)|
|CO2 Emissions||139 g/km|