THESE MAY LOOK like two good value 2+2 coupes but that would be the obvious interpretation. What they actually are is supermodel tennis players – think of them as Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova. They’re great to look at and admire from a distance, plus they move with grace. Being able to carry off this multi-faceted talent of catching our eye and then taking our breath away on a mountain pass is all part of being a sportique (sports and boutique) coupe. Too much of one factor, it seems, will always end up detracting from the other.
Under the skirt
This may look like standard French vs German rivalry under the bonnet but in truth it’s Germany against itself. The 2.0-litre Audi TT engine is lifted from a Volkswagen Golf GTI and pushes out the same 155kW along with 70Nm more torque (to make 350Nm). The Peugeot RCZ uses the 1.6-litre BMW powerplant that does duty in the Mini, and in 147kW/275Nm turbocharged guise this is a pearl of an engine. It’s down on power and torque against the TT, so the Audi claims the acceleration advantage even if the way the power is delivered is abrupt. In order to achieve its 6.6ℓ/100km fuel consumption claim the first half of the throttle barely moves the car off standstill but anywhere beyond that you end up cooking a takkie with acceleration wheelspin – it’s not the most useable power band. The Peugeot on the other hand has a more linear power delivery and driving in traffic is a less demanding experience. The Peugeot also comes with what they term an ‘Engine Sound System’ that enhances intake roar. Like Sharapova’s yelp, the throaty sound enhances the effect but after too long it gets a little annoying.
The Peugeot plays particularly well in the looks department. Its modern profile is arguably one of the tastiest around. At the front end it all goes a bit wrong. The swept back headlights are a neat touch but the grille just puts me off. It’s like a Weber braai. Shift focus away from that and it’s all nods. I mean, just look at the double bubble roof, which is key to the design and reminds me of the Jaguar D-Type with a bit more symmetry. And apart from being downright attractive, it also has a boot. Not just a cubby hole designed to fit a laptop and sunglasses but enough space for a proper overnight bag. That means that a weekend trip away is completely feasible. Continuing the theme of what’s good about the RCZ we come to the handling and there’s a rather large surprise in store: it matches and exceeds that of the TT, even managing to corner better. The front end of the RCZ is more positive on turn-in, and you’re able to place it more precisely than the TT, and then on exit it fights the urge to push wide harder than the TT. The 19-inch rubber may have something to do with the grip on the way out of corners, but turn-in is down to a superior chassis and suspension set-up. The 19-inch wheels do have a downside in that ride quality is very hard and stones in the road can be bothersome to the driver’s rear end. In the Audi’s favour is its popularity. The TT has owned this section of the market for some time and those looking for a sportique will see the Audi as the benchmark. You can see why too: it’s classy and inoffensive to look at and as usual the interior is top notch. It may not be full of exotic styling cues and quirky touches but you won’t find any sharp edges or finishing gaps. As you expect from Audi, the fit and finish is second to none.
Looking at what’s not right with these two coupes is a little more difficult, but the most obvious crit is that the rear seats are pathetic. Maybe that’s part of the selfish appeal. That said, in the Peugeot the rears are bolt upright and any adult of normal proportions would arrive at the destination as the hunchback of Notre Dame. All fine if it’s Halloween but for every other day of the year not worth the chiropractor’s bills. Don’t think that the TT is any better, because the basic arrangement is a carbon copy.
Where the RCZ could fall a bit short is on durability. To be fair we drove our test unit hard, and press test units have a notoriously brutal life, but on our unit there were a few odd rattles under the steering rack and every now and then a knocking sound from the rear when thrown into a bend.
The TT remained solid as expected but the package as a whole has lost some of the thrill that made it so popular before the Peugeot came along. It looks dated alongside the RCZ and kind of past its best, a bit like Kournikova did once Sharapova came along. Then there’s the price. The TT in the most basic spec will still cost you R423 730, while the Peugeot out-specs the TT and at R376 335 still costs nearly R50k less. It becomes particularly difficult to root for the TT when all the cards the RCZ is pulling are aces in a game of five-card poker.
Game, Set & Match
Just like Kournikova’s tennis career, the TT’s time has come and gone. New talent has moved in and surpassed its abilities and will make a name for itself before it too gets usurped by the next big thing. When we first looked at this comparison nobody thought the Peugeot had a look-in. We said the Audi was just too good and the Peugeot wouldn’t match the TT in any area. One at a time however, those who drove the Peugeot were swayed by its agility, smooth power delivery, quirky but appealing interior and superior handling, until eventually we were all standing on the French side wondering why we liked the Audi so much in the first place. You could buy the Audi and you’d be happy with it. It’s a potent, polished car but you would be missing out on the better deal. The RCZ offers more in every department for less – it wins, just like Sharapova does over Kournikova.