Renault's evolved hot-hatch a thrill

By David Linklater

Simplicity and driving pleasure form the basis of this civilised new sporting model's appeal. Photo / Supplied
Simplicity and driving pleasure form the basis of this civilised new sporting model's appeal. Photo / Supplied

It's natural to compare the most sporting model in RenaultSport's new Megane hot-hatch line-up, the 250 Cup Trophee, to the star performer in the previous range, the R26. Do so and you'll probably conclude the new car is a little softer, a lot easier to drive and not nearly as intense as the track-focused R26. That's something I've read a lot lately and I've written stuff along the same lines myself.

It's natural to compare the two, but I reckon it's also wrong because the R26 was a highly evolved version of the previous Megane RS 250. And that's the car to which we should really be comparing the new RS. You'll conclude the new car is even more civilised than its predecessor, yet even more thrilling to drive on the right road.

The Trophee might be a more sporting effort than the regular Megane RS 250 Cup featured in Driven back in May, but the changes do not run as deep as the name might suggest. Mechanically, the two models are identical - the 184kW/340Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine and suspension are unchanged. But for an extra $7000, the $58,990 Trophee does bring fantastic Recaro front seats, larger alloy wheels with lower-profile tyres, an up-rated audio system and some rather questionable yellow seatbelts.

You'd be mad not to - the name "Trophee" is worth the extra money alone - because the RS 250 Cup is an awesome hot-hatch and anything that increases the driving pleasure qualifies as a must-have. Even if it's only a bit of extra seat support or a little more mid-corner grip from more aggressive rubber.

The turbocharged engine might sound a bit flat but it's incredibly robust between 4000-6000rpm. The steering lacks weight but is millimetre-precise. The chassis has bags of grip but also goes with the flow when bad mid-corner undulations suddenly appear. God, it's good.

As ornate as the RS 250 Trophee looks from the outside, the key to its appeal is simplicity. You can't select a sport mode for the 2.0-litre turbo engine or adjust the suspension. There's an old-school mechanical limited-slip differential between the driven wheels. The transmission has only one clutch and you operate it with a pedal. If you like to delude yourself that you can achieve proper heel-and-toe downshifts - which I do, when nobody's looking - then the brake and accelerator are placed perfectly for it. The RS 250 Cup Trophee is a proper old-school hot-hatch and just a really wonderful thing to drive fast.

I absolutely love it.

There may well be a more track-focused version of the RS 250 Cup Trophee in the works - a true successor to the previous R26. If so, I'm assuming it'll blow our minds completely.

The bottom line:

RenaultSport Megane 250 Cup is in a league of its own for exhilaration and involvement. Extra kit of Trophee version is a must.

Alternatives

Abarth 500 Esseesse $42,990
Alfa Romeo MiTo QV $42,990
Citroen DS3 Dsport $41,990
Volkswagen Scirocco R $69,250
Volvo C30 T5 R-Design $51,990

- NZ Herald

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