We strap ourselves into the Recaro bucket seat of the 2016 Renault Megane RS275 Cup Premium, for what could be our final drive of the long-time leading performance hot hatch...
It was way back in 2010 when the second-generation Renault Megane RS first launched. Think Winter Olympics in Canada, FIFA World Cup in South Africa and WikiLeaks. Since then, though, through 250, 265 and 275 iterations, the Renault Sport model has wholeheartedly led the performance hot-hatch charge.
With the looming arrival of its replacement, however, and with competition at the top becoming ever-more fierce, the outgoing Renault Megane RS is fast approaching ‘classicdom’. So strap yourself in for what could quite possibly be our final drive of the stalwart three-door.
Sporting the same look that arrived via a largely well-received facelift midway through 2014, the $53,000 2016 Renault Megane RS275 Cup Premium you see here is the somewhat more subtle twin of the identically-priced Megane RS275 Trophy.
So while the more lairy Trophy comes standard with a ‘Trophy’-stamped F1-style front splitter and Platinum grey ‘Trophy’ body stripes and side decals, the cleaner-looking Premium leaves these out of the equation.
On the outside, the Cup Premium retains the Trophy’s black plastic front lower lip, gloss silver F1-blade with integrated LED daytime running lights, gloss black wing mirrors, rear diffuser and 19-inch Speedline ‘Turini’ alloy wheels, red-painted Brembo brake calipers, and carbon-fibre-tipped titanium Akrapovic exhaust.
In Cup Premium guise, the Renault Megane RS275 also trades gloss black exterior door handles for body-coloured items that match the model’s body-coloured rear spoiler.
Underneath, the differences between the two variants are fewer: both cars team the same Renault Sport-devised Cup chassis with a limited-slip front differential, Renault’s own torque steer-reducing ‘Perfohub’ steering setup and 235mm-wide, 35-aspect Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres.
And under the bonnet sits the Megane RS’s tried-and-tested turbocharged 2.0-litre (F4Rt) four-cylinder. Outputting 201kW of power at 5500rpm and 360Nm of torque at 3000rpm, the transversely-mounted engine gives the 1376kg front-wheel-drive Frenchy enough get-up to claim 0-100km/h in 6.0 seconds.
Inside, the Trophy's standard equipment again graces the Cup Premium. This means a Zamac alloy gear knob sits atop the lever for the exclusively available six-speed manual transmission, while heavily-winged leather and Alcantara Recaro bucket seats join a red-stitched Alcantara steering wheel and aluminium pedals and an aluminium footrest.
Red seat belts (front and rear), an Alcantara-covered manual handbrake lever, and Renault Sport-stamped kick plates, floor mats and carbon-fibre dash-insert top off the look.
From here, there's the same semi-integrated 7.0-inch R-Link touchscreen with satellite navigation and Renault's RS monitor data logging telemetry system, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control with speed limiter, dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and lights, and eight-speaker Arkamys stereo with Bluetooth audio streaming.
Showing its age, the RS275 is sans front parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, a lane-departure warning or lane-keep assist system, radar-controlled cruise control, a head-up display, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, nor any autonomous emergency braking (AEB) technology of any kind.
Like classics before it, though – we’re talking BMW E30 M3, Peugeot 205 GTi or 997 Porsche 911 GT3 – people won't be reminiscing about the second-generation Megane RS’s infotainment and safety gear, in years to come.
This is a Renault Sport car, after all and, say what you will about the French, they know how to turn spanners when it comes to creating legitimate road weapons.
Clamber into the street-spec racing bucket seat. Semi-dislocate your shoulder reaching back for the distantly-hanging seat belt. Slide the naff credit card-style key into the equally naff credit card-sized slot neighbouring the engine start/stop button. Depress the springy clutch and push the engine start button. Pause.
Move your attention toward your right knee. Disengage stop-start, engage ‘Sport’ mode and listen for the subtle rise in revs. Now put both windows down and go for a drive…
If you’re not prepared to commit to this process each and every time you get into the 2016 Renault Megane RS275 Cup Premium, don’t buy one. It’s not for you.
Around town – driving to and from work at peak traffic times for example – the RS275 Cup Premium might not be hard work to drive, but the experience can definitely become tiring.
The ultra-firm and entirely round (no flat-bottom nonsense here) steering wheel feels lovely yet purposeful in the hands, however, the Megane’s pinpoint-accurate steering is relatively heavy compared with rival hatchbacks in the class.
The gearbox is overly noisy between shifts; the snappy clutch does its best to make you stall in front of friends and passers-by; the throttle response varies from being a touch slack and doughy in ‘Normal’ mode to almost over-sharp in ‘Sport’ mode; and vision out is ‘challenging’ at best.
With an identical chassis setup to the RS265 Cup Premium we drove in our recent Megane RS v Clio RS face-off, the RS275 Cup Premium is firm and does pickup and translate road imperfections to the driver, but does so while maintaining high levels of compliance and control. It’s also far more forgiving and ‘liveable’ than the Trophy chassis underpinning the Renault Clio RS220 Trophy.
When it comes to the Megane RS, though, every element takes getting used to – from the climate controls to the ‘cruise control on’ button. That said, once you are familiar and you head a little further out of town to your favourite go-to roads, the true specialness of this dynamically brilliant and vastly engaging car comes to the fore.
And, to be fair, it’s not the largely impressive tyre grip from the Bridgestones, or how flat the RS sits through corners, or the notchy and precise gearbox, or the weightier but super-sharp and ultra-responsive steering, nor the linear, gutsy and tractable engine. With the Megane RS, it really is each and all of these elements combined that make it one of the most pure, fun, and enticing cars ever produced.
Once you’re settled in, accustomed, and done faffing about with the seat belt or the heater controls or the stereo or looking over your shoulder trying to parallel park... when it’s just you, the Megane, a twisty road, and some pops being spat out the back of the Akrapovic exhaust, it’s addictive and hard to beat.
It can be work to drive the Megane RS every day because it demands a certain amount from you. But when you find yourself at your favourite mountain road or race track, that work is precisely what you want. That work is what makes the Megane RS so good.
It’s not perfect: the brakes can be underwhelming at times, over-driving will still result in some push and front-end slip, we found the Bluetooth patchy, the odd rake to the main instruments isn't to everyone’s preference, the doors are big and heavy, and back seat space is snug.
However, once you drive it, on the right road, in the right frame of mind, it’s excellent. It’s accurate and agile and responsive and engaging and everyone should have one. These are the attributes people will long remember about the second-generation Renault Megane RS.
It might be hard for some to justify the outgoing model's asking price, given the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance ($46,490), Peugeot 308 GTI 270 ($49,990) and soon-to-launch, all-paw Ford Focus RS ($50,990). And that’s entirely valid – even if with the Renault you do get a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, five years of 24-hour roadside assistance and services capped at $299 per service for the first three 12-month or 10,000km scheduled services.
Regardless, though, the RS Megane remains not only unique in its execution, but dare we say 'old school' in its approach. But it’s precisely this that makes the 2016 Renault Megane RS275 Cup Premium the last of a dying breed and a long-guaranteed classic.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Renault Megane RS275 Cup Premium images by Tom Fraser.