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Intra-brand rivalries can be fun. Comparing the top-spec variant of one model in a manufacturer's line-up with the entry-level version of another, can often deliver interesting outcomes. And when the gap between them, in sheer dollar terms anyway, is rather close, things can be even more interesting.
So, with $4000 separating the Renault Clio RS220 Trophy and Renault Megane RS265 Cup, which Renault RS model is the one to get?
The limited-edition Clio is the newest RS hot hatch that money can buy, the Megane is an RS hot hatch less than a year out from retirement – the much-discussed fourth-generation Megane RS due to be unveiled this year.
Limited to 220 vehicles in Australia, the RS220 Trophy is based on the fourth-generation five-door-only Clio that launched locally in 2013. The RS265 Cup, on the other hand, is a three-door-only proposition, based on the third-gen Megane that first debuted back in 2008.
Perhaps the biggest difference however – notably for keen drivers and enthusiasts – is that the Clio RS is solely available with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, while the Megane RS is exclusively paired to a six-speed manual with a single clutch (pedal).
This means, while the Clio gets steering column-mounted paddle shifters and launch control to aid gear shift and sprint times, in the Megane, the driver has no one but themselves to blame for missed shifts or poor starts.
With these contrasts in mind, we opted to test the two cars in two different environments over two days, with the help of two special guests.
On board for Day One’s public-road drive loop, we call in 35-year-old father-of-two, Ben Forrest – a legit car enthusiast who regularly juggles baby seats in and out of his two-door 1999 Subaru WRX STI.
Ensuring we register fair and consistent lap times for Day Two’s track element, our second VIP is Driver Dynamics instructor and two-time Japanese G1 drift champion Chris DeJager.
Day One would comprise a highway run out to Warburton, a solid dash through the exquisite roads of Reefton, Marysville and Healesville, then highway back to CarAdvice Melbourne HQ. Day Two was all about on-track performance, with the day dedicated to lapping the 1.3-kilometre Haunted Hills hillclimb circuit.
Price, features and practicality
Priced at $39,990 (before on-road costs), the Renault Clio RS220 Trophy not only easily tops the French light car’s range, which starts at $16,790, it also makes it the equal-most expensive Clio model Renault Australia has ever sold – on par with the Clio III RS-based Angel & Demon (2012), 20th Anniversary (2010) and F1 Team R27 (2009) special editions.
Stretch an extra $4010, and you can slide your bum into the ‘RS’-stamped bucket seat of the $44,000 (before on-road costs) Renault Megane RS265 Cup.
Sitting $8990 below the decaled-up RS275 Trophy – and a staggering $17,990 below the record-setting RS275 Trophy-R – the ‘base’ Megane RS still gets key driving goodies, including a Cup chassis, Brembo brakes, Michelin Pilot Sport tyres and a mechanical limited-slip front differential.
Both cars tested roll on 18-inch alloy wheels, come with rear parking sensors and feature Renault’s seven-inch R-Link multimedia touchscreen with satellite navigation.
The Clio backs up its newer, city-car credentials with a standard reversing camera (part of a $2990 optional Comfort pack on the Megane), better all-around vision and more compact dimensions – the RS220 is 230mm shorter and 116mm narrower than the RS265.
Although both cars are officially listed as being able to seat five, accommodating even four adults, in either car, is not something you’d want to have to do too often.
Inside, both cars feature red seatbelts, red-stitched seats, alloy sports pedals, a manual handbrake, a performance-increasing ‘RS’ button, and a (more than a little naff) transmission tunnel-mounted cruise control/speed limiter switch.
The Clio’s ‘Trophy’-emblazoned heated leather seats are more bucketed and more supportive than the Megane’s cloth items, as well as being significantly narrower and more closely positioned to one and other than those in the Megane.
With harder, scratchier plastics, chrome and faux-carbon-fibre touches, lower quality fit and finish, and only one auto up/down power window for the driver, the RS220, standing still at least, struggles hard to feel worth $40k.
Gifted with higher-quality materials, better-finished touch points, and a more premium feel to most elements – including details such as the headliner and two auto up/down power window switches – the RS265 cabin is easily the more plush of the two, and far better justifies the Megane’s sticker price.
The Clio does take the cake for interior storage, though, offering more places for phones, keys and wallets than the Megane, but the latter exclusively has secret under-floor storage bins. That said, neither model has particularly helpful cup holders, and neither the Clio nor Megane offers top-quality sound from their respective six- and eight-speaker stereos.
Pop open the Clio’s stubby rear doors, or in the Megane’s case, heave open the monstrous front doors, and neither car feels like a Holden Commodore in the back, but the Clio provides slightly more headroom, legroom and shoulder room than the Megane.
Obviously, with two fewer doors, it is a little fiddlier to gain access to the Megane’s back seats, but at least the car’s front seats ‘recall’ your seating position after you’ve slid them forward to allow passengers into the second row.
Neither car has rear air vents, but at least individuals tucked into the back of the Megane get map pockets and an interior light. Grab handles are reserved for the Clio, however. And while both cars’ two rear outboard seats are ISOFIX compatible, a sting for the more ‘family friendly’ Clio is its lack of rear curtain airbags.
At 344 litres, the Megane claims the boot-capacity win over the Clio by 44L (seats up). And, although the RS265’s boot floor is on the other side of a rather high load lip, it’s also wider and deeper than the RS220’s.
At its widest point, however, the Clio’s boot aperture is a fair 260mm-plus improvement over the Megane’s, meaning less hassle getting prams and the like into the rear. Additionally, the city-centric Clio has a lower, more shopping-friendly load lip.
Before even pushing a start button then, Ben – after checking booster seats in the back and prams in the boot – is already favouring the Clio for general liveability.
“I prefer the look of the Megane, but to live with everyday, with two kids, it’s the Clio easily,” Ben says.
“But obviously we need to drive them before I make any final call.”
And with that, we’re off…
On the road
On the drive out from CarAdvice’s inner-city Melbourne HQ to Warburton, it becomes immediately apparent that the Clio RS220 Trophy has intentionally been made with an unequivocal focus on performance – to the detriment of the Clio's core purpose as a ‘city car’.
Left to shift on its own, the efficient dual-clutch (EDC) gearbox is hesitant at low speeds, making the engine somewhat ‘doughy’ around town. It also holds onto gears too long at various times – exacerbated by engaging the RS Drive ‘Sport’ mode. But the biggest killer is the car’s ultra-stiff Trophy chassis.
Firmer than the Clio RS Cup chassis, and two steps more ‘hardcore’ than our long-term Clio RS200’s Sport chassis, the Trophy setup features firmer dampers than the standard car, as well as hydraulic bump stops and a lower ride height (20mm at the front, 10mm at the back). In short, for everyday commuting, it is simply far too firm.
Even Ben – who’s been driving modified cars for some time – points out that the RS220 Trophy borderline feels like a car that’s traded its standard ‘street’ suspension for competition-spec coilovers.
“It’s just too stiff to be even remotely comfortable,” Ben says.
By contrast, the still far-from-cloud-like ride in the Megane RS265 Cup is exceedingly more comfortable, with its tamer chassis far more adept at dealing with speed humps and potholes and the like. For the most part, the Megane RS’s Cup configuration is a highly acceptable balance between comfort and sportiness.
That said, at every set of lights, stop sign, and T-intersection, the Megane’s light but super snappy clutch will be on your mind.
Feather the throttle and gently clutch up, and your best case scenario is a slightly jerky take-off followed by equally shuddery shifts into second gear, and even into third. Luckily, once rolling along, shifts into fourth gear and above are far less of an issue.
Arriving at the bottom of our planned hills run, we first jump into the Megane RS265, leaving Ben to sample the Clio RS220.
A short straight and three corners in, we’re quickly reminded why the Renault Megane RS has held the hot-hatch performance mantle for so long.
Powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 195kW of power at 5500rpm and 360Nm of torque at 3000rpm, the front-wheel-drive RS265 Cup claims 0-100km/h in 6.0 seconds and a top speed of 255km/h.
Fast, fun and engaging. The Megane RS is a solid performer that is in its element when slicing through switchbacks and stretching its legs between third-gear corners. It’s stable and poised, responsive and willing.
The Megane’s steering is heavier than a lot of modern sports cars, but the feedback it imparts is brilliant – something lacking in even high-end performance product.
Feeling more naturally aspirated than turbocharged, the RS265’s smooth and linear 2.0-litre F4RT engine is plenty grunty down low, but equally happy revving out to its 6500rpm limit – where the needle’s maximum is met by an associated shift beep.
Aided significantly by its excellent mechanical limited-slip front differential, the RS Megane still has to be driven with an awareness of front tyre grip in order to get the best out of it.
Ensure it’s balanced and settled before you turn into a corner and you can take liberties with the corner exit. Overdrive it, and ask too much of the 235mm-wide, 40-aspect Michelin Pilot Sport tyres though, and, even with the front diff on board, you can get the front end sliding or pushing wide.
A few enthusiastic kilometres in and the only factor limiting grin size is the Megane’s Brembo branded braking package.
Comprising four-piston calipers and 340mm ventilated discs up front and 290mm solid discs in the rear, with the middle pedal progressively feeling doughier and moving closer and closer to the floor, the RS265’s on-test stopping performance is surprisingly disappointing.
After a quick chat comparing notes, we tag with Ben and hop into the Clio.
With questions already surrounding the gearbox, interior quality, and chassis, we’re not overly optimistic about taking the reins of the Megane RS’s little brother. But it doesn’t take long to realise that as good as the RS265 might be, out here on these roads, the RS220 is better.
Still only driven by its front wheels, the RS220 Trophy uses the same turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder as its lesser Clio RS stablemates. But with a larger turbo, redesigned air intake, updated exhaust system and revised engine mapping, it produces 162kW at 6050rpm and 260Nm at 2000rpm.
Up 15kW and 20Nm from the standard RS200, the flagship Trophy also gains an ‘overboost’ function allowing torque to rise to 280Nm in fourth and fifth gear.
With the help of a launch control system and an electronic – rather than mechanical – limited-slip front differential, the RS220 claims 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 235km/h.
But while the small-capacity M5Mt engine delivers real punch – if a touch ‘old-school’ and on/off in its peakiness – it’s the 1270kg Clio’s agility and nimbleness that’s near-on freakish.
Unquestionably a result of being equipped with ultra sticky 205mm-wide, 40-aspect Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, the RS220 can change direction on a dime, with the phenomenal grip transforming seemingly bold cornering speeds into a walk in the park.
Employing a 10 per cent faster ratio than a standard Clio RS, the Trophy’s steering, while noticeably lighter and less communicative than the Megane’s, is sharp, and works exceptionally well with the 141kg lighter Clio.
And, unlike the Megane, the Clio’s non-Brembo brakes consistently provide confidence-inspiring retardation stop-after-stop.
Teaming single-piston front calipers with 320mm ventilated front discs and 260mm solid rears, the smaller package holds up well and remains bitey throughout the day.
As impressive and highly capable as the Clio is on smooth tarmac, however, encountering the wrong sequence of undulations or mid-corner bumps and ruts will see the excessively firm Trophy chassis exposed - once again - as a weak point.
Not composed or compliant enough over poorer surfaces, the RS220 Trophy will skip and dance around and, at times, become quite skittish. So while its on-road performance potential is up there, its real-world ability is held back by its ride not being as forgiving as the RS265 Cup’s.
That said, find a stretch of smooth, sealed, twisting public road, and few bigger, more powerful and more expensive cars could comfortably lose a Renault Clio RS220 Trophy.
“This car’s just cheating through there,” Ben says of the Clio.
“It already had the Megane covered and then I realised just how much more it had and how much more I could lean on it.”
Day One’s 260km drive loop done and we’re all a little... confused.
So far, the older, more ‘impractical’ two-door Megane RS265 is the nicer riding of the two cars, with the more upmarket interior. It’s more forgiving, compliant, comfortable and balanced than the Clio RS220 and, in that regard, makes for the better daily driver.
But with its two (huge) doors, poorer vision, lack of a standard reversing camera, and potentially restricting manual gearbox, the Megane loses out to the Clio in terms of standard equipment and practicality. Unsurprisingly, the lighter and smaller-engined Clio also betters the Megane for on-test fuel economy – 11.9 litres per 100km versus 13.1L/100km.
Hindered by its ultra-firm ride, cheaper cabin feel, and finicky transmission, the Renault Clio RS220 Trophy is not the one you’ll want to drive everyday. But with rear doors, more space and more features, the Clio takes the Day One prize ahead of the Megane. Let’s not forget, either, that it comfortably proved the more capable of the two when driven at pace through some stunning ribbons of Yarra Ranges blacktop.
At the track
“Ok, you go first,” Chris says while standing at Haunted Hills’ start finish line, armed with a stop watch.
Pressure, is trying to set consistent lap times that are in the realm of a car’s ultimate ability for the given conditions. Real pressure, is trying to do that just before a guy who teaches people how to drive around racetracks for a living gives it a crack.
A few familiarisation laps under the belt – and several more to allow in-house shooter Tom to fire off some hi-res gems – and it’s stopwatch time.
The plan is for each driver to have a pair of two-lap ‘sessions’ in each car, alternating to allow the cars (and us) to cool down a little. Ambient temperature is 35 degrees Celsius, climbing to 42 degrees Celsius over the course of the day – according to the cars anyway. First up, we’re in the Megane.
Delivering the same healthy low-end torque and planted chassis dynamics experienced the day before, the RS265 feels right at home on the track.
Perhaps less heat-affected by the shorter track stints compared with the previous day’s sustained hills runs, the Megane’s brakes also perform far better, easily washing off speed the few times a lap they are called upon to do so.
Our first two laps down and our best time is a 1:08.18.
With less weight and better rubber, we’re at this stage fully expecting the Clio to be faster, or at least for the times to be close.
Backing up its impressive performance through the mountains, around Haunted Hills, the RS220’s sharpness, agility and grip again trump the RS265’s.
The brakes impress once more but for the first time we notice the car holding us back somewhat.
Despite both cars being tested in ‘Sport’ mode – ‘Race’ modes were intentionally avoided as the aim was to reflect what ‘average punters’ could expect to experience in the two cars – their electronic stability control (ESC) systems behave differently.
In the Megane RS, ‘ESC Sport’ relaxes the system’s cut-in point and subtly ‘assists’ the driver in getting the best performance out of the car. In the Clio RS, however, the calibration seems to allow more vehicle rotation before interjecting, and then once involved, restricts, or more tightly measures, power delivery.
We complete our first two-lap session in the Clio, recording a best time of 1:08.89 – 0.71s off the Megane.
Nervous to see just how many seconds faster Chris will be in each car, and curious as to what the split times between the two will look like, we throw him the keys. Again, it’s the Megane first.
Being quite the thinker when it comes to hustling cars around racetracks, Chris makes the intentional decision to leave the RS265 in third gear for the entire first session.
“With great mid-range torque from the Megane’s engine, I didn't feel it wanting for power, even in the slower, tighter sections,” Chris says post laps.
“My second lap I made a mistake, though, catching the edge of my shoe under the brake pedal.”
The result? A best of 1:07.66 – 0.52s sharper than our fastest first session clock-stopper. A quick change of RS models and Chris is away in the Trophy.
Two laps later he returns after setting a best time of 1:07.70 – nothing in it. We said we were expecting close times…
“It’s kind of hard to tell which one I like better,” Chris says getting out of the Clio.
“I already like the gearbox, just the way you control it, lets it down.
“It can get caught between gears a bit around here too. Plus, you have to take your hands off the wheel to change gears because the paddles aren’t mounted to the wheel, which takes your focus off what you're doing.
“And you’re spot on with the Clio’s stability control, it severely limits power coming out of corners.”
With a bit more confidence in the cars and how much more we can comfortably push them, we (unsurprisingly) go quicker in the second session, recording a 1:07.33 and a 1:07.83 in the Megane and Clio, respectively – again, a 0.52s split.
Putting his general politeness aside for a few minutes, Chris quietly goes out and clocks the day’s fastest times for both cars – a 1:06.38 for the RS265 and a 1:06.82 for the RS220 – with a mere 0.44s gap separating the two.
“Now, that was fun,” Chris says hopping out of the Clio.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they’re that close, considering how different the cars are.”
Allowing himself to use second gear in the Megane this time, Chris says while the Megane’s additional weight over the Clio is noticeable when going up hill, its extra torque means it’s not a huge disadvantage.
Calling out the fact that the Megane’s Michelins were produced in June, 2014, compared with the Clio’s Michelins that were all at least 12 months newer, Chris says the RS265 Cup falls a touch short of providing the tyre grip you want from the car.
“You always want unlimited grip, I guess, but you can just feel where it’s starting to fall away.
“That said, the Megane just feels so much more planted and the power tends to give it the speed initially, so you can just ride that speed through the corners. Whereas the Clio feels like you’re trying to make up the speed from its lack of initial stability.
“Even just a medium-pace lap was enough to unsettle it over that hump on the track. You can feel that in the Clio, it’s wanting to rotate more.”
Taking personal exception to the way Renault has brilliantly calibrated the ESC system in the Megane but got it so wrong in the Clio, Chris says the Megane RS is the easier of the pair to be faster in.
“In the Megane, the RS Sport mode feels as though it’s helping us by allowing a little more freedom, but the same mode in the Clio feels as though the calibration is different and instead it’s limiting us," Chris says.
“For the laps in the Clio, I was no longer driving the track, I was just trying to compete against the car’s electronics. They wanted to hold me back and I needed to try and come up with techniques that would trick them into giving me more power, earlier.
“With the Megane, you can throw the thing around – it’s amazing. You can get away with just sailing it a little bit sideways here and a little sideways here, and it just keeps going where you point it. And it was fun because of that, it didn’t feel scary to drive.”
The Megane wasn’t flawless around the track though, with Chris saying his performance was hindered by its seats.
“I was literally falling out and was taking my hands off the wheel because I couldn’t reach all the way across to the other side. So it held me back because I was focusing on holding myself in rather than just driving the car," he said.
“But that was the only real negative I had with the car and that was only highlighted because of the g-forces generated by Haunted Hills’ banked and uphill corners. If you were on a different track, generating less g-force, then it wouldn’t be as big an issue and it’d make it a no-brainer that you’d take the Megane.”
Day Two’s track component in the books (making up a 345km round trip from Melbourne) and the win goes to the Megane RS. Not only the fastest outright on the day, the RS265 Cup was also the most consistent, stable, enjoyable, and natural to drive.
The RS220 Trophy unquestionably did a commendable job, though, and despite less than welcome electronic ‘interference’, was right on the very cusp of matching its bigger brother for absolute lap pace. The Clio also again took the prize for on-test fuel economy – 10.2L/100km versus 10.9L/100km in the Megane.
Road and track covered, what did our special guests decide?
“I know I’m the dad, but I feel like the Clio is not the ‘sensible’ choice because it’s just too stiff, and for me, that rules it out.
“Given that, even though the Megane only has two doors, once the kids are back there, it’s still a nicer place to be. So for me, I’d rather have the Megane.
“Even though the Clio proved more capable through the hills, and is arguably more practical, on the day, I had more fun in the Megane.”
“At the end of the day, if it’s my money, I think I’d buy the Megane... I’d buy the Megane and then just bring myself two inches closer to the steering wheel to overcome the issue with the seats – or get new seats.
“Whether the Clio, physics wise, was capable of being faster, as we tested the two cars, the Megane just has the edge.”
Near-on predicting the very formula we might well see from the impending next-generation Megane RS, Chris adds, “That said, for me, I’d take the seats, gearbox and two extra doors from the Clio and put them into the Megane.”
This intra-brand comparison was all about finding which circa-$40k Renault RS model is the one to get. And we most certainly got the interesting outcomes we were hoping for.
Along with being better equipped and more feature-packed, in almost all facets, the five-door Renault Clio RS220 Trophy proved the smarter urban choice. Yet, the souped-up city car also outperformed the Megane RS265 Cup through the hills and was only fractionally off its kin around Haunted Hills (with the ‘potential’ to be right alongside).
That said, the Trophy’s ride is out-and-out too firm for the road, and even unhelpfully taut for the track. The interior too is a mild insult for the money asked, rear seat space only just pips the Megane – even if access is easier – and it has a smaller boot than the Megane. The Clio’s frustrating stability control system also significantly tainted its performance on track.
The Megane misses the mark in some areas, too, however. It’s not the cheapest or youngest hot-hatch of its size doing the rounds, the tyres and brakes fell short of expectation, and the touchy clutch and manual gearbox will limit its buyer set. The lack of a standard reversing camera is also particularly poor, given the Megane’s limited rear vision.
Regardless of the direction you’re swayed, both the Clio RS and Megane RS are covered by Renault’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, along with five years roadside assist. The two cars are also identical to service, with 12-month or 10,000km scheduled services capped at $299.00.
Crunch time then. Overall, we had to hand the win to the Clio.
If you must have an automatic transmission, the Renault Clio RS220 Trophy is a hugely impressive and entertaining little package – even if it may struggle to justify its lofty price tag when compared with its class competitors (namely the $25,990 Ford Fiesta ST, $27,490 Volkswagen Polo GTI and $30,990 Peugeot 208 GTi). Exclusivity is on its side, too, given Renault Australia has sold 23 to date.
The Megane RS remains a highly engaging, undiluted and uncorrupted driver’s car that will forever be a legitimate classic among enthusiasts – even if it continues to command a healthy premium over direct segment rivals (such as the $38,990 Ford Focus ST, $39,990 Holden Astra VXR and $40,990 Volkswagen Golf GTI).
Further, in RS265 Cup guise, it offers a more compliant and comfortable everyday experience than the Clio, as well as being more all-out fun… And with that in mind, it’s not hard to see why the Megane was the personal pick for both Ben and Chris.
Click on the Photos tab for more Renault Clio RS220 Trophy and Renault Megane RS265 Cup images by Tom Fraser.