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Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200 – Driven and Reviewed

Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200

Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200

Coupe. Once a term reserved exclusively for the type of car that set pulses racing, conjuring up images of sleek, swoopy lines and dramatic performance to do them justice. It may be fair to say that the coupe ideal has been somewhat diluted in recent times though, with manufacturers applying the moniker to anything with two doors and a roof. Two doors isn’t even a prerequisite though, with certain German manufacturers doing their best to cash in on the desirable, non-staid – coupe image by giving some large saloon cars ‘fastback’ lines and thereby transforming their silhouette from ‘3 dull boxes’ to ‘sculpted by artists’.

Note the new - non silly mouth

Note the new – non silly mouth

What we have here though is the real deal and it comes in the shape of Peugeot‘s RCZ, complete with new, non silly mouth. This is one of those cars that somehow makes the arduous journey from motor show concept to finished article, pretty much unscathed, and – oh my, pretty it certainly is.

Those lines are attractive, to say the least

Those lines are attractive, to say the least

Karmann Ghia seen on street in Faubourg Marign...

Karmann Ghia seen on street in Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. Side view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lets get one thing clear though. Since its inception, the RCZ has drawn direct comparison with the ubiquitous TT, with certain corners even accusing Peugeot of a lack of imagination as their car simply apes the Audi. Even during my week with the car, many folk would glance over and dismissively state ‘oh yeah, it’s that Peugeot that looks like a TT’. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the TT and there are certainly worse cars to be accused of looking like, but if one actually compares the two, the similarities magically disappear before ones eyes. If anything, the RCZ’s squat stance and potent looking rear arches are more reminiscent of the achingly pretty Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. But personally, I think it’s only fair to let the RCZ  stand up on its own two feet, without any help from Bavaria, thank you very much!

Peugeot RCZ GT rear and side highThe RCZ is one of those cars that impressively achieves the difficult balance between grabbing ones attention with a plethora of pleasing features, without falling into the ‘so busy, my eyes don’t know what to look at first’ trap. The basic shape is pleasing by its very nature, with an apparent symmetry achieved between front and rear, and a living space that seems to fit into the ideal shape with minimal fuss or disruption, as though the designers refused to compromise their beautiful creation with something as inconvenient as room for seats. Or people.

Attempts to ignore this roof will be futile

Attempts to ignore this roof will be futile

It’s impossible to discuss the RCZ without being drawn to that ‘double bubble’ glass roof. Peugeot should be commended for their perseverance in seeing this pleasing yet – surely, vexatious feature all the way through to production. Mounds in roofs were originally provided on racing cars to enable any inhabitants to fit their helmets in and this purpose is still valid in the RCZ – not necessarily for helmets maybe, but the extra headroom the bubbles provide in the typical 2+2 rear seats is very welcome. Aside from this, it’s ‘wrap around’ nature aids the introduction of natural light and also eliminates around 80% of the C-post blind-spot which all too often takes away from the coupe experience when negotiating a tricky T-junction.

So, a big tick in the looks box, but what about the other, all important aspect of the coupe brand – the way it drives?

Peugeot RCZ GT front headlightThis particular flavour of RCZ – the GT THP 200, shares many of its oily bits with its stable-mate – the 208 GTi. The engine, gearbox and much of the running gear are the same and yet, the whole experience is somehow……better. That’s not to say faster though – the RCZ loses nearly a second to the 208 whilst dashing to your 62mph destination, but the journey is preferable in every way. The slinky, low nature of the RCZ must go someway towards enhancing the experience, as it’s hard to imagine anything less than a comprehensive RCZ victory in that particular race.

Peugeot RCZ GT front cornerIt’s whilst negotiating the twisty stuff that the similarities with the 208 really dissipate though. The set-up of the RCZ somehow swaps the driven wheels from front to rear – or that’s how it feels, anyway. There’s very little in the way of understeer, possibly due to the wise decision to restrict the role of the driven wheels to harnessing 200bhp, whilst also tackling their directional duties – any more than this and things usually come unstuck.

One of my particular bugbears with, not only the 208 GTi, but many modern performance cars is the lack of aural experience. I appreciate that the shackles of todays legislations are restrictive to say the least, but there are ways round them (see Fiesta ST). The RCZ GT is pleasantly satisfying in this department though. Push the needle past 4000rpm and there’s an initial thrum, followed by a resonating roar that enters the cabin and seemingly bounces off every internal surface with acoustic aplomb. It’s obviously no screaming F1 car from the outside but hey, I guess you can’t have everything.

Peugeot RCZ front and side lowPeugeot have been desperately trying to abandon their dull, lifeless image for a few years now and this RCZ, especially with its new face makes huge steps in this direction. That’s not to say its perfect – some nice interior touches (clock, leather dash etc), that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a Pug are let down by some very low-grade cabin plastics, not to mention the generic, non-special steering wheel, and that’s a shame. It’s certainly not the end of the world though and shouldn’t put any potential buyer off, although the price tag of the higher specced models such as this GT (£26,635 OTR) could possibly justify greater attention to detail.

Peugeot have recently confirmed the future production of a 267bhp ‘R’ model, so if outright power’s your thing, that may be worth holding onto your money for. Less is very often more though, and if it’s understated beauty, useable power and poise that delight – this GT model is possibly more for you.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 200bhp, Torque – 275Nm, Emissions – 155g/km CO2, Economy – 42.2 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 146mph, Acceleration – 7.6s 0-62mph, Price – £26,635 OTR, £29,970 as tested.

Peugeot 208 GTi – Driven and Reviewed

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from management earlier this year, Manchester United were left with the unenviable task of replacing one of the most successful managers since the notion of hoofing an inflated pigskin was deemed to be an idea worth taking seriously. They took a grand total of four days to name his successor.

Only time will tell whether Mr Moyes will be up to the job, but still, four days is pretty impressive.

The original - Is it still the best?

The original – Is it still the best?

Believe it or not, Peugeot‘s mighty 205 GTi was killed off almost two decades ago and so far, regardless of how hard they try, a replacement worthy of being uttered in the same breath has been conspicuous by its absence. I’m well aware of the various 306s and 106s that have got near, either in XSi or Rallye guise but nothing has dragged Peugeot back into the limelight in the same way that the superb 205 GTi did all those years ago. Trust me – I owned one. (1.9, in case you were wondering)

The 208 GTi - can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

The 208 GTi – can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

What we have here then is the latest attempt from Peugeot to reclaim its place on the hot-hatch throne – the 208 GTi. Can it possibly be the car to live up to its lofty bloodline?

Initial impressions are good – on paper.The 208 GTi trumps the much-lauded Fiesta ST in the race to 62 mph, and although it may lose out by a smidgen in that department to the Renaultsport Clio, it’s more economical, undoubtedly prettier and has a ‘proper’ 6 speed gearbox – not the much maligned ‘flappy paddle’ effort as found in its Gallic cousin.

So, that’s the competition sorted out – on paper anyway, let’s get back to taking the 208 GTi on its own merits though.

Peugeot 208 GTi rearFrom the moment the first press shots of the standard 208 were released, I found the whole thing, well, a bit ‘busy’ if you know what I mean? That’s not to say that it’s ugly by any means – the jutting jaw and toothy grin may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a welcome relief from the recent ‘wide mouth frogs’ that Peugeot seemed to have developed a fixation with. The 208’s proportions are near-perfect and it’s got some very pleasing features. I simply felt that the 208’s designers should maybe have known when to stop and adopted the ‘less is more’ theory a little more readily when applying some visual aspects to the car.

Peugeot 208 GTi sideOf course, a GTi is supposed to be an assault on the senses, and that’s why the 208 GTi gets away with it. The only downside to all this is the slight lack of contrast between the GTi and its lesser brethren. I found myself studying passing 208s, checking whether they were also GTis and this just won’t do. If you’ve worked hard and want your supermini to be the most superest (!?!), it’s got to stand out, not only in a crowd but in a family photo too.

GTi's gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

GTi’s gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

It’s a completely different story in the GTi’s cabin, with many highlights and features that constantly remind its inhabitants just what statement this car is intent on making. Ignoring the 208’s multitude of red flashes that adorn just about every surface at some point (in homage to the 205), there are other, possibly more significant features that transform this car’s living space from everyday hatch into B road king. Not least of which is surely the slightly unusual driving position.

The 208 GTi’s grippy sports seats are mounted 8mm lower than the standard car to give a more ‘sit in’ rather than ‘sit on’ sensation. Once in the driver’s seat though, things can initially feel  rather alien due the combination of a semi-race- car, small diameter steering wheel and the fact that one’s view of the dash dials is achieved by looking over it, rather than through it. There has been much already written that this position is distracting and the steering wheel can end up in the driver’s lap – I’d say that this is purely due to driver error, as after two minutes’ instruction from a trained Peugeot representative on how to match seating and steering wheel position, the whole effect was conducive to a spirited, almost rally-driver effect, whilst all dials were clearly in view.

One of the many homages to the 205

One of the many homages to the 205

On the road, the GTi feels instantly alive, as it should with 200bhp on tap from it’s 1.6 litre engine. This unit may be the same one as found in Mini’s Cooper S but it’s important to remember that it is a Peugeot product, not a BMW one so fettling it to the 208’s needs shouldn’t be a problem. 0-62 mph is taken care of in less than seven seconds, with the driver feeling an integral part of achieving this speed as they grip the wheel, correcting the inevitable torque-steer from the front-driven wheels. The GTi – only exhaust outlets may look the part but one of my major criticisms of the 208 is the lack of drama and noise. I’ve recently driven Peugeot’s excellent RCZ, equipped with exactly the same engine and the aural sensation was worlds apart. Definitely an area to improve upon to achieve true GTi greatness.

The most often admired quality of the 205 GTi was the way it negotiated corners in a go-kart like fashion. It’s modern-day equivalent has extra weight and power which usually hinder satisfying handling but it’s certainly no slouch on the twisty stuff. There are obviously a whole host of electronic aides to assist in hedge-avoidance but the trick for manufacturers is to keep them operating in the background without being intrusive and I’d say the 208 does an admirable job of achieving this. By utilising variable-electric power steering, the feather-light feel around town recedes at higher speeds and weights-up nicely, although I did find myself yearning for a touch more feedback around the tighter corners.

Any front-driven car is asking a lot of its multi-tasking front wheels, even more so when power is increased as they attempt to direct whilst also providing drive. Introduce an uneven surface for the suspension to deal with and this is where the 208 GTi can come slightly unstuck. I found that the, once train-like handling characteristics developed an unnerving, skittish feel over  typically unkempt British Tarmac, which could undoubtedly lessen confidence as our roads aren’t likely to be completely fixed anytime soon, if ever.

Peugeot 208 GTi headlightIn reality, it’s nigh-on impossible for anyone to recreate the hot-hatches of the ’80s and ’90s due to the added complications of safety and emission constraints. It’s therefore a fairly fruitless task to constantly compare Peugeot’s GTi products to the 205. Peugeot are obviously proud of their heritage though, and are keen to utilise it in their marketing of the 208 so I’ll go along with it. No, it just doesn’t feel alive as the original, no car ever will. However, the 208 GTi is undoubtedly faster, more comfortable, built to a higher standard and, perhaps most importantly, safer than the 205 so I think we should lay that old ghost to rest and look forward.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP 200, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engineFWD, Power – 200bhp, Torque – 275Nm, Emissions – 139g/km CO2, Economy – 48 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 143mph, Acceleration – 6.8s 0-62mph, Price – £18,895 OTR, £20,070 as tested.

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