As one of the most distinctive-looking cars on the market today, the Peugeot RCZ could almost be forgiven if it were slightly underwhelming to drive, or expensive to run. Fortunately, the RCZ backs its looks up with hatchback-like running costs as well as a genuinely involving driving experience. After six years on sale, it's beginning to feel its age a bit, yet it's still a credible (if slightly left-field) alternative to the Audi TT, BMW 2 Series and Volkswagen Scirocco, while Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ customers may also be tempted by the RCZ's many charms.
Peugeot offers the RCZ with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, available with 156 or 200bhp, as well as a 163bhp diesel. There's also a high-performance 266bhp version, called the Peugeot RCZ R, which we’ve reviewed separately.
The entry-level 156bhp petrol engine offers reasonable rather than outlandish performance, with a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds. The engine responds well to being revved, though, and it's never anything less than entertaining to drive. Fuel economy of 44.1mpg and an annual road tax bill of £145 are good for a petrol-engined sports coupe, even if an entry-level (though still more expensive) Audi TT offers slightly better economy. If you choose the 200bhp petrol engine, the 0-62mph time drops to 7.6 seconds, while economy shrinks to 42.2mpg and road tax rises a band, to £185 a year.
In the past, a diesel-engined coupe was something of a contradiction in terms. Recent advances in diesel technology, however, mean most manufacturers now offer this combination. The 2.0-litre diesel RCZ is the slowest model on paper, with a 0-62 time of 8.7 seconds, but it doesn’t need to be worked as hard as the petrol and is more relaxing to drive – although arguably this misses the point of sports-coupe ownership somewhat.
Still, the diesel engine's 54.3mpg and £110 road tax bill make it the cheapest model to run, and if you do more miles than most, it's easy to recommend. All RCZs come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the 156bhp petrol engine available as an automatic – but this makes the RCZ slower and more expensive to run.
Whichever engine you choose, the Peugeot RCZ is a great car to drive. There's plenty of grip from the front wheels and plenty of ‘feel’ through the steering wheel, while body lean is minimal when cornering and the RCZ feels every inch a sports car. The BMW 2 Series and Toyota GT86 are slightly more engaging to drive thanks to their rear-wheel-drive design, but the RCZ is one of the best-driving cars Peugeot has ever made.
The only slightly disappointing aspect of the RCZ is its interior, where its age is most evident. There's nothing unpleasant about it and it feels reasonably well put-together, but things have moved on slightly since the RCZ was designed. Not only does the Audi TT offer a vastly superior dashboard, but Peugeot's own 208 GTi has a better interior, despite being cheaper.
You do get a reasonable amount of standard equipment, though. Entry-level Sport trim includes 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Moving up to GT trim adds all-round parking sensors, larger alloy wheels and power-adjustable heated leather seats. The 200bhp petrol engine gets its own trim, called GT Line, which adds a sat nav and xenon headlights, while the special-edition Red Carbon model includes sat nav and red trim details.
While nobody buys a car like the Peugeot RCZ with outright practicality in mind, its 309-litre boot is reasonably large. Front-seat passengers benefit from comfortable seats and a suitably sporty, low-slung driving position, although some drivers will find it difficult to get comfortable, as the pedals are set too high. The rear seats are cramped and best thought of as emergency transport for adults, while larger children may resent being asked to sit in the back.
In terms of reliability, the RCZ did relatively well in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming 65th out of 150 cars. An 84th-place finish for reliability may be average at best, but for a relatively old model, the RCZ is performing well. The RCZ isn’t built in large enough numbers to have been crash-tested by Euro NCAP, but Peugeot takes a reassuringly rigorous approach to safety, with many of its cars awarded the full five stars.