A weekend getaway with a French supermodel

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EVERY TIME people would see a Peugeot RCZ, they can’t figure out what it is. They only know that it is something special.

IN PICTURES, the Peugeot RC-Z looks rather challenging to look at. Its key features are the long tail, which provides a surprisingly practical sized trunk; the bubble-top roof inspired by Zagato designs and framed by aluminum-finish cladding that provide a stark contrast to the white exterior; the large aggressive maw opening up the engine bay to cold air for cooling and the turbocharger; and the large satin-gun-metal finish 19-inch wheels shod with Continental Sport Contact 3 high-performance tires size 235/40R19.

A pop-up spoiler at the trunk helps stabilize the car past 100 kph, making it less twitchy. The RC-Z is indeed twitchy at highway speeds, but again, in a playful manner rather than downright dangerous.

These design features all seem to be like a flurry of lines that lack any synthesis, looking too busy but not particularly attractive. But in the flesh, the RC-Z is a real head-turner. On the weekend, I took it to supercar central, which is Fort Bonifacio Global City. The RC-Z pulled as much glances as the various Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, BMW Ms and AMG Mercs driving around that day. It is downright exotic that every time people would see it, they can’t figure out what it is. They only know that it is something special.

The RC-Z is in fact made in Graz, Austria, by Magna Steyr (who also make other cars for other manufacturers), and features a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine in two states of tune: a 156 PS/240 Nm tune and the more desirable 200 PS/275 Nm tune, mated to the front-driven 6-speed automatic transmission. There’s a bit of torque steer even with the massive 19X8-inch wheels, just like any French woman, and a supermodel at that who has a mind of her own. Being French, the RC-Z does things differently. First thing that I noticed is the speed. Most cars have a comfortable cruising speed. My Toyota Yaris likes to cruise comfortably at 120 kph, a Nissan GTR at about 180 kph, a Porsche 911 at just over 200 kph. The RC-Z doesn’t want to cruise, she just wants to play, foot flat to the floor board. When given a free rein, the car can easily hit 170 kph. In slow moving traffic, progress is easy if you let the transmission crawl, but the brakes have a slightly over-assisted feeling like Audis of old, so you initially lurch a lot.

The RC-Z still turned in a very good 9 km/liter, which is impressive given how it tends to goad you to play as the hyper-active steering, matched with the wide tires cased with noticeable tram-lining, as the huge Continental tires follow every ridge and contour of our Philippine road network. Your only choice is to drive aggressively and have fun in the process. It’s not a car with very high and defined dynamic abilities; methinks on the track the RC-Z might be an absolute pig, but she’s fun to drive nonetheless.

The RC-Z’s suspension is also impressive: firm and responsive without feeling harsh and uncomfortable even on long stints behind the wheel. The seats are very supportive, giving good thigh and lower back support over long periods of time behind the wheel. The flat-bottom D-shaped steering wheel is truly pleasurable to caress, whichmakes it easy for people with big thighs like me.

The interior is of  high-quality: drilled aluminum pedals break the somber dark-grey interior. The sporty seats, dashboard and center console are all covered in soft dark grey leather with silver-grey stitching, and the instrument cluster looks like a Swiss-made Chronograph with large, almost cartoon-like figures. To prove that the French always do things differently, the speedometer starts at 10 kph with increments of 20, so the indicated speed is rather weird: 10, 30, 50, 70, 90, 110, 130 and so on. Definitely a departure from the norm we are used to. The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake, and the seats feature 8-way power adjustment.

I had a “threesome” with the RC-Z and my wife one Sunday evening, when I took it out for dinner. And she was impressed with the shape and interior detailing, commenting that it looked very feminine, but at the same time projecting confidence and strength, which no doubt makes it attractive to guys. She however imagined herself driving one in the future, assuming we had the money and the garage space.

THE INTERIOR is of high-quality, the sporty seats, dashboard and center console are all covered in soft dark grey leather and the instrument cluster looks like a Swiss-made Chronograph.

The RC-Z looks bigger than it actually is, thanks to the low bubble-topped roof. But I had no problems parking it in our carport, occupying no more space than my Toyota Yaris or The Missus’ Honda City. The same low roof does make getting in out and out a tad difficult, making me look ungainly, undignified—which downrightly reminded me of how fat I am every time I struggled to get in and out of the car.

But once inside, you would forget everything and would just want to drive it.  In traffic, the RC-Z is easy to get by, with the simple audio system playing very good tunes from my iPod, which is easily integrated to the car’s interface via USB. On the open road, the RC-Z gobbles up the miles easily as it goads you to drive faster. It doesn’t possess the driving purity of say, a Toyota 86 or Subaru’s BR-Z, but both Jap cars cater more to hardcore enthusiasts whereas the RC-Z looks like the perfect accessory on your way to a ritzy club or party, dressed in jeans or a suit and still look sharp and athletic.

The RC-Z is different. It won’t appeal to traditional car enthusiasts. But its sporting intent, firm suspension, and low-roof and ride height conspire to repel typical poseurs looking for a car to look good in. You need an understanding of how the French think (which is, they just like to do things differently from the rest of the world), a bit of playful patience and not be affected by what other people (or drivers think, say or do). Drive proudly on your own way: just like what the French do.

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