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Peugeot RCZ | Shed Buying Guide

A cheap way into some chic coupe glamour, here's what to look for when buying a Peugeot RCZ

By Tony Middlehurst / Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Boris Reinmöller. Ever heard of him?

No, thought not. Today you'll find him listed on LinkedIn as Senior Exterior Designer Citroen at Groupe PSA. It's worth looking him up - his mugshot a perfect expression of 'you've got to be kidding me, right?'.

Which, ironically, was the same face pulled by the a fair proportion of the car-buying public when Reinmöller's cab-forward, Zagato double-bubble roofed, haunch-tastic Peugeot RCZ was put on sale in 2010.

Not because it was boring. Quite the opposite - it wasn't boring enough. It was too exotic, too different to the rest of the Peugeot range, right down to the name which, bereft of the usual '0' between two other numbers, wasn't at all Peugeot-y. Traditional Peugeot buyers really struggled to get their heads round it.

As did potential Audi TT buyers - and that was the RCZ's biggest problem. Its main reason for existence was to convince people that the French company was returning to its glory days after a long stream of disappointing-to-drive Peugeots. Within that wider goal the RCZ was intended to tap into some of the TT's success as a stylish and dynamically accomplished coupe.

Trouble was, the TT was a Bauhaus-inspired piece of German engineering, whereas the RCZ was, well, a Peugeot. That made it a difficult sell against the Audi, even though Peugeot dealers got plenty of help from the press who heaped a number of 'best coupe' and design awards on it throughout its five-year life and who almost to a fault praised its comfort, style and driving fun.

When you look dispassionately at the RCZ today, a five-year lifespan seems unfairly short. There was nowt wrong with the PSA/BMW Prince platform or the build quality from the Magna Steyr factory in Graz, Austria. The pricing was very attractive too. You could get an RCZ 1.6 THP with the 156hp version of the Mini 1.6 turbo engine for under £20,000, a loss-leading price tag that severely undercut the TT.

By 2012, the cost of an entry-level RCZ had gone well over the £23,000 mark, but the car's upmarket positioning was at least partially justified by a 200hp version of the same engine in the £2,300-dearer THP200, and again in early 2014 by the £32,000 RCZ R model. At this end of the range the value comparison with the Audi was becoming less obvious, but none of that took away from the fact that, with an unlikely sounding but entirely civilised 270hp from the same 1.6 turbo motor, the R was the most powerful production Peugeot ever.

Audi didn't offer a diesel version of the TT until late 2014, by which time the RCZ was a year into what turned out to be its mid-term refresh, when it received a new nose and some interior trim changes. A sensible HDi 2.0 diesel with 163hp had been broadening the RCZ proposition from the very start, four years earlier.

Twelve years on from its Frankfurt show debut as the 308 RCZ concept, the RCZ still looks special today. Indeed, many think it looks better now than it did a decade ago. It was 30mm wider and lower than the 308 hatch, with wider tracks at both ends (44mm at the front, 63mm wider at the rear). All RCZs came with a two-stage active rear spoiler that could be controlled by the driver or left to its own devices, in which case it would automatically deploy at 53mph and retract at 34mph. The low-speed 19-degree angle would increase to 34 degrees in the fully extended position above 96mph.

So what's an exotic-looking beast like this doing in a Shed Buying Guide that's meant to be focused on affordability? RCZ Rs do come quite close to being genuinely exotic. Peugeot only registered 300 of these between 2014 and 2015, compared to about 12,000 non-R models. When they (rarely) come up for sale they're usually more than £14,000.

The real shock is with the regular RCZs. You could pick up the phone right now and bag yourself a privately-owned specimen for just £2,995. That wouldn't be an accident-damaged car either, or one with a huge mileage: that would be a 2011 model with 100,000 miles on the clock. There's an absolute raft of later cars around for well under £5,000. Try to find a 2011 Audi TT for less than £7k.

For such gratifyingly low prices we must thank the residual-killing power of the Peugeot badge - but what else could be responsible?

Are there hidden nasties that would make RCZ purchase the action of a madman, even at under £3k?

Let's investigate.

Bodywork & Interior
RCZs aren't widely known for corrosion problems, but the aluminium roof rails will oxidise over time if they're not looked after. The RCZ's jacking points are a bit rubbish so keep an eye on any mechanics who might be thinking of attacking the wrong part of your sills. Door handles are flimsy and door mirrors corrode from the inside, leading to creaking. Most if not all cars should have had that sorted under warranty by now.

On the inside, the RCZ'd 308-heavy cabin architecture looked a bit dated against the TT even when it was new, but it was surprisingly comfortable and very well equipped in either Sport (which had dual-zone aircon and parking aids) or the more luxurious GT spec, which added electrically adjustable and heated leather seats, front parking sensors, auto lights, wipers and door mirrors, and bigger 19-inch wheels. The 200 model only could be had in GT Line spec, with satnav and xenons.

Special editions included the all-engines-available Magnetic of 2013 and the joyously-named Asphalt, which at a fiver under £30,000 only came with the THP 200 drivetrain and included Telluric grey paint, xenons, branded leather/Alcantara upholstery, a satnav and JBL stereo. 75 of those came to the UK. In 2014 the rather gorgeous Moroccan red and Nera black RCZ-R-inspired Red Carbon was launched, with adaptive xenon lights, black trim accents and wheels, and red-stitched seats, dash, wheel and R-style short gearknob. You could spec all that stuff on a standard car, but doing it the Red Carbon way saved you £1,000. 200 of the 300 run of Red Carbons came to the UK.

That GT seat leather could be extended through to the upper dash, although that could also serve to emphasise the cheapness of some of the plastics. The bolsters on these leather seats are not known for their rhino-like resistance to abrasion. Bits of trim can hang down in the pedal box area and catch on your winklepickers. Dash buttons can be hard to reach if you don't have Chewbacca-length arms.

Besides being surprisingly comfy the RCZ is also surprisingly practical. The boot is accessed by a lid rather than a hatch (which the TT has), but even so, with the backrests folded down you've got a healthy 760 litres, enough not only for a bag of golf clubs but for a trolley as well, or even a mountain bike. Careful how you lift the boot lid when it's raining, though, unless you don't mind a soggy niblick.

That double-bubble roof boosts headroom in a rear compartment that's tight on space, but not as tight as a TT's. Rear and over the shoulder visibility isn't that great, and you may notice a certain amount of rattling in the cabin, over and above the acoustic sound system that arrived on post-September 2012 cars and that's supposed to give you 'enhanced' driving sound sensations, mate. Satnav screens fail, as can the dash clock.

Engine & Transmission
The 1,370kg 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbo is no supercar; but with 154hp, a 0-60 time in the mid eights and a 134mph top speed are respectable figures. With the same weight to carry, the 197hp version feels (and is) a little quicker, with a 0-60 time in the mid-sevens and a top speed of 145mph.

Both versions rev smoothly to the 6,500rpm redline, and all versions provide excellent fuel economy. Even the 5.9sec/155mph RCZ- R (which is around 90kg lighter than the other two petrols) will easily return 40mpg+ in a cruise. The diesel is heavier at 1,445kg but will still knock out 8-second 0-60 times and 134mph. Its official average economy figure of around 54mpg means that 60mpg+ is easily achievable in the right hands.

In terms of the everyday owner experience the RCZ does not have an entirely spotless record. RCZ service intervals are 20,000 miles/two years, but we think that the R's servicing schedule might be twice as frequent, and it's supposed to get new spark plugs every year too.

Some early petrol RCZs suffered with cam chain and tensioner problems, sorted on later cars by an upgrade that was on the R from new. Temperature sensors played up quite a bit and more than one 1.6 owner has reported oil and coolant leaks. Some have needed new cylinder heads. Knackered oil can affect idling smoothness. Power loss on the 197hp engines is sometimes down to a faulty turbo bypass solenoid.

Electrical glitchery (especially on earlier cars) can hit the comms and fan control modules, boot release, coils, plugs, fuses, instrument lighting and, on poorly-performing HDi diesels, the main ECU. Check that the one in the car you're looking at has had the important update, and while you're at it check that the recalls on leaky diesel return pipes and fuel heaters on 2012-14 cars have been carried out. The diesel has belt-driven timing with an official change frequency of 10yrs/140,000 miles. If a diesel runs on after you've killed the ignition, it might have a contaminated diesel particulate filter.

Make sure that water isn't getting into the boot lock. A bonging alarm could signify a failing battery.

You could get the RCZ with a six-speed automatic gearbox, but the vast majority of UK buyers went for the six-speed manual. High ratios were chosen on the non-R models to help with fuel consumption, with even the lowest-powered RCZ hitting 100mph in third. You might often find yourself wishing for a lower gear (and the R's standard Torsen limited slip diff) to help tug you out of bends.

The short and precise shift action was better than anything that had come out of the Peugeot factory for a good while previous, but it was still slightly off the pace in terms of driver satisfaction. If the gearbox on your diesel or 154hp petrol drops into neutral when you were actually hoping for a change down from third to second, an adjustment to the gearshift control may be required.

Oil can leak from the gearbox. More scarily, water can leak into it, leading to graunchy shifts at the very least. RCZ clutches are not the strongest.

Suspension & Steering
After the hugely disappointing 207 GTi, the RCZ was a welcome step in the right direction on the ride and handling front. Even though 64 per cent of the weight was over the front wheels, the RCZ felt nicely neutral on the road. The 197hp car got a lower brace bar and modded front suspension. RCZ steering wasn't massively involving, but the ride was on the firm side of decent and the cabin was nicely insulated from road and wind noise at speed.

A knocking from the front suspension is very common and is usually the result of something wrong in the upper shock mount area.

Wheels, Tyres & Brakes
The 19-inch 'Sortilege' alloys on the GT models (the Sport has 18-inch 'Originals') are very easy to kerb. Premium-brand 235/450 tyres for the GT are £150 a corner, although you can pick up a ditchfinder option for half that.

Brakes squeal (especially on the 380mm-disced R) and sometimes grind, and the hill-start brake has been known to stick on. An illuminated ABS warning light may be down to broken wiring in the wheel speed sensor.

The RCZ was a pivotal car for Peugeot, the one that was meant to signal a return to the fine-driving Peugeots of yore. By and large it achieved that, delivering strong FWD handling and grip with standout styling.

If for whatever reason you are dead set against a TT, a Scirocco, or a GT86/BRZ, the RCZ is a very realistic alternative. The main dynamic downsides on the non-R models are too-high gear ratios and a slightly nibbly ride. The interior is a bit boring as well, but the electrical and mechanical difficulties that mainly affected the earlier cars should have been put right on most cars that are for sale now.

Best of all though, RCZs at the bottom end and have had all their foibles sorted out represent excellent value. The first RCZs were a loss-leading bargain. Ten years on they're a bargain again.

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