Peugeot RCZ THP156: From Show Stand Stunner to Real World Road Car

A styling standout with hints of the elegant and quirky about it, the Peugeot RCZ looks the part of a traditional sports car and drives with characteristics of a modern hot hatch, and manages to be a considerably more practical car than one would guess.

An early inkling the impressive design comeback currently underway at Peugeot, the RCZ was first introduced for the 2010 model year as a virtually unchanged motor show stand concept to road car and was then received a minor fascia face-lift last year. Striking, sporty and elegant, the compact coupe the RCZ’s appeal goes beyond its chic, futuristic and stylized design. Even with the entry-level engine option and automatic gearbox option – rather than the sportier and quicker manual – delivered punchy and responsive performance, while it’s fine chassis, smooth ride and engaging handling traits made for a reassuring yet entertaining experience.

A classy and up-market design that seems to transcend common notions of brand prestige, the RCZ stands out even in the company of more expensive vehicles. This was unwittingly demonstrated by a valet who parked the RCZ demo car driven on one of a handful of ‘prestige’ hotel front spots in favour of many other more luxurious cars at the front of a five-star Abu Dhabi hotel during test drive. Sat side-by-side with a Porsche at said hotel, the pristine white RCZ looked stylish, fresh and dynamic, while its similar bonnet and boot length, height and light cluster design reminded one somewhat of the Porsche Boxter.

Revised recently, the Peugeot RCZ’s re-worked front fascia and bumper assembly ditched the black emblem background and the huge gaping front grille for a more delineated grille and lower air intake with a body colour strip between. The Vertical running lights are replaced by horizontal ones that are incorporated within the edge of the lower intake segment. Low and wide with huge 235/40R19 footwear filling in its toned arches and lithe athletic body, the RCZ looks purposeful and distinctive, while its gracefully arced and flowing roofline – with contrasting silhouette colour and black top – lends a certain sense of classy yet wholly contemporary and cosmopolitan chic.

Though low-slung and sporty in dimensions, the RCZ’s ‘double bubble’ roof – reminiscent of classic Zagato designs – provides terrific front headspace, even for taller drivers, and help offset the drastically low roof angle at the rear. Versatile, comfortable and supportive, the RCZ’s front seats and reach and rake adjustable steering allow a good driving position, while shoulder width is suitable for larger occupants. Despite the low roof and rakish pillars, one found the RCZ’s cabin airy and front and side visibility good when driving through corners. More suitable for small adults and children for longer journeys, the RCZ’s rear seats were more practical and accommodating than anticipated.

Elegant, smart and classy inside, the RCZ feels a notch above expectations inside, with piano black centre console trim, lashings of tasteful metallic fittings and good finishing and upholstery. Instruments are large and readable, while infotainment, vehicle and climate control functions are ergonomic and user-friendly. A round vent, clock and instrument motif dominates the leather bound dash, while and flip-up sat-nav screen is well placed and sized so as to be clear but not obstructive. A well-packaged car given its size and low roof arrangement, the RCZ’s boot opening is large but high, but the optional full-size spare wheel did reduce its otherwise generous size.

Powered by a versatile and punchy 1.6-litre direct injection turbocharged engine, tuned to develop 154BHP at 5800rpm and 180lb/ft torque throughout 1400-4500rpm in service in the entry-level model, the RCZ THP156 dashes to 100km/h in 9-seconds and tops out at 212km/h, in automatic gearbox guise. More important than the headline figures is the THP156 auto’s on-the-move flexibility. With ample maximum torque over a broad mid-range band, the RCZ THP156 feels lively and responsive when overtaking or joining a fast highway. Spooling up swiftly with little turbo lag and generous across-the-range torque the THP156 is also versatile and peppy in town.

Smooth and willing, the THP156 accelerates confidently with a gutsy snarl as one gives it full throttle. Though not as quick as the more powerful THP200 and upcoming RCZ-R versions, which use more highly tuned 197BHP and 266BHP versions of this engine, the THP156’s charm lies in the fact that one gets to wring it harder with higher revs and wider throttle positions and so engages more with the engine’s characteristics on public roads. Quicker, crisper and smoother than expected, the six-speed gearbox was also sportier and more responsive to manually-actuated shift inputs than expected, while a tall top gear allows for smooth and efficient highway cruising.

A smooth, stable and confident highway cruiser and long-distance driver, the RCZ THP156 feels planted at speed and rebounds in tight and buttoned down manner over sudden dips, crests or textural changes. Riding on massive alloy wheels with wide low profile tires, the RCZ is firm on the ground and features tidy and composed body control through both fast sweeping bends and tight corners alike. However, while it may ride on the firm side, it didn’t feel jarring on test drive, while noise, vibration and harshness was well isolated and cabin and ride refinement were good. In town the compact RCZ is maneuverable.

With hot hatch-like underpinnings the RCZ feels eager and nippy while its pinned-down composure RCZ is that of a more mature, refined and well-sorted front-drive sports coupe. Turning in tidily, the RCZ’ front wheel grip is however excellent. Steering is precise and feels well-weighted and quick for a sporty drive along winding lanes, while feel and feedback is balanced between being sporty and eager to complement its cornering agility and stable and reassuring for high speed driving. Launching off the line the RCZ THP156’s driven front tires traction is high, while through corners it is noted for its tenacious and vice-like grip and road-holding.

Specifications: Peugeot RCZ THP156 (auto)

  • Engine: 1.6-litre, 16-valve DOHC, turbocharged, transverse 4-cylinders
  • Bore x stroke: 77 x 85.8mm
  • Gearbox: 6-speed auto, front-wheel-drive
  • Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 154 (156) [115] @5800rpm
  • Specific power: 96.4BHP/litre
  • Power-to-weight: 112.2BHP/tonne
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 180 (240) @1400-4500rpm
  • Specific torque: 150.2Nm/litre
  • 0-100 km/h: 9-seconds
  • Top speed: 212km/h
  • Fuel consumption, urban / extra-urban / combined: 10.3-/5.5-/7.3-litres/100km
  • CO2 emissions: 168g/km
  • Fuel capacity: 55-litres
  • Height: 1352mm
  • Width: 1845mm
  • Length: 4290mm
  • Wheelbase: 2612mm
  • Track, F/R: 1580 / 1593mm
  • Luggage volume: 309-litres
  • Kerb weight: 1424kg
  • Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / torsion beam, anti-roll bars
  • Steering: power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes, F/R: Ventilated discs / discs
  • Tires: 235/40R19