First Fang: Peugeot RCZ-R

When your CV includes four World Rally Championships, three Le Mans 24-Hour wins, three Paris-Dakar victories and four Pikes Peak titles, there's a fair chance you know something about making cars go fast.

So it's amazing it's taken Peugeot so long to tap the fountain of knowledge contained within its motorsport department, especially when you consider how impressive the end result is.

Peugeot Sport's first road-going offering is the RCZ-R, a thoroughly tweaked version of the stylish French coupe.

At its heart is a 1.6-litre turbocharged four that produces an incredible 199kW/330Nm. The stratospheric specific output is possible thanks to motorsport know-how like a heat-treated block and pistons made from F1-grade aluminium.

Not too long ago, an engine this small making this much power would be about as responsive as a drugged dachshund, but turbo lag is very mild and the responsive, revvy engine endows the RCZ-R with a serious turn of speed.

Close gear ratios and traction provided by a Torsen limited-slip diff help haul the French flyer to 100km/h in a claimed 5.9sec with top speed limited to 250km/h. That diff also makes a massive, er, difference in the corners.

Even on slippery surfaces, once the turn-in phase of the corner is completed, pretty much full throttle can be applied, the diff providing the initially eerie feeling of the front end pulling itself further towards the apex.

The well-judged traction control system is adept at trimming away any excess, but wheelspin is easily contained with the electronics off.

The standard RCZ is a fine-handling thing, especially on track, but for the R the ride height has been lowered 10mm, suspension stiffed 14 per cent at the front and 44 per cent at the rear, and tracks widened 18mm/12mm front/rear respectively.

Ride quality is acceptably firm but it could do with more wheel travel, large bumps sending the suspension thudding into the end stops.

On a smooth road though, the RCZ-R is able to use its huge grip reserves and punchy engine to devastating effect, carving through corners with serious pace.

Some more communication from the front end would be nice, and there's an initial impression the RCZ-R favours grip and stability over pure fun. Push harder, however, and a well-timed lift will send that shapely derriere arcing as wide as the smile on the driver's face.

On a circuit with room to play, there's a suspicion this new hardcore RCZ will prove a riot – hopefully we can confirm that soon.

Unfortunately, one area the Peugeot really lets itself down is, worringly, the braking department. There's nothing wrong with the hardware, with enormous 380mm floating front rotors with four-piston calipers filling the 19s.

Outright stopping power isn't too bad either, but the feel from the pedal is awful. It’s like there's air in the system, with response seeming to improve if you pump the pedal.

Given the speed of the car, you end up dabbing a left foot on the brakes race driver-style just to ensure there is something to press against at the next corner. Is it a trait unique to this particular car? Maybe.

It's also quite thirsty when pushed hard, proving that no matter how small the engine, if you want to make a certain amount of power you need to burn a certain amount of fuel.

Traditional RCZ bugbears also remain. It's tricky to see out of, some of the ergonomics are an acquired taste and at $68,900, it's far from a bargain, especially as Renault’s Megane RS265 offers a very similar experience for $20K less.

However, that's very literally the price you pay for those stunning looks, and at least now in 'R' guise, the RCZ has the balls to back up its beauty.

Engine: 1598cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
Power: 199kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 330Nm @ 1900rpm
Weight: 1355kg
0-100km/h: 5.9sec (claimed)
Top Speed: 250km/h (limited)
Fuel Consumption: 6.3L/100km (claimed)
Price: $68,990

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