Stuff wot I've driven – Peugeot RCZ

Published: 28 February 2012

‘There is’ according to Francis Bacon, ‘…no beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.’ Well, I’ve waited a while for a first stab at Peugeot’s RCZ, so have had plenty of time to analyse passing specimens and decide for myself whether the occasional strangeness of these particular proportions does, indeed, equate to beauty…

Lacking the clean homogeny of Audi’s clever little motorised builder’s bicep, the TT, the RCZ’s couture is more of a curate’s egg. Or should that be eggs? …The undeniable appeal of the double-bubble roof and rear screen offset against the gently inarticulate kink in the windowsill and somewhat rump-heavy proportions in the manner of Peugeots with folding tin tops… Perhaps the latter is actually planned for the car?

Handsome enough to many, then, the RCZ’s sand in the Vaseline is, for me, the attendant promise of ‘emotion’ in the press blurb; ‘Exterior Emotion’… ‘Interior Emotion’… even ‘Technological Emotion’ for pity’s sake. I had come to believe that such quasi-anthropomorphic protestations were the exclusive domain of certain Japanese manufacturers who, stung by criticisms of worthy but soulless machines, now tend to major on the emotional appeal of the latest product.

Thing is, you can extract an emotional response to a lump of tin – especially if you wallop someone over the head with it – but that lump itself can never posses emotion in its own right. Car design and engineering can be emotive, but it simply cannot be emotional. Yet barely a week passes these days without someone telling me a new car boasts a far more ‘emotional design’…

How, exactly, does this manifest itself, pray? Is the poor thing more prone to blubbing whilst watching Born Free?

On board, ironically, there’s plenty of emotion in evidence; all from this driver, and mostly in form of a lower lip you could perch a pint on… Because, despite the fact that the interior is tidy, the switchgear and instrumentation clean and good looking and the seats perfectly comfortable (as long as you stay in the front) the driving position’s just not good enough.

I wouldn’t mind the long arms-short legs attitude that takes me straight back to my old Alfa GTV6 so much were it not for two major hiccups: firstly, unless you have feet the width of Twiglets, there’s no room for your foot to squeeze twixt clutch and transmission tunnel; schoolboy error in a sports car, and conversion to right-hand drive is absolutely not a viable excuse any more. And, secondly, once vaguely comfortable behind the wheel, you can’t reach a single centre console switch without leaning forward out of the seat.

And this is a real pity because, armed with a remarkably willing, 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged powerplant, the £25,945 GT car I drove is something of a hoot. Now, I could bang on about grip, poise, agility, acceptable ooomph and a slightly nobbly ride ‘til the cows come home. Sadly, that’s all irrelevant, because I’m never going to eulogise about a car in which I cannot get comfortable behind the wheel and, consequently, would never own.

Having successfully lifted perceptions of Peugeot to another level through so many aspects of the RCZ, it’s a crying shame the designers couldn’t be bothered to similarly refine the driving position.

Perhaps they we’re feeling a little tired and emotional that afternoon…

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche