Jan 3, 2014

Week 1: 2010 Peugeot RCZ

"Thank you very much for your support to make me Worst No.1." -Taki Inoue

   The typical holiday ends with the dread of returning back to work. Back to the daily 9-to-5 grind with hopes of scraping enough together to make a living, or in recent decades, merely to survive. However, when you've been stuck on "temporary" holiday for a little over a year inside of a foreign prison, the prospect of returning to work is more liberating than distressing. Yes, you're technically escaping from one cell to another, but in this case my new cell comes with heating and air conditioning. And a cup holder. More importantly, it also offers an opportunity to clear the air about some vicious rumors that sprang up while I was away.

   Yes, I did total a BMW M3 by hitting a goat. No, I wasn't (technically) speeding. No, there weren't narcotics being trafficked, nor were there any prostitutes or illicit arms trade. The latter two proven in court... the former... not so much. While the passing of the goat is a tragic loss, I can report that the kidney-grilled impression did improve the goat's appearance, and locals clamored for the now-BMW-badged horned mammal. Frankly I don't see what all the fuss was about, cattlemen in the US have been branding their stock for centuries, only they use hot iron. Aside from the totaled car next to it, the badge impression left absolutely no question as to who the goat now belonged to.

   There are court transcripts to prove it.


   So imagine my relief when my producer called to tell me that I'd be leaving the goat-slaughter industry to return back to my automotive roots. Rather than ponder the implications and consequences of my decision, I immediately shouted "yes, I'll do it!" before he had the chance to change his mind, and before the jailer had the chance to yank the phone away. Within days I was released from my handcuffs, and granted permission to leave the island on probation. Aside from some massive court costs and reparations for said goat, I was "free" to go. Again, out of one cell, into another.

   After exiting the gates, I was greeted by an angel. Not just any angel, mind you, but the one I've lusted after for what seems like eternity. There are stories of what men go through in prison without women, and what they do immediately after when they find the first woman that says "yes." I can attest to all of them. The crew had shown up with this week's car, the 2010 +Peugeot RCZ, and my work would begin immediately. No rest for the wicked, I suppose, but then again I've been without a car for over a year now. Like every under-sexed male with raging hormones and easy access to a willing participant, I began fantasizing about doing very naughty things to this damsel with curves.

   My god, it's been a long time, and I bet she's been a very dirty...


According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san):

  "In the Peugeot booth at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, there appeared a concept car, called the 308RCZ, whose wide and low silhouette was nothing like Peugeot's other production models. It featured a mid-engine layout, with the passenger compartment positioned slightly forward, and a vertical indent extending from the roof center to the rear glass that added a double-bubble shape. it was a machine full of unique styling elements, with a long rear deck evoking the image of a big pouncing cat."

  Now before we begin, I do need to provide some clarification about my previously conceived notions about French cars. It's not that I don't like them... it's that I completely despise them. Not all of them, but the ones that I do like are the ones that offer no apologies and don't give a damn about what anyone else thinks. Cars like the 2CV, funky enough for George Clinton, entertaining enough for Jerry Seinfeld. Cars like the DS, hovering over the land like a low-flying UFO. The Veyron with it's speed and luxury, and the inspiring EB110, and even the counter-intuitive Dauphine. The French cars I should like, I don't.

   Primarily, my disgust lies with the lack of rear-wheel drive alternatives. I know the same amount about economics that I do about knitting, but by all appearances, the French solution to providing transportation to the masses on a private level almost always involves front-wheel drive. I'm sure the answer has something to do with The War, but building cars as cheaply as possible hasn't worked for Chevrolet or Chrysler, and it's not working for most French companies, either. Sure, the French can design drool-inducing concept cars, but try asking them to mass produce one. While the Americans have managed to satisfy the mostly-cheap and cheerful crowd with at least one rear-wheel drive secretary sports car per manufacturer, the French stick with the tried-and-tested method of overloading the front tires into oblivion. Perhaps the mere threat of an accident is enough to prevent kids in France from hooning about... but I doubt it. Then again, by forcing front-wheel drive upon an unwitting populace it does allow the country more chances of obtaining Darwin Awards. Surely the U.N. has policies against this sort of thing...  right?


   Although I've been recently liberated and heard the people sing, that doesn't mean that I'm going to go easy on the RCZ simply because I haven't driven in over a year. Being French, I immediately have my concerns, and they were validated the moment when I heard that the mid-engine layout was ditched in favor of the Blue, White and Red front-wheel drive. Rather than fit a perfectly good engine capable of beating Lotus in the back, they've opted instead for trunk space. Hayabusa engine? Ne soyez pas ridicule! Then it might be confused for something Italian, and we can't have that! Plus there's the +Hulk Hogan-24 inch-pythons-brother A-pillars which obstruct the front view in traffic, the cubbyhole for the owner's manual that claims to be a glovebox, buttons and switches that require Kareem Abdul Jabbar just to touch and the suicidal cup holder determined to push drinks and driver over the edge.

   Despite all of that, aesthetically it's far more appealing than many of the other alternatives, of which I'm sure you've heard all about already, ad nauseam. While I wasn't initially a fan of the Mazda-style front bumper in pictures, in the flesh it works quite well thanks in part to Peugeot's well placed lines and angles. Some have said that it's face is almost exactly like a Blobfish, but I have to disagree. With the angled chin, fog light cheek highlights and big smile, she's more like a supermodel with a botox habit. Add a pair of eyes, and she's a shoe-in for the next Cars movie.

   Then there's the roof. When I mentioned earlier about this being mistaken for an Italian car, if it had a mid-engine layout, I wasn't joking. The roof line that divides the car reeks of Zagato, evoking the coachbuilder's philosophy of motion and emotion, especially when combined with the hips and waistline. Since this car isn't imported into the states, you could easily slap on an exotic Italian badge and almost no one would be the wiser, it's that good. Like any supermodel, the rear is better than the front, promising firmness and youth. You won't find anything like this from the Americans or Japanese, nor the Koreans. You might be thinking "but the Genesis?!?", except you're forgetting how massive and tall that car is compared to the RCZ. Side by side, you'd almost swear the Genesis was a crossover SUV.


Performance (as purchased): December 28, 2013, Shark Grey (Grey)
Displacement: 1,598 cc
Max. Power: 197 HP @ 6,000 rpm
Max. Torque: 177.2 ft-lb @ 1,500 rpm
Drivetrain: FF
Length: 168.9 in., Height: 53.5 in., Width: 72.6 in., Weight: 1350 kg
Tires: Comfort (Soft)
Performance Points: 407
Mileage: 0.0

   With the nose of a Mazda, the roof similar to something from Zagato, and profile of the TT (it just isn't, okay?), you might be wondering why Peugeot hasn't been sued for some form of copyright infringement. Well, you can blame your iPhone. Borrowing Italian styling is nothing new, as we've previously seen with the Toyota 2000GT. There's also the Aston Martin grill on the Ford Fusion, Camaro taillights on the new Corvette, Ferrari's failed Formula 1 truck, and almost everything Chinese. The fact that Peugeot was able to combine all those elements into an attractive package deserves praise, unlike similar companies in Europe accused of part swapping.

   Usually we'd hire a test driver to perform baseline performance tests. However, due to recent economic hardships (Editor: Bail money, remember?), we've had our telemetry equipment stored away for the winter months. Rather than bore you mindless 0-60 mph figures, or reduce ourselves to caveman quarter-mile times like before, we simply took the car around for a lovely spin around the French Riviera. Given the tight turns and claustrophobic European lane widths, and considering the lack of a mid-engine, I gladly would have given up of a few of those useless extra cubic inches of cargo space for an inch or two shorter wheelbase. At low speeds, the turning radius resembles something near the dimensions of Rhode Island. If you can anticipate that before the turn, you're probably fine and can adjust. But if you should stumble upon a small child in the middle of the roadway, you'd better be prepared to make out with a wall or guardrail. Or both.
*For those keeping score at home: 0-60 mph: 06.3s, 0-100 mph: 16.8s, 1/8-mile: 10.7s @ 71 mph, 1/4-mile: 16.0s @ 97 mph, Top Speed: 146 mph, Best Lap (no modifications): 2:01.418

   During our lunch break, one of the interns began pestering me about my previously conceived notions on French cars. The "wouldn't you rather drive XX" game was all fun and games until the word Audi was brought up, at which point he became the lucky recipient of a black eye. I'm capable of a tremendous amount of tolerance, and the fact that I exist on the same planet as him merits a Medal of Valor as far as I'm concerned, but our producer thought that he brought up an interesting point. In all the research that he'd done, the Audi TT, Volkswagen Sirocco, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse kept coming up time and time again.

   Let's just take a moment to dispel some tabloid myths, shall we?

  • IT'S NOTHING LIKE AN AUDI! Minus the roof arch, it's completely different! This car makes you feel glamorous and sexy while the Audi tells everyone what a wanker you really are (Editor: Pot to kettle?). The previous Audi TT we tested was all-wheel drive, which is like comparing apples to oranges, and owning a front-wheel drive TT is more embarrassing than owning a moped. Or a base model Corvette.
  • The Scirocco might be of similar value, but how many panties have you seen drop over a tarted-up Golf? Don't worry... we'll wait...
  • The Eclipse looks like a beached whale, bloated and fat from washing ashore. The RCZ looks as if it just found Nemo.

   Rather than debate the issue until we're blue in the face, the producer decided it was time for me to brush off the cobwebs and see if I could still remember how to push a car to it's limits. He reminded me that a year off can kill a driver's career, and that if I was going to be of any use, I needed to prove that I still had some hustle left in these prison-worn bones. If I was competitive, I could be counted on to provide consistent results when needed. If not... well, the ink wasn't dry in Guam, and I could always return to my previous cell. Upon a millisecond reflection on my previous year, I leapt at the chance and threw on my Nomex.

   A week later, I met up with both car and crew at Laguna Seca, in picturesque Monterey, California. Much to my surprise, our-drab-but stealthy Shark Grey was replaced with a more traditional French color of motorsport, French Racing Blue. Along with the new dress, the car had also been fitted with a lovely set of magnesium shoes, as well as a more-stylish-than-functional rear spoiler. I also met with the performance crew from Super Aguri, who've agreed to lend us their talent for the five races I'd been entered in, and any subsequent testing along the way. Having seen them work with each other preparing the car, I now know why they're Super Best Friends.


   Since it was my first race in well over a year, the stewards, in their infinite and omniscient wisdom, decided I was better off starting behind the rest of the field. Rather than put me as the last car on the grid, they placed me in the last possible position on the grid, miles away from the pack of experienced drivers and less likely to dent anything precious. Rather than being concerned with the finishing results, I was told to focus more on finishing the race and not getting lapped by the faster cars. Imagine taking a child to Disneyland and telling them they can't go on any rides, nor meet any of the costumed characters, and you'll have some idea to the amount of attention I was giving to the steward's instructions. Slow and simple? (expletive) that!

   Within the first three turns, I'd caught the back of the pack. Shortly after, a spin ahead and slower traffic meant that I'd already gained a position and more were soon to follow! While pursuing a Fiat 500, I misjudged the corkscrew on the first lap, but somehow managed to keep the car from skating off into oblivion. Apparently a little dusting off is exactly what I needed, so I kept my head down and focused on the next two cars as I began the second lap. With a little help from a missed apex by the Prelude ahead, I was able to catch up by the end of the lap, nearly being hit by the aforementioned Fiat returning from his own off-road adventure. Into Turn 2 the Fiat retook the position, but I quickly took it back while overtaking the Prelude as well! It was all coming together again, and by the end of the race I found myself on the 2nd step of the podium, just shy of winning in only my first race back!

   The second race was the following week at the historic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit. Having not been to the track before, I had absolutely no time to practice before the race. I'd read about the track many times and have watched plenty of races on television, but I'd never had a chance to drive anything there, even at slower speeds. I had no idea what to expect, but my Super Best Friends found ways to ease my mind in the days leading up to the race by providing tons of video of other races there. Although it wouldn't give me the intimate knowledge of the track that I'd need to win, I would be better prepared against other first-time race novices... if there were any.

   Now that the stewards were more comfortable with my abilities, and admittedly so was I, I was permitted to start with the rest of the grid. It felt more like finally being allowed to eat with the grownups at Christmas supper than a reward for not crashing, but as a "novice" I shouldn't complain. Besides, it was far better than a Guam prison cell by any stretch of the imagination. When the flag dropped the four cars took off, and I nearly lost everything in that first corner, where I'm told that no one wins a race. Battling up against a Lancia, I went in a bit too hot, and flew off the track and onto the kitty litter. Regaining my composure, I was given hope by the other RCZ struggling behind me. At least I wasn't the only one having a difficult time, and the off-camber turns weren't doing anything to help the under-steering tendencies of a typical front-wheel drive layout. Moments later, the Lancia was behind me, and I could focus on the leader. Lap after lap I tried as hard as I could to pull him in, but each time that I'd make a move I'd find that I'd gotten myself in a tad too fast or too hard, and would have to retreat and retry. Alas, after one more last ditch effort on the final lap, I was forced to again be satisfied with second place, the winner amongst losers.


   The third race was at Apricot Hill, and honestly, it's one that I'd much rather forget, and as quickly as possible. Like a child jumping on a bed while holding scissors and razor blades, it started innocently enough. The Super Best Friends were Super Psyched about my previous finishes, and assured me that the car would be competitive. Into the first lap I passed a few cars and began working on the RCZ in front, then misjudged the braking and went onto the dirt. Foreshadowing at it's finest. That dirt was followed by more dirt, then even more dirt with a side of dirt and dirt for dessert. By the second lap I looked like Tim Robbins shaking dirt out of his pockets in Shawshank Redemption. On the third lap I gained a few positions, but again I ended up in the dirt losing those same positions and putting myself in a panicked mental state. While trying to catch up, I attempted to get a little more rotation in the car by dabbing the handbrake, but this ended up sending me into a drift, which lead to an over-correction that tossed the nose into a wall. I'd ruined the car, ruined my chances, finished 13th and proved that I was, indeed, a tosser.

   Our fourth race was at Deep Forest raceway, in a sleepy little rural Iowa town. Although I should've been pleased with the two previous podium finishes, the terrible performance at Apricot Hill left horrible scars inside my ego, and everyone knows that once a racer's mind is in doubt you might as well pack up and go home. Rather than wallow in self-pity and doubt, I was reminded by my producer that this could also help win back some of my confidence and put me right back where I left off. After all, this track I knew quite well, and the car had proven itself competent before. The only thing lacking is the talent that I promised to deliver.

   Starting from P2 on the grid, I was nervous as the more powerful cars immediately passed me on the left, right, and one can only presume also directly overhead. I was so worried about making a good start that I had forgotten to actually plan the start, to anticipate moves from the competition behind me. Some say "the best plans of mice and men", but thinking about these things ahead of time prepares you for times such as this. Fighting three-wide into the first turn, I somehow managed to pull through onto the other side unscathed. I managed to pass an over-aggressive Toyota 86 before he spun behind me, but still had a swarm of tuned hot hatches behind me, buzzing like a giant cloud of killer bees and fighting with a Holden. Before the end of the first lap, I'd been passed by a red-neck El Camino while the Holden and I switched places a few more times... giant swarm still buzzing behind me, without any signs of bothering anyone else on the track other than me. Going into the first turn on the third lap, the pressure became too much, and I went in too fast. Once again, dirt, and now four more cars ready to pounce. One by one I watched as I dropped positions thanks to ham-fisted antics and poor gambles. Had I been in Las Vegas, I would've lost my knees to casino loan sharks, but here I had to settle for a seventh place finish. Not as bad as the previous race, but still not acceptable, either.


   The fifth and final race would be on the car's home turf, and I was absolutely determined to turn my fortunes around. The Circuit de la Sarthe has been a magical place for many, but if I was to keep my job, I'd have to storm the castle, and it'd take a miracle! Although many of the other drivers were tuning their cars to handle the incredible Mulsanne straight, I was assured by the Aguri guys that the stock transmission would be more than adequate. Even though I was going up against a V8 El Camino, I was told that the peppy 1.6L would be just fine. Rather than 24 hours, I'd get roughly 20 minutes to possibly last the rest of my lifetime. Get it right, I live longer than that 20 minutes and go on to continue doing what I love. Get it wrong, and I get sacked without any pay or any transportation home. So no pressure...

   I started sixth on the grid, but once again I was passed quickly by the tuned and more powerful cars. However, I was quite surprised when they didn't leave me behind entirely. I was able to keep the pace, and through attrition, gain a few spots. Onto the Mulsanne straight for the first lap, I was on the receiving end of a love tap that helped propel me into the draft of the car in front, reducing my wind resistance and increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of the RCZ. The brochure lists 146 mph as it's top speed, but I managed 159 mph down the straight and in the draft. Of course, that was promptly ruined by the sharp right-handed turn at the end of the straight, and naturally I didn't brake in time.

   Cars collected in the corner after making the same mistake, and after finding an emergency runoff road, I was able to rejoin without losing a lot of positions. Every winning driver requires more luck than talent, and at home the RCZ certainly had it's share! Fighting past a Mercedes 190E, I soldiered on after the red-neck and his gaudy El Camino, but not before being passed by an Alfa Romeo MiTo to start lap 2. Through the twisty turns and back onto the straight, I caught wind and pulled past the Alfa, then pulled a tiny gap while others behind me made the same mistake as before and missed the turn. Within seconds I was pulling in the El Camino, and once on the straight, I had full confidence that the Aguri boys were right, this little 1.6 should do just fine. Thanks to the aero efficiency of the body, I pulled past the red-neck, but not before he pounced on his horn for hours while screaming "get 'er done", whatever the hell that means. Going into the final lap he was still on my tail and on the horn, but I knew that if I could lose him at the beginning of the course, he wouldn't have the muscle to catch up in the latter half.

   What I didn't count on was the MiTo. After passing the little bugger earlier, I'd filed him away as a passing thought and carried on about my way. What I failed to see was the little car passing the El Camino (I imagine the El Camino driver's testicles immediately shrank when the MiTo passed him) and gaining ground on me quickly. Try as I might, the little car just kept reeling me in, putting enough pressure on me to ruin my rhythm and lose precious fractions of a second. After a few turns, he'd be gone, and I'd be third. Although I really should have properly defended that position, I was also quite happy with the performance I'd given, and didn't want to throw away the podium finish I had in the bag, provided I could finish. I eased up, and brought the RCZ across the line in third without any further drama, exhausted from the effort put in.


   So what have we learned today, kids? Perhaps it's to never judge a book by where it's from. Perhaps it's to hold onto stereotypes as closely as a campfire or rabid honey badger. Perhaps it's that statistics on paper don't amount to anything when thrown out into the real world. Perhaps it's that even after a year in confinement, a man with enough desire can still rise above the ashes like a phoenix. I can tell you confidently that this car is by no means a "beater" of any sort. Usually I feel that front-wheel drive cars are for idiots that don't care about the art of driving, only getting from one place to another. In this case, however, the RCZ is certainly not a car for idiots. If anything, it may be the exact opposite, a low-powered French guillotine capable of lopping one's head off if you aren't careful. It's front-wheel drive shows it's proud French heritage rather than disguising itself as something from another country, and the outstanding fuel economy means that you can actually save up for one of those exotics as a second car. One thing is for certain....


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