Toyota TRD 86 takes on Renault's hottest hatch.

Well, it couldn't be more visually perfect now, could it? Two slightly mad small cars, both in black-and-white warpaint with bright red brake calipers. They just go together.

For all that though, the Toyota TRD86 and Renault Megane RS 265 Cup are two very different propositions.

The Toyota is a purpose-built rear-drive coupe that puts the emphasis on chassis sophistication and driver communication. The Renault is the undisputed king of the hot hatches: front drive, scary fast and deliberately wild.

Where they meet is in their enthusiast credentials, and that determination to offer undiluted driving pleasure at a relatively affordable price. They are both cars you could happily commute in, yet either would be well up to a weekend track day.


The RS 265 Cup is the latest incarnation of Renault Sport's now-legendary hot-hatch.

Its 2-litre turbo engine makes 197kW (265bhp, hence the name) and 360Nm, it boasts a special steering system and the so-called Cup chassis, with a limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes.

If you don't know about the Toyota 86 I don't know where you've been for the last few months. It's a brilliant bargain sports car, even if the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) version here is much more special and much more expensive, especially considering that the 147kW/205Nm 2-litre boxer engine is essentially the same in the $63,486 TRD86 as it is in the entry-level $41,986 86 on which it is based - save a special exhaust system that liberates an extra 5kW.

What the extra money really buys you is exclusivity (just 20 TRD cars one are being built initially by Toyota New Zealand) and a big catalogue of bolt-on bits.

Among the 28 individual components added to the car are spoilers, special 18-inch wheels, a sports air filter and Brembo brakes.

It almost makes the RS 265 look like good value at $53,990, although the price gap closes when you add our test car's extras: Recaro seats, keyless entry/start, red door stickers with a stylised graphic of the Nurburgring (where the RS 265 claimed the lap record last year for a front-drive production car) and a tyre pressure monitoring system, taking the total to $59,540.

You can have most of that gear and larger 19-inch wheels in the flagship Trophee version for $59,990, although keeping the smaller rims does make for a more supple ride on Kiwi roads. This is a clever specification job by Renault New Zealand.

To drive, these two cars are oh-so-different.

In terms of performance there is no comparison: the RS 265 rockets to 100km/h in six seconds neat, 1.8s ahead of the TRD86. The Renault's turbo engine is a cacophony of sound and fury, compared with the quietly raspy character and linear power delivery of the Toyota (well, Subaru) boxer-four.

The R2 65 slingshots from corner to corner and you feel like you're holding on for dear life, although the car actually has incredible reserves of roadholding. It never feels like anything other than a front-drive machine, but the limited-slip differential helps it power out of corners with complete assurance. And it's fast. Really, really fast.

In convoy (sort of) on a winding road, behind the wheel of the TRD86, I literally didn't see which way the RS 265 went. Know what?

That really didn't matter because the Toyota is not about speed, it's about sports-car finesse. The engine is packed full of character, the gearchange is superb, the steering completely communicative and the rear-drive chassis beautifully balanced. It's not fast at all, but it is a proper driver's car that feels as alive at 50km/h as it does at a highly illegal pace.

The Toyota rides better than the Renault at urban speeds, although the TRD can still be a bit fussy (colleagues assure me that the standard 86 is even better).

However, in fine French fashion the RS 265's suspension gets smoother the faster you go. It really is a car that only feels completely together when you're thrashing it.

Inside, the Renault looks and feels like it has had a comprehensive makeover. The snug Recaro seats send the right message about its driver-focused character, the materials are of very high quality and there are plenty of special detail trim elements for the RS - as long as you like yellow. There's yellow stitching on the steering wheel, yellow inserts in the front chairs and even yellow seatbelts.

The Toyota is clearly a more workaday proposition despite a few splashes of red, especially as our test TRD was based on the entry-level 86 model (you can add the package to the more upmarket GT86 as well). The plastics are harder, the seats not as supportive and it lacks the likes of keyless start and climate air-conditioning. But while the cabin has a less luxurious ambience than the Renault, the functional feel and ergonomic simplicity of the Toyota seem very appropriate for its no-compromise sporting character.

Which deserves true hero status? Honestly, both, because they're just so different and each is class-leading in its own way. But that's a copout because there has to be a winner.

For sheer thrills the Renault cannot be beaten. It's outlandish-looking inside and out, blindingy fast and incredibly well-sorted, despite the potential for white-knuckle driving. Arguably better value, too.

But a huge adrenalin rush isn't necessarily a substitute for proper sports-car finesse. The TRD86 feels downright slow compared with the RS 265, but the steering, gearbox and chassis are so beautifully configured that you know it's a car which will give lasting pleasure in any driving situation long after the novelty of scaring yourself stupid in the Renault has worn off.

If exhaust tips are your thing, it's also a clear win to the Toyota. The TRD package adds an unnecessary and quite fussy quartet of pipes, while the Renault has just one. Who's showing off now?