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Renault Sport Mégane RS Trophy‑R – the car world's greatest misses

Targeting a Nürburgring lap record proved the undoing of a potentially all-time-great hot hatch

Renault Sport Mégane RS Trophy‑R

The Mégane RS Trophy‑R was an engineer’s dream: a car with all the right bits in all the right places. It was no surprise that it went to the Nürburgring Nordschleife and set a new fastest lap time for front-drive cars, its 07:40.10 lowering the record (set by the previous generation Trophy‑R) by almost a quarter of a minute. Job done? Yes. New standards for fast hatches established? You’d hope. We did, given Renault Sport’s back catalogue, but boy were we disappointed. 

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The fourth-generation Mégane RS hadn’t got off to the best start. It was five-door only and dynamically felt a bit disjointed, but the Trophy‑R was a radical reworking. Weight-saving efforts lopped a massive 130kg from its kerb weight and the rear axle was simplified, ditching rear-steer and saving a remarkable 32kg. The rear seat was deleted and there was a carbonfibre bonnet, a titanium exhaust and adjustable Öhlins dampers. If you wanted the Ring-record spec, you could option carbon-ceramic brakes and carbonfibre wheels (which alone saved 16kg), and the spec looked like the blueprint for the ultimate fast hatch. Mind, the list price reflected this: a jaw-dropping £72k, £12k of that for the wheels. 

> New Renault 5 unveiled – meet the basis for Alpine’s electric hot hatch

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Despite having no more horsepower than the regular Mégane RS (296bhp), there was an extra snap to its performance courtesy of that weight reduction and there was much promise in its seemingly undefeatable grip and whipcrack agility. However, on British B-roads that ought to have been its natural habitat its ride was so robust that at times the wheels weren’t in contact with the asphalt, and there was torque steer. Meanwhile, the usefulness of those carbon-ceramic brakes was rather undermined by a pedal that was too light on step-in and then generated a servo effect, making for inconsistent stopping and fiendishly tricky heel-and-toe downshifts. 

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The Trophy‑R felt much better suited to the smooth surface of the Bedford Autodrome. Fully committed, the instant direction changes, the astonishing grip and the speed it could carry were breathtaking. And it was relentless, the Bridgestone S007 ‘RS’ tyres and carbonfibre brakes delivering lap after lap of consistent, impressive performance. Brake feel remained unsatisfactory but even so, we gave it a pass to Car of the Year 2019

Trophy R

It was an event that should have played to its strengths, being based in the warmth of southern Spain at Circuit Ascari and the roads nearby. It was sharp and agile on track, as expected, but even on smooth roads there were only flashes of brilliance, moments when everything aligned: the car, the road and the commitment. It was astonishingly direct and precise driven furiously, but you can’t drive like that on the road. At the pace you want to drive at, for much of the time the ride was unforgiving and the brake response a trip hazard, so the flow and magic were frustratingly elusive. 

The Mégane Trophy‑R is high-calibre ammo for people who hold the view that cars developed at the Nürburgring are compromised for everyday use, but the foil to that is the latest Honda Civic Type R, which is a superb daily driver with five doors, four seats and a full specification… and took the front-drive Nürburgring lap record from the Trophy‑R. As ever, the problem isn’t developing road cars at the Nürburgring, it’s developing road cars for the Nürburgring.

This story first featured in evo issue 317.

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