I can’t make it to the Thursday of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, so would you like to take Peugeot’s tickets instead and drive the RCZ-R?
Sometimes you have to answer the tough questions with a simple answer. Yes, absolutely, of course, si, oui, YES.
Of course I was more gracious than that but inside there was a lot of excitement, I was off to the Moving Motor Show. There I would be driving a great car up one of the most famous hillclimbs around.
The Moving Motor Show is a rather ingenious invention, thought up by Lord March and his team following the collapse of the old British Motor Show – something I was a regular at from my youth.
The simple premise is that not only will potential buyers get to look at the cars they wish to purchase on a stand – they can drive them.
And not just drive them in normal conditions, but tear up a mile of beautiful tarmac at full tilt.
You can tell why I was excited.
First though you must run the rat race of the sign up bay, here the throngs of punters queue by the objects of their desire to try and get one of the limited slots up the hill.
Many of the companies have taken the probably sensible, but with this many people here slightly disappointing, stance that only previous customers and prize winners will get to sit in their vehicles, they are mostly German.
So of course I was late. I blame traffic, but in reality it was a little recalcitrance in getting out of the tent and the fortunate knowledge that I had two drives already booked.
Peugeot decided in their wisdom that I deserved to drive up the hill in their latest and hottest version of their popular RCZ, the cleverly named RCZ-R and Infinit had offered me a Q50.
After briefly being told I couldn’t have a go in a GT86, and pleading almost on knees to Renault to let me in a RenaultSport Clio I managed to increase my drives to the monumental figure of… three.
Worry not though, because there is far more to Goodwood than driving up the hill, even on the Thursday.
All the stands, stalls, trade areas, display areas, paddocks and car collections that will be seen by the FOS goers are there, and, it’s a lot quieter.
So the MMS day can be used to good effect even if you don’t get to drive yourself, and you can sit back with a drink and watch the cars hustle up the hill.
In the first year the MMS was held, drivers were allowed to take steeds they had only just become acquainted with from the collection area, all the way around the course themselves.
Unfortunately this backfired. The collecting area is a heady mix of petrol, confined spaces and horsepower. There is barely enough room to swing a cat, never mind manoeuvre some of the world’s most exciting road vehicles.
One unfortunate punter found this mix too much and launched a Honda Civic Type-R off the makeshift road, through a classic E-Type on the Jaguar stand and out of the side of the marquee.
The incident left four people injured, several expensive cars extremely damaged and one driver very shaken.
Since then it has been decided that it will be only the pros who take on the rat run of the collecting area, before handing over to us mortals once safely at the bottom of the hill.
A wise decision I thought, on realising that those of us with ‘Sponsor’s guest’ passes had access to a free bar on the balcony of Goodwood House (don’t worry, I abstained).
Soon it was time to toddle back to the giant marquee that hosts the Moving Motor Show.
Howard was to be our guide, a lanky blonde racer who talked about nearly securing a ride in the Porsche race at Le Mans two weeks earlier.
As Adam found out in our review of the RCZ-R it really is a rather good piece of kit.
The cabin maybe a little dated, but the R touches make it feel sporty, the flat bottomed wheel – a weird personal car fetish – the red stitching and the extremely comfortable bucket seats adding just enough extra style.
The exhaust’s wonderful burble accompanied us to the start line as one of the indispensable, and unpaid, marshals counted us into the run, never too intrusive, but always there.
We were unleashed, my foot planted to the floor and the clutch released as per Howard’s instructions, the satisfying screech of tortured rubber accompanied our getaway.
The hillclimb is immediately a great place to get a feel for a car. It is a ribbon of high-speed corners on realistically bumpy tarmac where a car’s major flaws immediately make themselves known, as we will learn with the Q50.
But not the RCZ-R. With Howard excitedly telling me to get my foot back on the floor whilst barely into the first right hand kink, the low slung Peugeot came to life.
Through those initial right handers we rode on a wave of grip so tremendous it would have swamped pacific islands.
Braking into the chicane, put there to slow us non-racers down before the tighter left at the end of the long straight, the R’s short throw gearbox was a delight.
A quick flick of the wrist is all that is required to spit out the higher cogs as you decelerate, adding to the sense that this car could take the hill easily with very little drama.
The hill itself is a fantastic place to be, on either side there are thousands of people, and huge structures built as icons to racers gone by, but behind the wheel of the Peugeot these go unnoticed.
Each corner flows smoothly into the next “keep it in third, now, a dab of brakes, off, off, wait, power” shouts Howard as the speedo reaches 80 in the blink of an eye.
Suddenly my brain flinches, over the nose of the R all I can see is a wall, a big flint covered wall that is racing towards my eyeline and showing no will to move out of the way.
But I don’t want to let Howard down, I’ve already missed a gear change exiting the chicane and to wimp out now would be wrong.
“Now a dab of brake” comes the call at last, in my head we are practically through the wall by this point but the calm racer next to me has barely even registered that towering edifice.
Back on the power, flick right, flick left and the obstruction is dispatched in exhilarating fashion and we are on the home run.
As we cross the iconic checkerboard finish line I do my best to stay calm, inside my heart is pounding and the adrenaline is shouting at me “MORE, MORE”.
But, there’s an M4 in front of us taking the long road back down the hill at a sedate pace, which gives us a chance to talk about the car.
“It is a fantastic chassis,” says Howard. “I helped them develop it and I said to them it just needed a limited slip diff.”
“They put one in and now you can use the grip this car has.”
I can’t help but agree, the squat Peugeot could probably have taken the course at twice the speed I could coax out of myself.
Each bump is conveyed through the electric powered steering to your fingertips, never in a jarring way.
Do I have any dislikes? Well the sat nav, when out, obscures quite a lot of your vision and the interior, while nice, is a little behind the times.
But on the hill it feels at home.
Out we get and Howard drives us back to the collecting area, I say we because all this time my patient girlfriend has been somehow squeezed across the rear seats of the R.
She’s only small, but still struggled to fit, perhaps confirming the thought that if they were going to go for a hot version of the RCZ, they should have dispensed with that pointless bench.
Infiniti are waiting for me, or rather, a wait for an Infiniti is waiting for me, and I’m reminded again why they don’t allow us to drive in this area, I can’t even find space for a shot on the camera with a wide lens, a phone picture must suffice.
After spending a while looking at the static Q50, our model is available.
Infiniti are an odd beast, “isn’t that just a Nissan in drag” a friend said to me after I told them of the drive.
Well yes, and no. The Q50 is probably their first serious contender to the players in the executive segment, a large saloon with a powerful 2.2 litre diesel.
Inside there is no denying it’s a nice place to be. The cream leather interior is extremely comfortable and this time our rear passenger has almost too much room.
Rather than side-by-side the Japanese have put the Q50’s two infotainment screens above each other vertically in the middle of the dash.
This acts to declutter everything, as there is no room for any needless buttons. The finish can’t really be faulted either. While not up to the standards of its Germanic rivals the Q50 feels like an executive saloon, but can it stack up to its rivals on the road? Ominously they are sat just across the hall.
The most interesting concept we are presented with as we approach our second go at the hill is Infiniti’s revolutionary drive-by-wire system.
This means there is no physical connection between me and the road (although my guide is at great pains to point out it has five redundancies including a mechanical one should anything fail) instead my inputs are sent to a computer which then turns the wheels.
In turn the computer also elects what the driver should feel from the road, the advantage of this being that any pointless jarring that doesn’t affect the handling can be smoothed out.
Again I put my foot down in ‘standard’ driving mode, the power is obviously there, but it is delayed and comes in a great thud after the rev counter passes a certain point, patience is a virtue in the Q50.
Standard mode was really not made for the hillclimb, nothing is immediate about the Q50, throttle response is belated and gearchanges come when it’s lazy auto ‘box has woken up.
Flick it into sport and everything does get better, the dampers are stiffened and the heavy chassis stops rolling around like a struggling yacht, the gearchanges become more immediate, allowing the needle to rest further from the red line then it had been doing.
There’s just one thing that little switch to “sport” cannot help, and it’s a pretty big one, the steering.
While the ride is nice if a little wallowy the steering wheel feels exactly like it is – not physically attached to the road.
Turning the wheel is like stretching a jelly sweet, it doesn’t threaten to ping back, but it feels like you are permanently deforming something spongy, and on a hillclimb that isn’t reassuring.
It’s a shame really, because you feel like this system could work if they had perhaps waited until the next generation Q50 and refined it.
If you want to stand out rather than joining the 3-series hoards the Q50 could have been an excellent choice, it so nearly stacks up but just falls short.
Handing that back to Infiniti our day is all but done. A quick coffee in the Peugeot stand, which comes complete with its own fairground ride, and we are heading back to Infiniti’s sister company.
I have long hankered over the creations of Renault Sport. The little 200bhp+ Clios they produce are an enticing prospect.
Fortunately when we arrived the one stand furthest from the entrance was Renault, and as a result they still had places on their little pocket rockets.
This time our guide will be George, I must admit I never did catch the name of the driver in the Infiniti, but he didn’t seem to have had the most exciting of days.
As we change seats I realise this will be my first ever experiment with paddle shift gears, an addition that just adds to the little Clio’s feel that it is desperate for you to believe it a Lamborghini.
Maybe it was the fact I had done it three times now, but the trip in the Clio was perhaps the most exciting of the three.
It could also be because it was only as I approached the chicane I realised I had left the front window fully down. Braking hard to avoid eight bales of hay while fiddling with a window switch is an experience you never forget.
There is no doubt the Clio shifts, its power is immediate and it never feels like it has less than the RCZ-R from earlier.
Through the corners it stays stable in a way that a high sided hatch really shouldn’t and the smile on my face is immediate.
But perhaps that is the problem, there is no drama to the Clio at all. You get in expecting a thunder and lightening pocket monster.
What you get is a tuned and easy to drive fast car, this Clio is never going to hang a rear wheel in the air as it goes up the hill.
The only real let down comes from those little paddles, they are a system that needs just a little work.
Pulling them on an upchange really needs to be done half a second before the Clio’s F1-style warning lights tell you to.
That’s because each tug is accompanied by a split second as the system decides what to do, then the cogs are swapped and away you go.
It’s nothing to trouble you in the real world and a quick flick of the gearstick will put the Clio into full auto.
But out here it’s a little annoying, and adds to the feeling of a missed chance the Clio has.
Don’t get me wrong, as a lover of Renault’s hot stuff I still walk away wanting to own one, but for anyone coming into it with the wish for a balls out hot hatch, they may find themselves walking to Ford, whose new ST is also sprinting up the hill.
Therefore as we leave with a free ice cream from the AA (your fourth emergency service) as much as I want to tell you the Clio won out, I have to admit the RCZ-R has been the star of the day.
Maybe soon someone will strip the rear seats out of it and it can be the small sports car monster it so deserves to be, but even with them in it is a brilliant effort from a company that seemed to be wandering in the wilderness only a few years ago.