The end of year break is always something to look forward to, and when you’re slung one of the world’s best hot-hatches to enjoy over the same period, the Renault Megane RS, that feeling is multiplied.
There’s been much excitement in the hot-hatch world of late. Honda has been talking highly of its upcoming Civic Type R, Seat set enthusiasts alight with its Nurburgring record-breaking Leon Cupra 280 and Renault reclaimed its title for the fastest front-wheel-drive around the German circuit – with thanks to the harcore two-seat Megane RS275 Trophy-R.
It seemed fitting then to spend a week or so in the entry-level performance French three-door, the Renault Megane RS265 Cup.
It may surprise few, but I like cars. A lot. And I like driving even more. Tony and I have previously had arguments about which is better, a manual gearbox or a paddle-shifted transmission, but needless to say, I was rapt to be steering a manual-only car (particularly one with as big a reputation as the Megane RS).
I also don’t discriminate. I love good front-wheel-drive cars as much as I love good rear-wheel-drive ones. And the Renault Megane RS265 – with its limited-slip front differential and Cup chassis – is most definitely one of the former.
At $43,990 before on-road costs (or $44,990 driveaway currently) the freshly facelifted RS265 Cup is your first step into the Renault Sport-ed Megane range. It comes standard with dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, satellite navigation, automatic headlights and wipers, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
It sits $4000 below the RS265 Cup Premium – which adds a reversing camera, partial leather seats and 19-inch wheels – and $9000 below the limited edition RS275 Trophy. The base Cup is also a mildly staggering $18,000 shy of the even more exclusive (and previously mentioned) RS275 Trophy-R.
Considering all are essentially based on the same model that first debuted at the 2009 Geneva motor show, the Liquid Yellow starting point pictured here already seems like a relatively smart purchase… provided you do indeed like to drive that is.
It’s my first night with the RS and tight, fun and twisty roads are the main order of business. Ticking boxes through my old stomping ground around Warrandyte, Kinglake and Toolangi, I’m already back in love with the Megane. Any follow-up encounters with it really are like accidentally bumping into that old flame you haven’t seen in a while, smiles are almost guaranteed to follow…
Sharing the love is the next port of call. That means a highway blast up Melbourne’s Monash Freeway out to a mate’s place in Berwick.
Following several squirts through some choice blacktop in the hills surrounding Mount Dandenong, the 1999 Version V two-door Subaru Impreza WRX STI-owner is suitably impressed with the 265’s copious grip levels, razor sharp steering and turn-in response and STI-esque front diff wizardry. We cruise back into Berwick discussing the likelihood of either of us ever buying a French car…
On that, let’s call out some of the Renault’s ‘eccentricities’ now, before getting too distracted.
A loveable little character, the Megane RS can be a bit of a pain to live with day-to-day in a number of respects.
As fun as the model’s RS ‘Sport’ mode is when spiritedly chasing horizons, it makes the Megane almost too bitey and on-edge when in traffic and putting around town.
Push the RS button – located down by the driver’s right knee – and you can immediately feel the difference. Revs rise, steering gets heavier, exhaust noise from the back end gets a little louder and, crucially, throttle response becomes sharper. A lot sharper.
Team this with a super-low clutch take-up point and a springy third pedal and taking off smoothly – and avoiding awkward stalls – requires some learning.
Other ‘adjustments’ need to be made for the notchy and accurate but rather noisy six-speed manual gearbox, minute and all-but-hidden stop-start deactivation light, and naff cruise control/speed limiter ‘on’/‘off’ switch.
Oddly mounted on the transmission tunnel, just to the inside of the Megane’s manual handbrake, the cruise control switch is doubly annoying as its operation is not permitted to work in tandem with the performance model’s RS mode. The four steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons, however, are smart and intuitive, along with being inboard enough of the wheel rim that they stay out of the way when steering with purpose.
Another day, another drive. This time Healsville and beyond is the target, with the always breathtaking Black Spur making up a key part of the excursion.
Traversing through the exquisite rainforest landscape dominated by sky-high trees and low-lying ferns, the Renault Megane RS265 yet again cements its place as one of the best of its kind in terms of sheer dynamic ability and thrills.
Brilliantly engaging and ludicrously entertaining, the RS265 is a superb package when it comes to driving with conviction.
The recipe for smiles is simple: sight a corner, chase after it, tip the car in and before even reaching the apex, jump on the throttle. Keep vision up, spot the next bend and repeat.
The Megane’s ride is unquestionably firm, with speed bumps clearly revealing that the hot-hatch’s rear is noticeably firmer than its front. Despite its taught nature though, things rarely become crashy.
Undulations, particularly repeated ones, can, however, get the RS feeling a little unsettled and out of sorts – particularly at higher speeds.
Effective and solid in most all situations, the good looking four-piston Brembo brakes can run out of bite and become a bit soft when enthusiastically shifting the 1374kg Megane around. And while positioning of the steering wheel would benefit from greater reach adjustment, placement of the sports pedals is close to ideal for heel-and-toe action.
Following a tremendous Christmas Day spent notching up miles through Yarra Ranges favourites the Reefton Spur and Lake Mountain, and with only days left of 2014, the Megane is pointed towards Airey’s Inlet and the Great Ocean Road.
Cruising along at highway speeds (yes, with cruise control on and thus RS mode off), the 195kW/360Nm 2.0-litre turbo is content being kept to lower revs. It’s the same story getting from A to B around town but to really get things kicking over nicely, the four-cylinder prefers to be between 2000-2500rpm. And by 3000rpm things are significantly punchier again, with speed and revs easily piled on with ample haste.
The Megane sounds good revving out to its circa-6500rpm rev limit too, provided you’re ok with the F4Rt engine’s gruff and somewhat restricted sounding note – reminiscent of an old smoker with emphysema, or an old Mitsubishi Evo.
With the Renault’s 344-litre boot about half full of highly important and very mature gear – such as a sleeping bag, a beach cricket set and a Spider-Man pillow – I arrive coast-side in time for the start of New Year’s celebrations.
Poor weather is ignored in favour of jubilation that for the next few days, I’m not only a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, but also smack bang in the middle of one of Victoria’s best ribbons of tarmac to join coast with mountains.
2015 welcomed in, sparklers extinguished and holiday house vacuumed (a friend’s, not my own) and its time for a 180km drive home via Lorne and Deans Marsh. As well as providing a final test of the Megane’s 40-profile Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, the drive also brings time for reflection.
Brushing aside some the Megane’s foibles – the fact that the door trim moves a little when you open or close the windows; the clumsy heater controls with no sync button; the below average sound system that will struggle to please audiophiles; the sporadically clitchy and laggy centre touchscreen; and occasionally frozen RS monitor – the RS265 ain’t a bad thing at all.
Sure, it will no doubt please the passionate, but with a comfortable cabin, reasonable vision out (for a coupe with tiny rear quarter windows and large C-pillars), space in the back for three adults at a stretch, a legitimately practical boot and additional under-floor cubby holes, the Renault Megane RS also has attributes to appeal to a wider audience.
Over my time with the Megane I racked up over 1700km and averaged 11.3 litres per 100km – quite a bit up on its 7.5L/100km claim (no surprises there) – but now the kilometres of thrills are a mere memory.
The Renault Megane RS265 isn’t the most ergonomically sensible car around, but you do adjust and get used to things and dynamically, it is simply sensational. Having driven the RS275 Trophy late last year, I can honestly say that the entry-level RS265 Cup gives you most of the thrills of the dearer and slightly sharper Trophy, but for significantly less coin.