Morley circled the feline RCZ-R with an incredulous smirk.
“What’s this thing doing here?” he chortled. Attempting to justify its invitation, They Who Decided To Bring It stuttered apologetically.
And yet after their first blast in the RCZ-R, each judge wore an equally incredulous grin – for different reasons. The RCZ-R is good. In fact, cracking.
You can forgive us for worrying. Car companies have a history of bolting go-fast hardware to cars and then crossing their fingers for the R&D process. Forgetting the elusive glue that binds it all together, if you like.
The RCZ-R has the most powerful Peugeot road-going engine ever – 1.6 litres crank out 199kW thanks to a bigger turbo, forged pistons and beefed-up conrods. Its specific power output is higher than a 911 Turbo. True story.
Meanwhile weapons-grade 380mm discs (all-’round), bitten by Alcon calipers, do the stopping. It wears gumball Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber. Front and rear springs are 14 and 44 per cent stiffer respectively. There’s a Torsen LSD in the front, too. So it’s got all the goodies. And, fortunately, the glue, too.
Full throttle, there’s a little lag as the turbo wakes up, but when 330Nm arrives at 1900rpm the RCZ-R is ready to boogie. Its engine is a strong, ferocious little thing and it puts its power down impressively. It feels faster than its 0-100 time of 6.58sec (as tested) suggests.
There’s mongrel to the exhaust note, too. No homogenised turbo four-pot drone here – it’s distinct, and rorty.
The electric steering is light and accurate, if a little unnatural in feel as it loads up, but with a flick the 1280kg RCZ-R will dance on its tippy-toes in a way that’s more fun than frightening.
When it’s time to push, its long-ish 2612mm wheelbase and wide tracks make the RCZ-R feel stable and planted.
Importantly, the RCZ-R never feels like it’s going to bite. There’s safe understeer if you lean into the front end too hard. It’s easy to drive the RCZ-R fast – and immensely satisfying.
On the track, impressive mid-corner grip and strong stoppers help the RCZ-R overcome a wee deficiency in straight-line oomph. It’s second-last for lap V-max but second-quickest (!) through Winton’s Turn 11. Through the sweeper, it sits flat and feels so planted.
Unfortunately while the brakes put the RCZ-R midfield, the pedal is a little too soft. It still has ‘French’ ergonomics, too. The gearchange can be a bit woolly. And the driving position is made for people with long arms but no legs.
The price, $68,990, is also a bit scary. But punt the thing up a crooked road and the wince will turn to a cackle. The RCZ-R is great – and is Surprise Performer of PCOTY 2014.