Peugeot has a history of occasional sublime moments of car design punctuating regular functionality. Think 402 from 1935, the 504 Coupe unveiled in 1969 and more recently the 406 Coupe. The 308 RC Z is certainly eye catching. But when it’s launched against Volkswagen’s all-new Scirocco can it live up to its illustrious Peugeot predecessors?
Is the RC Z definitely going to be made then?
Product chief Gilles Boussac says the firm has to be sure it can make a profit on each model sold for the RC Z to get the go-ahead. So while the bean counters are still tapping away on their calculators the official answer is a Gallic shrug and a je ne sais pas. But reaction from its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show was very positive and Boussac believes that adding this car to Peugeot’s range could have a similar rejuvenating effect as the 205 GTi did in the late 1980s. Besides, the firm has gone so far down the road towards production that it’s hard to see it stamping on the brakes now.
The RC Z must be pretty close to fruition…
Although the car we tested is called a concept it’s the most road-ready prototype we’ve ever driven. There are no razor-thin, near solid seats, cameras to replace rear view mirrors or non-functioning digital dash boards. Everything is as it would be on the production car, bar the curvy rear window which is made of Perspex. But they’ve already figured out how to make it from glass and retain that shape… As the 308 part of its name implies the RC Z is based on the hatchback. It uses that car’s platform, the same suspension, meaning struts at the front, torsion beam at the rear, and much of its interior.
What’s the RC Z like inside?
It might be low on the hi-tech but anyone after a sportier car shouldn’t feel too short changed. Compared to the standard hatch the driver’s seat has been lowered by 6cm so you get a true cockpit feeling, enveloped, with a high almost racing saloon style gear lever. It’s just a shame the rake and reach adjustable steering wheel is so big. Even giving the rim a flat bottom of sorts can’t disguise its van-like proportions. It’s a detail but it detracts from the efforts Peugeot has put in cladding the dash and doors in stitched leather and facing the centre console in piano black.
How practical is the Peugeot RC Z?
Remarkably so. The front seats are comfortable and the bubbles on the roof give a good few inches of headroom for a six-footer. Visibility is good to the front, sides and back but seeing through the rear three quarter when pulling out of awkward junctions or parking is a struggle because of the low roof and tiny rear side windows. The boot is a capacious 415 litres, healthy for a car aiming to compete in this category and it’s accessed through a traditional boot lid rather than a hatch. As in the 207 CC the rear seats are pointless unless you’re either into pain or under six years old and sitting behind someone who’s happy to have their seat forwards.
What’s under the bonnet?
The 1.6-litre turbo engine developed with BMW has been shoehorned in. From outside the car, thanks to twin centre-mounted tailpipes it sounds rasping and sporty. Inside, a lack of deadening material makes it overly noisy and flat. But there’s no denying it’s quick even if Peugeot admits extracting the claimed 218bhp from the engine is still in its experimental stages. But even with indeterminate power it was sufficient to launch the car up the road with plenty of gusto. And there’s sufficient low down grunt accompanied by some satisfying turbo whistle to make overtaking easy. Usability has been helped by an all-new six-speed gearbox with a more precise action than previous Peugeot offerings.
What's the RC Z like on the road?
The 308 is a car with capable if not especially inspiring handling so the basis is sound. To improve on this Peugeot has widened the track for the RC Z by 59mm which makes it feel more planted on the road. And it’s given the electric power steering a more dynamic set up, although this doesn’t deliver an appreciably more direct feel. The result is a car that due to its lighter weight feels more nimble than the hatch despite its identical length. Nineteen-inch wheels have been added, the first time they’ve been available on the 308, although they don’t do the already harsh ride any favours. And an over enthusiastic application of power exiting corners has the front wheels scrabbling for grip.
It’s important to emphasise that this car has had no real development. So although it doesn’t feel as sharp as its looks suggest it might, that’s probably to be expected this early in its life. However, we can judge its appearance. Peugeot has said it won’t be launching a version with diluted looks so the 308 RC Z will look identical to this model. And that will divide opinion. There are angles that this car looks awkward from. The front three quarter view from low down isn’t great as it makes the tail look lumpy. And from the side its 2608mm wheelbase appears deceptively long. But the double bubble roof is great and if you like Peugeot’s over-sized grilles, it’s safe to say you’ll love it in this application. Whatever your views, £19,000 should buy a distinctive car that’ll offer almost everything an Audi TT does for a lot less money.