What is it?
The facelifted Renaultsport Megane gets the power and torque of the limited edition Trophy, raising it to 261bhp and 265lb ft. However you can only access this extra power if you put the car in Sport mode, which also relaxes the ESP a notch.
Currently our favourite hot hatch on sale, the Renault Megane starts at £25,545 in Cup form, the plusher £26,745 less hardcore in its suspension setup, but also able to be specified with the sportier Cup chassis for an additional £1350.
Confused yet? Well there’s the Red Bull RB8 special edition, which honours the Formula 1 team’s successes (with Renault engines) by aping Sebastian Vettel’s company car in colour scheme and sticker quantity while also adding a caboodle of standard equipment – TomTom satnav, Recaro sports seats, Renaultsport Monitor live telemetry system – for little more cash than it would all add to a regular RS as options. It retails at £28,245 and is limited to 30 cars in the UK.
As before, buyers can specify one of two different chassis – Sport or Cup. The Cup chassis has stiffer springs and dampers, 18in alloys with stickier tyres and also gets a mechanical limited-slip differential. Otherwise chassis settings are unchanged.
More options are available, including Renault’s ‘Visio’ system which combines lane departure warnings and automatic high-beam switching.
What’s it like to drive?
There can be few cars that are so fast and so fun no matter what sort of road you find yourself tackling. On the standard chassis you don’t get quite the planted crispness to the handling in the corners, and of course there isn’t the mechanical limited-slip diff to rip you out of the turns but it is still a mightily enjoyable car. There is stacks of adjustability, with the tail more than happy to get mobile if you brake deep into an apex or lift off sharply. Impressively, the electrically assisted steering is full of feel and precision – so much so that you would assume it was a good old hydraulic system.
Braking has long been another Renaultsport strong point, and the latest RS Megane is no exception. With huge 340mm Brembo rotors at the front you can lean on the Megane’s middle pedal with complete commitment and yet enjoy great feel under the ball of your foot whilst your rib cage is hanging in the seatbelt. Unsurprisingly, we heartily recommend ticking the option box for the Cup chassis, as it adds another level of dynamic shine to everything, particularly in the way the diff generates such incredible traction.
The Red Bull RB8 Racing edition does not transform the Megane into a road-going F1 car, as dynamically it’s identical to every other Cup chassis-equipped 265. That is, as you’d imagine, no hardship however. And the latest generation of Renaultsport Monitor offers a dizzying array of data to immerse yourself in (ideally on a trackday, given the areas it focuses on), including lap times, acceleration times (0-60, 0-100, quarter mile, etc), a g-meter and a steering oscillometer, measuring just how wild the angles of lock you’re applying are. Remember how high tech this stuff seemed when the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R launched?
How does it compare?
The hot hatch sector is unfailingly the most competitive in performance cars, and the one which seems to have the most loyal allegiances from buyers, be it to Fast Fords, VW GTIs or – more recently – Renaultsport’s fabulous produce. Therefore many cars may be bought purely on badge, like football fans buying the new season’s away kit no matter how questionable its colour scheme.
Nevertheless, the Megane is triumphant, as its firm ride can’t stop it from possessing the most sublime and satisfying chassis in the class. Close competition comes from the 316bhp, rear-wheel drive BMW M135i (which brings a touch of premium plus the option of five doors and an automatic gearbox, the latter nowhere near as boring and grown up as it sounds) which starts at £30,570.
Front-drive rivals include the playful and agile Ford Focus ST, which starts at a bargain £21,995, the slightly berserk £26,995 Vauxhall Astra VXR and the latest, mk7 VW Golf GTI. It has one of the most composed hot hatch chassis ever, though lags behind the Megane for fun. Nevertheless, it’s as classy and cool as ever and starts at £25,845.
Anything else I need to know?
The Renaultsport Megane is now covered by Renault’s ‘4 plus’ package, which combines a four year/ 100,000 mile warranty with four years/ 48,000 miles of routine servicing.
And while we can celebrate the Megane’s excellence for now, the next version could be quite different. The smaller Clio RS morphed from a rev-happy, slightly hardcore naturally aspirated thing to a 1.6-litre turbo five-door equipped with a twin-clutch paddleshift gearbox. So far it’s a decision which has led to disappointment and a demotion from our favourite hot hatch to comfortably outside the top ten. The next Megane could get the same gearbox…