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Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 3-door hatch vs Golf GTI 5-door hatch: hot hatch comparison


Model overview

2011 Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 Cup 3-door hatch 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol six-speed manual – $41,990 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI 5-door hatch 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol six-speed manual: $40,490 (Manufacturer’s List Price)

When it comes to affordable hot hatches, it doesn’t get any hotter than the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Renault Megane Renault Sport 250. They both deliver sensational bang for buck, but offer two very different driving experiences and styling executions.

Renault Sport is well known throughout the enthusiast world for building some of the most capable and acclaimed performance hatches in the world. They look the part too with overt styling that screams ‘I’m from Renualt Sport – don’t mess with me’. They’ve been at this game for years and do it better than anyone. Recent greats include the Megane F1 Team R26 and Megane R26.R, which possessed true race car-like handling and performance for the road. The Megane RS 250 continues the tradition with unmistakable styling and pedigree – hallmarks of the Renault Sport.

The current Golf GTI Mk 6 is the latest in a long line of hot hatches from Volkswagen, stretching back to the 70s, and well and truly regarded as an automotive icon. They have always been less flamboyant than the Renault Sport cars, more a wolf in sheep’s coat proposition. That said, the GTI has always ruled when it comes to the package of everyday drivability and performance, but this car appears to be more sheep than wolf, at least from the outside. There are still enough performance cues around the car to give the game away, but Volkswagen has definitely dialled up the subtlety factor with the latest GTI.

Engine and performance

Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk6
Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder TSI petrol
Maximum power 184kW @ 5500rpm 155kW @ 5300-6200rpm
Maximum torque 340Nm @ 3000rpm 280Nm @ 1700-5200rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual with Six-speed manual
Drive Front-wheel drive with LSD Front-wheel drive with EDL & XDL
Acceleration 0-100km/h 6.1 seconds 6.9 seconds

Read CarAdvice’s full drive review of the Renault Megane Renault Sport 250.

Read CarAdvice’s full drive review of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 6.

Firepower for both cars is a warmed up 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, and although the GTI gets direct injection, it’s the Renault that packs the bigger punch with a price/segment-topping 184kW and 340Nm to play with.

The GTI on the other hand makes do with 155kW and 280Nm, but has the advantage of both peak power and torque coming on-song considerably earlier than the Renault.

From the moment you fire up the Megane by way of a starter button, you’re more than aware that there’s a fair bit of extra mumbo under the bonnet of this thing. The idle is slightly up-tempo and there’s early signs of that performance growl that rewards a decent dose of throttle. It’s a similar story with the GTI, albeit a little less manic, but still very much an audible pleasure machine.

There in lies some of the magic of owning a proper hot hatch like either of these two cars; it’s knowing that you’re driving something special with performance to boot, and there’s a certain feel good factor associated with that experience.

Head-to-head in the benchmark 0-100km/h dash though, and it’s the Megane that’s all over the Golf, with a time of 6.1 seconds to the GTI’s 6.9 seconds.

While that might sound like a considerable performance advantage, behind the wheel it’s a different story, like a hard-fought tennis match that appears one-sided if you only look at the score. Both cars feel quick and turbo lag is almost non-existent.

You can definitely feel the extra 30kW and 60Nm punch in the Renault; it makes a difference when you’re carrying around less than 1400 kilos. That said, the GTI has the advantage on that front too, weighing in at a relatively light 1360kg to the Megane’s 1393kg.

More impressive again is the mid-range acceleration from second through to fifth. There’s a strong surge very early in the rev range in the GTI and it never lets up. It’s stronger again in the Megane, which has the benefit of a twin-scroll turbocharger, but there isn’t a lot in it. Keep your right foot into it though, and both hatches will exceed 240km/h.

You don’t buy a hot hatch for outright acceleration or top end speed, and while they certainly don’t disappoint in either respect, there are plenty of quicker options if that’s all your after. Hot hatches are all about the complete package: that’s performance, handling, styling, and above all, affordability and daily practicality. They do everything pretty well, but where this segment really punches above its weight is in the handling department, and both the Megane RS 250 and Golf GTI smash all expectations in this department.

While the Megane RS 250 comes with a built-in reputation for doing corners better than any other hot hatch on the market, don’t let the GTI’s rather tame styling suggest that it’s not up to the task, because you would be so wrong.

I recall driving the GTI across 40 kilometres of some of the best twisty roads I’ve ever encountered in Victoria’s high country, with German racing legend Hans Stuck on my tail for most of those forty kays. It will go down in my own history book as one of my most exciting drives of the last decade. The GTI’s ability to carve up what must have been more than 300 corners at speed, and above all, with such ease, was downright astonishing. I just wasn’t expecting this level of capability in what can also pass for a perfectly good family chariot.

The GTI’s ability to gobble up bitumen at such pace comes down to a very well sorted chassis and some very clever electronic wizardry that helps keep the car in check, even when pushing hard through the bends. The standard fit Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL) can all but eliminate that dreaded understeer – a good thing when the only run-off is a perfectly good natural rock wall on either side of the car.

There’s a good solid weight and feel from the Golf’s electro mechanical steering too, although it’s not as direct or as quick to respond to driver input as the Megane, which employs electric power steering. It’s a more precise response driving the Megane, but the GTI by not offering quite so sharp steering will appeal to wider enthusiast market.

If you want to test a performance brake package on a couple of hot hatches, go directly to the track or the Victorian Alps. I couldn’t fault the GTI’s braking ability after several hours of brake abuse on those twisty mountain roads revealed zero brake fade and excellent pedal pressure and feel.

Armed with Brembo 4-pot brakes on 340mm discs up front, the RS 250 takes hot hatch braking to a whole new level. It’s most probably overkill for general daily commute duties unless you’re intending to take the Megane on track, where it likes nothing better to hang out and be driven aggressively. After what must have been 30 plus flat-out laps at Broadford circuit in Victoria, the RS 250 showed no signs of brake fade, and was as fresh as if it had come directly from a Renault showroom.

While I haven’t yet driven the Megane on public roads, the way this thing gets a around the tighter parts of this circuit, is more akin to a race car than a road car. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard you push into a corner, you keep saying to yourself, ‘I can go harder than that next time around’.

The steering, the grip, the braking and this ‘Cup’ chassis, which is standard fit on the Australian spec cars, are on another level compared with the GTI, as the car is sharper and just seems to get better the harder you push.

You won’t believe the grip on turn in, or the sheer pace that the Renault can carry through corners. The razor-sharp steering only adds to the experience of driving what surely must be the world’s best ‘on track’ hot hatch under 50 grand.

If I said the GTI has more grip than a Velcro factory then the word superglue comes to mind if we’re talking about the RS 250. It doesn’t matter how much throttle you give the Renault into or out of a corner, the grip just never lets up. Put that down to the chassis and the particular type of mechanical limited slip differential in the Megane, but mostly it’s the chassis.

Both cars transfer the power to the road smoothly, but there’s clearly a bigger rush from the more powerful Renault powertrain when you’ve got the boot into it.

There’s no clear winner in the transmission department between the Golf and the Megane,  both manual six-speed shifters are smooth and effortless, allowing for rapid cog swapping with minimal effort, although I prefer the ratio spread in the GTI for everyday use.

When it comes to correctly balancing ride comfort with performance and handling, you’re looking at two of the best cars in the business. Both the Megane and the Golf provide an extraordinarily compliant ride without any compromise to hard charging performance. Around town, the ride could almost be described as supple yet firm.

While the Golf GTI is good, the Megane RS 250 is great. There really isn’t a lot in it, but whatever the Golf can do on the performance side of things, the Megane can do better, but with more effort required from the driver.

Styling and dimensions

Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 6
Length 4299mm 4199mm
Width 1848mm 1682mm
Height 1435mm 1500mm
Weight 1393kg 1360kg
Luggage capacity 377 litres 204 litres
Luggage capacity (expanded) 1420 litres 1305 litres

Hot hatches are supposed to stand out in the crowd, aren’t they? If so, then the RS Megane 250 wins that contest by a very big margin over what many say, is a rather bland Golf GTI.

The best view of the Renault is from the rear three-quarter, which accentuates its wide rear track and wider wheel arches under which sits a set of superb 18-inch alloys. This is a very pretty car, at least from this point of view. The rounded back end and almost horizontal rear window in concert with an unusually high beltline are uncompromising and extroverted. I particularly like the proper rear diffuser and centrally mounted exhaust pipe.

The front end of the Megane doesn’t work quite so well despite the front bumper and splitter incorporating LED daytime running lights and resembling Renault’s R28 Formula One car.

The GTI on the other hand could easily blend into traffic and go largely unnoticed by all but keen enthusiasts. Except for the single ‘GTI’ badge on the rear tailgate and split twin exhaust tips, it might pass for a bog standard Golf. Well, that’s not quite true. There’s also a subtle black diffuser and those classic five-spoke GTI wheels that might give it away, but there’s less chance of that happening from the front of the car with an aggressive bumper with a honeycomb mesh look.

No real winner here when it comes to the subjective world of automotive styling, some like it hot and others not so hot. The Megane has only recently been released and it’s a few thousand dollars more expensive that its German competitor, but it’s hard to argue with Golf GTI sales over the years. Volkswagen Australia sold 8392 Mk 5 GTIs, and has already moved 3738 Mk 6 GTIs.

Interior and Equipment

The large Sport Yellow rev counter and steering wheel stitching makes it feel special inside the cabin of the Megane, even before you’ve moved a metre.

There are soft touch materials on the dash and door trim and the switchgear contains enough metal accents to make the cabin seem like a premium place to be.

The standard sports seats are brilliantly bolstered and comfortable, either on or off the track. We also drove the Cup Trophée edition, which is fitted with racing style Recaros, but to be honest, I found the standard sports seats to be more heavily bolstered and just as comfortable. It’s quite a low driving position, but the seats are infinitely adjustable.

The aluminium-faced pedals and additional yellow stitching on the shifter knob further enhance that competition feel about the cabin.

While there’s no yellow rev counter, it’s just as spectacular inside the GTI. The centre piece is a leather bound flat bottom sports steering wheel with red stitching, which continues onto the “Jacky” tartan look cloth seats (you can option leather). You’ll go a long way to find a set of sports pews as good as Volkswagen have deployed in the GTI. They are supremely comfortable and are as well bolstered as those in the RS Megane.

Overall, the GTI’s cabin has a more premium feel to it than the Renault. It’s also a more comfortable place to be, due to its well laid out switchgear and general functionality. It’s no less sporty mind you, just a more interesting cabin.

Both cars come loaded with all the usual electric gear such as windows, door mirrors, and each has dual-zone climate control, but the Megane has a few extra goodies such as satellite navigation and automatic door locking as the card holder (card replaces a remote fob) walks away from the car.

The RS 250 also includes some clever electronic kit called the Renault Sport Monitor, which can collect real time data such as turbo pressure, oil temperature and brakes, as well as torque and power readings. The system can also function as a stopwatch and can memorise your best 400m standing start and 0-100km/h times.

Drivers can also use the Renault Sport Monitor for pedal mapping, with a choice of Sport and four other settings for various driving conditions and weather.

Both cars have plenty of storage capacity, although the Megane just edges out the Golf with 377 litres to 350 lites in the load area behind the rear seats.

Fuel Consumption and emissions

Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 6
Fuel tank capacity 60 litres 55 litres
Fuel type Premium unleaded 98 Octane Premium unleaded
Theoretical range (based on combined cycle fuel consumption) 689km 714km
Combined cycle fuel consumption 8.7 litres/100km 7.7 litres/100km
Urban fuel consumption Not published or tested 10.4 litres/100km
Extra urban fuel consumption Not published or tested 6.2 litres/100km
Carbon dioxide emissions 201g/km 180g/km

Both the Megane and the Golf are relatively small packages and although they punch well above their weight in the performance stakes, both cars enjoy excellent fuel efficiency and low emissions. As expected, the GTI with its lower output pulls slightly ahead of the Megane, with a combined consumption of 7.7 litres/100km to 8.0 litres/100km. Same story with emissions: GTI expels 180g/km and RS Megane blows 210g/km.

Safety

With so much performance on tap from these two pocket rockets, both cars are armed with a suite of active and passive safety features to protect occupants.

That’s seven airbags for the Golf, including a driver’s knee airbag and even more for the Megane, which has the added feature of Anti-submarining airbags.

Developed by Renault, the system deploys an airbag under the seat, which prevents the pelvis from sliding forward. This is especially relevant for children who in the event of an accident slip under the seatbelt.

Active safety systems for the Megane include ABS, EBD, Sports tuned ESP (with disconnect function for track days) and traction control (ASR).

The GTI gets a similar inventory with ASR, ESP, ABS, EBD, but with the added benefit of an electronic differential lock (EDL) and extended differential lock (XDL), in addition to Hill Start Assist.

Warranty, service and availability

Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 6
Vehicle warranty Three-year/100,000 km Three-year/Unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months/10,000km 12 months/15,000km
Waiting time

Conclusion

The Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 is the car for you if:

• You want the best on-track experience in a road car under $50,000
• You want the best handling hot hatch in the business bar none
• You want stand-out exterior and interior styling
• You want the most standard features in a hot hatch

The Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 6 is the car for you if:

• You want seriously good performance in an understated package
• You want the best value for money hot hatch in the business
• You want a premium look and feel interior in a hot hatch
• You want a hot hatch that even your grandmother could drive






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