The pioneering master of creating lightweight race cars was Colin Chapman, who painstakingly worked power-to-weight ratios to uncork winning pace for his Lotus formula cars.
It won him world championships, but the philosophy was not always terrific for some of his drivers, who enjoyed the competitiveness while being less thrilled about the prospect of the machinery failing. Just ask Jim Clark.
On second thoughts, don’t bother…
Ask Jochen Rindt, perhaps. Nup. Missed by 50 years. Chapman’s special genius didn’t include prioritising keeping his drivers in one piece.
Along with the discipline of aerodynamics, race car and road car engineering have moved on amazingly from those raw, swashbuckling days, and the process is now more exact than the guesswork of the Chapman era of the 1960s and ’70s.
Road or track, weight saving and aero packages are now carefully executed programs based on more than presumption.
Which brings us to the 2020 Renault Megane RS Trophy-R – the latest in a line of cult variants from the Renault Sport crew, and the highest-performance production car Renault has ever put on the market. It’s a limited-edition (500 only) production model unapologetically intended to do its most compelling work on a racing circuit, or perhaps in a targa tarmac rally or hill climb.
Elsewhere on Planet Speed, the new Megane RS Trophy-R has already been doing some shouting and sliding, setting a new FWD record at the Nürburgring of 7m 40.10s, and again at Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps circuit with a lap of 2m 48.338s. These times will be eclipsed, of course. Meanwhile, pop the bubbly.
If the prospect of owning a Trophy-R gets your heart rate up, I have heartbreaking news. Only 12 RS Trophy-Rs were earmarked for Australia, and priced at $74,990 plus on-road costs. All have been snapped up. Six are heading to Western Australia – a greedy regional grab attributed to the Danny Ric factor and the mining industry’s high wages.
Crushed that you’ve missed out, you could become an unwilling player in a pathetic game of envy. Unless you join the bidding war next year for a special, even faster, more ferocious Record Edition – one of just 30 globally, and the same spec as the Nürburgring record car. Only one for Oz.
The Trophy-R gets the familiar peppy Renault Sport 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder engine with a lively 221kW tune – up from the 205kW of the regular Megane RS.
The notable performance difference with the track-focussed Megane RS Trophy-R comes with the weight reduction, some 130kg thanks to Colin Chapman-inspired diligence by the Renault Sport engineers.
They’ve opted for thinner rear door glass (-1kg), switching to lean-and-mean Sabelt front buckets (-14kg), bolting on a vented carbon-composite bonnet (-8kg), titanium exhaust (-7kg), a smaller touchscreen (-250g), and even a Renault bonnet badge that’s lighter by a few grams. Hope you didn’t expect a rear wiper (-3kg).
A handy saving comes with the dumping of rear seats (-25kg), though this means we’re left with the unusual spec of a two-seater with four doors. The space in the back can be occupied by a set of race rubber or someone you dislike…
Gone, as well, is the controversial four-wheel-steering system. This saves a slab of kilos, while satisfying critics who didn’t like the way it behaved in lower-order Megane RS versions. With the move to a lighter rear torsion beam, the saving is close to 40kg, dropping the kerb weight to 1306kg.
In keeping with the old-school philosophy, the Trophy-R is also manual only. It’s lighter than an EDC dual-clutch, though arguably not as fast around a circuit.
Ultimate performance isn’t just about being skinny and athletic. Contributing, too, are adjustable Ohlins dual-flow-valve dampers and lightweight springs cranking on a bit of front camber. The owner can also fiddle with the ride height, dropping it by up to 16mm at both ends. Much of the aerodynamic lift is negated by a full-sized carbon rear diffuser and tiny front splitter.
Add track-targeted Bridgestone Potenza S007s on red lightweight alloys, and Brembo brakes (bigger 355mm rotors compared to 340mm of the last Trophy model), and the items listed under Hardcore Stuff look impressive.
Visually powerful, it’s distinguished by those red wheels, vented bonnet and proper rear diffuser, plus the pearl-white metallic paint with red accents around the headlights and flanks.
Beyond the regulatory gear like airbags and stability control, the Trophy-R offers a handy batch of modern accoutrements like a rear camera, tyre pressure monitor, cruise with speed limiter, 7.0-inch touchscreen, and a sound system that seems destined not to be used much.
It would be churlish of us not to give the Trophy-R a good belting in the environment for which it was intended. So, bingo, we’re at Australia’s newest racetrack, The Bend. Damned fast, lots of undulations, a few blind corners – the imperative on this layout is a sharp tool that responds eagerly to directional changes without a hint of alarm.
Though tailored with sculpted, Sabelt composite monocoque race seats coated with Alcantara (similar to those in the Alpine A110) and the chunky Alcantara wheel, the cabin looks rather underwhelming, especially the console/dash with the little screen.
Still, it has all the operational functions you’d expect: Bluetooth phone pairing, Apple CarPlay and Android friendliness, navigation, RS Drive and RS Monitor, and basic telemetry that reveals info such as lap times, 0–400m times, G-forces, yaw rate and engine health data.
The RS Drive button gives you a mode to match your inclination – comfort, sport, race, personalised and (should you find yourself in Switzerland) neutral. These choices alter throttle response, stability control, exhaust sound and interior lighting, including the driver’s preference for a dash display.
There’s a lovely, suggestive growl when the Akrapovic pipes announce the engine is active, and things only get better. No happy pills required. Push firmly on the accelerator, and the front tyres bite into the bitumen and go, accompanied by a serve of torque steer.
Bridgestones warmed up, the Trophy-R turns into an amusement park ride with high Gs. Then heading at 200km/h into a tight turn, when you step on the brakes, the serious retardation is comforting, though the rear will waltz around enough for you to notice, but not to be alarmed.
The absence of rear-steer isn’t mourned, with the chuckability factor and predictability welcomed in a package that reacts so pleasantly to every input. Traction, finesse and a pervading joy. The 0–100km/h time of 5.4secs isn’t in supercar territory, but it’s quick enough. The real impact of the Trophy-R is not its acceleration numbers, but the way all the elements come together to deliver its performance.
The mechanical Torsen limited-slip diff and 245/35R19 tyre combo is brilliant. Yes, fling the rig too ambitiously at a corner and hit the throttle, and the front will slide a tad. But it’s so controllable. Get your hoof off the noise pedal, and the front tyres grab and stability returns, and it turns wonderfully.
Depending on the shape of the turn and some other physical elements such as sudden lift-off, you could be dealing with roll oversteer (a wagging tail), which is swiftly corrected at the tiller and by getting back on the gas. This is an entertaining toy.
The weight saving is evident in the efficient stopping and grippy cornering. Only when the tyres lose their ultimate adhesion does the understeer become more pronounced. But this Megane’s never remotely lead-tipped. Body control is magical.
The mid-weighted steering is so communicative, adding to the overall feeling that this is a driver’s car cleverly engineered to connect with those who love motoring fast in the raw.
Unlike the Hyundai i30N, there’s no auto throttle blipping. It’s an old-school DIY heel-and-toe deal. Mercifully, the alloy brake and accelerator pedals are nicely placed, and on the same plane.
The manual ‘box is good for fast, positive shifting, but is nowhere near as silky as the benchmark Civic Type R. With peak torque of 400Nm at 3200rpm, the Trophy-R will pull eagerly in higher gears, meaning (with the suspension relaxed and ride height lifted) it could be pleasant enough driving to the coffee shop.
There's no spare wheel, just a tyre repair kit. The Megane RS Trophy-R is covered by Renault Australia's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with one year of complimentary roadside assistance (up to four if using a Renault dealer) and three years of capped-price servicing.
The hot consumer question: how does it measure up as a purchase alongside rivals the Civic Type R, Alpine A110, and Hyundai i30 N Performance? Yes, it’s not cheap, but it’s extreme and real (and cheaper than a Cayman GT4 or Lotus Exige Sport 410).
And on an entirely inconsequential note, the Trophy-R returns a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 8.0L/100km. Inconsequential because the Megane RS Trophy-R is all about track lappery and sheer unbridled fun, which it delivers in spades.
We already felt a little more French, with our Dan part of the Renault F1 team. Now, we are surrender monkeys.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We apologise for the small number of Australian photos (and the variety in them), and the lack of interior angles. Supplied resources on the day were limited.