Renault Sport, the somewhat stealth-like operation just outside of Paris, are in the business of building performance hatches...
Models Track tested: Renault Megane Renault Sport 250 & Megane Trophy
When it comes to handling and hot hatches, few would dare argue that any other manufacturer does it better than Renault Sport.
Renault Sport, the somewhat stealth-like operation just outside of Paris, are in the business of building performance hatches that are generally regarding as a cut above anything in the class.
I know it’s big call, but whenever your lucky enough to strap yourself into anything wearing a Renault Sport badge, you can be guaranteed of two things - track-biased performance and an entertaining experience behind the wheel.
The term “race bred” is mostly just marketing spin these days, but with Renault Sport, it’s the real deal.
From their own Formula One cars and the Renault engines that power Red Bull’s efforts to the open wheeler Formula Renault series, which is essentially a training ground for up and coming F1 pilots, Renault Sport builds the kind road cars that enthusiasts both desire and respect.
That said while the previous generation Renault Megane from Renault Sport seem didn’t appear to win any beauty contests (truth be told, I didn’t mind it at all) the latest Renault Sport Megane 250 is a bona fide head turner. This is one Renault Sport that should find a larger acceptance than any previous generation Megane.
When we heard on the grapevine that Renault Australia boss, Justin Horcevar, was launching the new Megane Renault Sport 250 with a track session at the Broadford circuit in Victoria, no one was surprised. Here was a car that motoring journalists from all over the world had been waiting for.
Talk about track biased, just have a look at those bright red four-pot Brembo brakes on slotted rotors (that’s slotted front and back), meaning there will be little or no brake fade with the Megane RS, even after countless laps around this rather technical little track. There are more than a few supercar manufactures around, that don’t provide slotted rotors, at least not as standard kit.
Or what about the superbly bolstered Renault Sport RECARO seats in the Cup Trophee car, they’re probably the most comfortable ‘proper’ sports seats you’ll ever sit it. Then there is the addition of a limited slip differential for extra traction.
I could go on, and on, but it’s time to get behind the wheel for a quick sighting lap before we are let loose on a series of three lap sessions in one of three Megane Cup Trophee cars.
Hit the start button and you’re immediately aware that there’s some mumbo under the bonnet. It’s a Euro 5-compliant 2.0-litre 16-valve turbocharged petrol engine boasting 184 kW (250hp) and 340 Nm of torque, which is good enough for a 0-100km/h sprint in 6.1 seconds.
There’s loads of punch from the moment you drop the clutch and drill the right pedal – no such thing as turbo lag here and plenty of torque maintain strong acceleration up to the right hander at the end of the straight. This thing feels quicker than the published numbers, no question.
You’d never know you were on stock standard road tires such is the brilliance of this Renault chassis as you turn in hard and accelerate out with everything it’s got. No tire squeal whatsoever.
The Megane RS 250 is flat chat down the back straight in fourth – I know I’ve got a lot of speed up but I’m far too focused on the blind right-hander at the end of this straight to worry about looking at the dial. I’m more concerned with braking as late as possible, before turn in, and the Brembo set up doesn’t disappoint. Time and time again, I brake late and hard, and there’s not a hint of brake retardation, moreover the car remains utterly balanced under repeated applications at speed.
Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem, if I had taken the time to familiarise myself with the on-board telemetry system known as the Renault Sport Monitor, which can collect data such as Real-time engine performance (torque, power), Stopwatch, with memory function and performance data, with automatic memorisation of best 400-metre standing start and 0-100km/h times.
That said with Renault Sport, it’s a lot more about the overall driving experience, like threading a series of s-bends together with absolute precision than any rather pointless 0-100km/h-sprint time.
This is a hatch that inspires enormous confidence from the driver with sharp turn ins, strong acceleration and one of the best sports chassis in the business.
The slick shifting PK4 six-speed manual gearbox provides short throws and excellent gear ratios, while the feel and weight through the steering wheel is near perfect, despite being an electric power steering unit, which can feel a little remote unless properly calibrated. Renault bosses also told us that a dual clutch transmission was on the way and it would more than likely find its way into the next update of the Megane RS 250. if that be the case, make mine black and when do you want the deposit?
Even on the racetrack at full tilt down the straightaway and hard into the corners, the Megane Renault Sport 250 provides a comfortable and largely compliant ride. This a car that feels incredibly planted, no matter how hard you push it.
The all-new styling of this hot Megane is spot on too. It’s a totally fresh design and far less avant-guard as than the previous generation, which although a very decent performer, was considered an ugly duckling by anyone who hadn’t driven it. Those that had driven Renault Sport’s hard- core weapons such as the Megane F1 Team R26 and R26.R were more than prepared to live with the rather oddly styled rear end.
The F1 inspired low-slung front splitter and aggressive bodywork on the Megane RS 250 Cup Trophee presents the epitome of a performance hatch from Renault Sort. Add to that, styling cues such as the LED daytime running lights, 19-inch alloys and the centrally mounted exhaust with heavily moulded grey rear diffuser, and this is a car that will surely turn heads and hearts alike.
Inside, it’s more of the same motor racing style, with bright yellow seatbelts (I wouldn’t have it any other way) and matching yellow stitching on the seats and centred on the sports steering wheel.
At 41,990 for Megane Renault Sport 250 Cup and $46,990 for the Cup Trophee, which adds a bundle of features including RECAROs, 19-inch wheels and electronic folding mirrors, both cars represent two standout cars in the hot hatch sector.
If we thought track testing the latest performance drives from Renault Sport was a good way to put in a few hours work – how would you feel about a couple of laps in the purebred Megane race car, known as the New Megane Trophee. The only problem was, we had to ride shotgun with Jim Richards, as this was one of those rare occasions when Renault Sport thought it important enough to show Australia what is very likely one of the best looking race cars in the world today.
Not only that, it’s based on the Megane hatch, only this one is powered by a mid-mounted 3.5-litre 24V V6 engine and boy, does it go.
Once I climbed into the cockpit through the roll cage and secured the four-point harness, it was time for Jim to work the tricky finger clutch, while at the same time drill the throttle and near enough to 270 kW (360bhp) and 390 Nm of torque is unleashed in a car weighing just 980 kilograms.
The speed at which this thing can decimate corners is eye watering, and you’ll need a few seconds for your brain to recalibrate speed and braking distances. This is one Megane I’d like to have parked in my garage but you’ll need around 150,000 euro (AUD$213,000) excluding taxes for the privilege.
It’s ferociously quick and corners like a two door go-kart with a sequential six-speed semi-automatic with steering wheel mounted paddles. The shifts seem as quick as those on a current F1 car and what an experience this has been.
The whole event is about the global resurgence of the Renault brand through an initiative called ‘Drive the Change”.
Renault is the number one selling brand in France, ahead of Peugeot and Citroen and globally the Renault group sells well over 2 million cars a year.
As one of the world’s oldest car companies, Renault is keen to become a key player in Australia and will introduce a number of key models into this market including, the Latitude (large executive estate), Megane Hatch, Megane Coupe Cabriolet and the stylish Renault Fluence Sedan.
With the full backing of Renault in France, Renault in Australia will offer euro styling with high levels of equipment and keen pricing to boot.