Peugeot RCZ R

Pictured above is the Peugeot RCZ R — a 270 hp sport coupe that’s powered by a version of the same engine found in second generation MINIs like the R56 and R60. You read that right: 270 hp. We’ve known this was possible (in fact nearly seven years ago MotoringFile reported that BMW was able to reliably get 300 hp out of the Prince), but Peugeot has finally put that into reality. What does it mean for MINI? First a little backstory.

Most MotoringFile regulars know that the current generation of the car, the R5X generation, uses three versions of what’s known as the Prince engine. The Prince is a 1.6L aluminum four cylinder petrol engine that in the MINI produces 121, 181 and 208 horsepower when spec’d in the Cooper, Cooper S and JCW models respectively. Also well known is the fact that in developing the Prince engine, BMW had to look for partners.

While popular and well known, MINIs have not previously been produced and sold in high enough numbers to make it affordable for BMW to produce an engine on their own. In the first generation of the new MINI, BWM partnered with Daimler Chrysler of all companies to produce a cast iron block powerplant for the R50/R53. That darling motor of the MINI enthusiast community was actually little more than a euro-spec Dodge Neon block with a BMW-influenced head on it and in the case of the R53, an off-the-shelf American supercharger.

Flash forward to the second generation of the MINI and BMW again needed partners to produce engines at viable economies of scale. This time they turned to PSA, the French parent company of Peugeot and Citroen. Unlike on the R50/53, BMW took the lead on both the engineering and manufacturing of the Prince engine, which would power both the MINI and several cars in the PSA family. However, in BMW’s design for the engine they had to account for several design criteria specific to PSA demands. The easiest example is the fact that the Prince is essentially backwards — that is, it’s exhaust headers are on the back side of its transversely-mounted engine as opposed to the front side like everything else in the BMW family. So while BMW got a partner that allowed the R56 to exist with a more modern, more powerful and more efficient engine, the arrangement was not without its compromises.

So what of this Peugeot? Jalopnik summarized the engine’s output this way:

The tiny engine’s maximum power is at 6,000rpm and maximum torque is available from 1,900rpm to 5,500rpm, giving the RCZ R a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. The 70 extra horsepower compared to the regular RCZ means the new car is more than two seconds faster around the Nurburgring. Not that it matters.

We won’t see it here in America, so there’s that. But more importantly, why didn’t MINI’s John Cooper Works division ever deliver us a 270 hp MINI if it’s possible? We think the answer comes down to a handful of factors:

Extensive engine modification
Digging through the Peugeot press release, we found a laundry list of internal engine components that have been beefed up and hardened to take the extra loads squeezing out this much power will put on the lowly little aluminum Prince. Everything from special material heat treatments, to heavier-duty pistons, to strengthened connecting rods to upgraded bearings all mean power can be reliably made, but they also mean something else: cost. The RCZ R will cost £31,995, which roughs out to around $43,000 USD — a full $13,000 more expensive than the starting point on a JCW Hardtop Hatch. Going back to MINI’s small sales volume, at that asking price, it seems highly unlikely MINI could recoup the development costs on volume. Also, for those who wondered why the second generation JCW GP didn’t have more horsepower, there’s your $13,000 answer.

With the upcoming F56, however, that’s where the game will change. Many MF readers have lamented the Cooper S and its only marginal boost in power (+5 hp and +16 ft-lbs of torque), despite the extra displacement of the new 2.0L engine. The key term that’s been thrown around by both us and MINI/BMW is “headroom” — that idea that an otherwise unstressed 2.0L engine can, unlike the stock Prince, easily get more power from both the aftermarket and JCW. Not only is that headroom likely, it should be much more straightforward and most importantly, inexpensive. So why not just make the Cooper S a power monster? Read on.

Fuel Economy and the MINI brand positioning
While Puegeot brags 37.3 mpg (US) for the RCZ R, that’s on the European testing, which is, frankly, smarter than the way the EPA rates cars in America. So while that figure is completely plausible, the same car would likely receive a much lower MPG rating on its actual US Monroney sticker in the USA. So would an equally powerful R56 MINI running the Prince engine. For a brand that’s known for high MPG, getting just average fuel economy would likely hurt the brand’s positioning in the marketplace — even on a more performance-oriented version such as this theoretical super JCW. The lower efficiency rating in conjunction with the high price point becomes a confluence of factors that make it really hard to sell this kind of car in any profitable volume, no matter how much fun it was.

Back to that unstressed 2.0L we’ll find in the F56. Having that extra headroom in the engine will likely mean a significant bump in efficiency for the mamma bear motor. That efficiency can be used in a couple of ways. Either for horsepower or for miles per gallon. Through changes in boost and variable valve timing, the possibilities are very interesting. For all we know, the new JCW power plants will turn the current “overboost” up to 11 — making medium range power and good efficiency for tooling around, but then spooling up some extra boost when you punch it. Granted, that’s entirely speculation on my part, but this is the kind of potential a much more high-tech engine can bring.

Putting that power to use
The Peugeot RCZ R, like the MINI, is still a front-wheel-drive car, which means that putting those 270 or so horsepower to good use is actually a challenging feat. They do it by fitting the transmission with the same rather clever front differential as the high output Ford Focus. Could MINI do something like this? Of course. Like everything else, however, it’s a matter of cost and profit. It’s no doubt part of that $13,000 premium this car garners over the current JCW hatch. Where MINI fans can take hope is that MINI has all but outright admitted that all-wheel-drive will be available on the F56. At this point we’ll be shocked if we don’t see it. What does that mean? That means being able to put higher horsepower numbers to use.

So what now? What’s the future of horsepower in MINIs
It’s safe to say that MINI will never be a high-horsepower brand. That’s an arms race their not interested in running, and for good reason. Absolute horsepower has never been part of MINI’s brand value. It’s always been about doing more with less. It’s been about driving circles around cars with two-to-three times the horsepower. MINI will never be about maximizing horsepower-for-dollar either. MINI has been, and will remain, about a package experience. It’s going to go well, stop well, handle amazing and most of all, feel like a lot of fun. That’s something you’ll never be able to read off the spec sheet. In the end, it’s that feeling behind the wheel that makes us MINI fans. No matter how much power we find in the new JCW MINI, it’ll still be about that total performance and premium package. What will that look like? How much power will it make? We’re excited to find out.