We've been sitting in stationary traffic in London's West End for a while, with no sign of it letting up, but there's a smile on my face. Ensconced in the fairly basic, but pretty, leather clad interior of the Peugeot RCZ all is well in my world. Ford Transit drivers smile benignly at the squat burgundy coupe. Cycle couriers give a cheery wave rather than flicking the bird, as they whiz past my wing mirrors. This funky little French machine seems to have a calming effect on passers by, not just its occupants. I think I might be a little bit in love…
That's when it hits me - a moment of clarity. This little four-cylinder coupe I've rented from Avis for a few days is pretty much all the sports car you need in London… or any city I'd venture to suggest.
I know, I know. "Heresy," you say. "The RCZ isn't powerful enough to be a sports car! It's front-wheel drive! It's nothing more than a triumph of style over substance!"
But hear me out. I don't know about where you live, but I'll wager you don't have access to your own personal Nürburgring, and the public roads you can drive on are only suitable for so much power (if you do have access to your own Nordschleife can I come and visit?). Where I live, the traffic's heavy, the speed limits are strictly enforced and most of the 'real' sports cars are driven by poseurs who only want to look cool while driving from the Grosvenor to Harrods. The real world isn't a great place for 'real' sports cars. London is a busy city. Ridiculously so (I had to get up before dawn to take these pics). But the RCZ genuinely makes driving here more fun. Isn't that what a sports car should do?
The ludicrously short gearing, combined with a lovely notchy shift, means urban driving has you feeling like Jean Reno in Ronin. You sit low in the cabin, though all round visibility is excellent - ideal for manoeuvring into those tiny London parking spaces on the rare occasion they appear. The exhaust note is just the right side of rorty, the RCZ has been smoking enough Gitanes to give it a proper Gallic rasp. And Peugeot really do know how to make a decent four banger - the engine is a gem in the 200HP GT version I've been driving. With an extra 70 horses, the RCZ-R must be a total hoot.
The steering is weighty without being burdensome; the suspension is firm without being tiring. And it's still, after four years on the market, an uncommon sight on the streets of London. The closest equivalent, the Audi TT, is a great car, but they're ten a penny here and consequently nobody pays them any attention - not even the TT-RS.
Despite being rare the RCZ benefits hugely from not being ostentatious, after all it's only a Pug… In London, this is a Good Thing. Central London, particularly the areas around Knightsbridge, Mayfair and the King's Road, has a disproportionate number of exotics on the roads - from 458s to Ageras. But most people sneer at them, because they tend to be driven by young, arrogant self-entitled douches, or 'knobs' to use the correct vernacular. In comparison, the RCZ just makes people smile. At junctions people actually stop and let you out. Our famously grumpy black-cab drivers are less likely to cut you off. All round it's as much of a pleasure as driving in this heavily-congested city can be. And because of that super-low gearing, when a stretch of clear tarmac opens up, you can let rip easily and not too anti-socially. Seriously, it's a blast.
This is a real-world sports car; one that can be driven spiritedly without being an antisocial muppet; one that doesn't inspire total dickishness in other road users; one that is rare and pretty enough to turn heads and one that doesn't require a lottery jackpot to afford. Now all I need is Peugeot to give me an RCZ-R for a while so I can photograph and review that… hint hint.
The interior is basic, but kind of cool - ooh look the wheel's on the wrong side!
The rear seats are basically pointless, just as it should be in a coupe.
The only time it's this quiet in central London is at 6.00am...