First drive: Does the Renault Megane RS Trophy live up to the hype of its predecessors?
What is it?
The guys and girls at Renault Sport know a thing or two about making excellent hot hatches. Over the years, through three generations of Megane, the RS has been one of the go-to models in this segment. It has consistently broken front-wheel drive lap records at the Nurburgring and provided endless thrills for drivers on the road.
However, the latest Megane RS received a slightly less enthusiastic response than previous generations, feeling fast and capable but less immediate in its responses. In this new 300 Trophy guise, it has more power and trick mechanicals to make it a true track day weapon. But is that enough to topple the excellent Honda Civic Type R from the top of the hot hatch leaderboard?
Renault Sport has given its own entry-level 280 model a thorough going over for this more hardcore 300 Trophy trim. The engine has been given more horsepower, making it the most powerful RS model ever made, while a new exhaust system now allows for choices between loud and quiet.
The Cup chassis, which is optional on the normal RS, is included as standard here, which means you get the limited-slip differential to help put power to the ground and stiffer suspension and anti-roll bars. There are also Brembo brake discs and calipers, and lighter 19-inch alloy wheels that save 2kg per corner.
What’s under the bonnet?
The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine has been given a complete revision to extract more performance. Renault Sport’s engineers designed an all-new cylinder head, which has a reinforced structure and improved cooling, developed using the firm’s advanced simulation systems to reduce development time.
It has 296bhp and makes 400Nm of torque, contributing to a 0-60mph time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 162mph.
One of the biggest upgrades is in the turbocharger, which Renault has developed using know-how from its F1 team. The turbine is now fitted on a ceramic ball bearing system that reduces friction, allowing it to spin up more quickly to improve acceleration.
What’s it like to drive?
The first thing that hits you is the ferocity of the engine’s response – that turbo has worked wonders. It’s not the sort of unit that rewards you for holding on to gears well into the tachometer’s red zone, instead feeling like it dumps all of its torque on you in the mid-range. The exhaust noise is suitably obnoxious, rewarding hard progress with a 41-gun salute.
The four-wheel steering system also helps to give the car almost alarming agility, turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speeds and the same direction at high speed. It takes a bit of getting used to, but you quickly learn to adjust to the way it darts from side to side at the smallest steering input.
There are a few negatives though. From the driver’s seat, the Megane feels so much bigger than it is. This isn’t necessarily an issue, but when you’re threading your way along a country road that nagging sense of size distracts your focus from extracting the most from the car. Couple that with the weighty controls and the unnecessarily firm ride, and this is a car that takes some getting used to.
How does it look?
Renault Sport has never been one for subtlety, but the latest Megane is probably its least lairy yet. That’s no bad thing – the standard car is already rather pretty – and the changes that have been made only enhance that.
Those in-the-know will instantly recognise that this is the RS model, thanks to the F1-inspired front bumper blade, 19-inch alloy wheels and the chequered flag fog lights. Oh, and that vibrant (and optional) Liquid Yellow paint job. Perhaps subtlety is relative when it comes to hot hatches – just look at the Fast and Furious-style body kit you get with a Honda Civic Type R, for example.
If you’re looking for something that flies under the radar but offers thrills when you need it, the Megane would be an excellent choice – maybe option your RS with a more subtle paint job and try to pretend you can’t hear that firecracker exhaust behind you, though.
What’s it like inside?
Jump behind the wheel and your first touch points are strong, with our test car fitted with the RS steering wheel and optional Recaro bucket seats (£1,500), both clad in soft Alcantara. It feels racy and immediately tells you this is not your everyday hatchback.
The rest of the cabin is good without ever troubling the class leaders, though. The central touchscreen is clear, and the touch-sensitive buttons beside it that control many functions help declutter the dashboard. However, the physical buttons lower in the dash feel a bit cheap, and while it looks quite sophisticated, you never really get that premium quality feeling German rivals have nailed.
If you’re just looking for a fun weekend hack that won’t be an issue, but if you want to drive your Megane RS every day, it might be worth noting.
What’s the spec like?
Aside from all of the specific technological and aesthetic RS upgrades we’ve previously mentioned, the go-faster Megane gets buckets of equipment as standard. There’s a seven-inch touchscreen housing the infotainment and sat nav functions, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and cruise control.
As standard, there’s a four-speaker sound system, but for £800 you can get the seven-speaker Bose system fitted to our test car. It won’t add much to your monthly payments, but audio quality is crisp, so it’s a good box to tick. It’s an extra £400 to add a reversing camera and £250 for some basic safety technology, while the lairy paint job is an eye-watering £1,300.
Renault Sport has made a rod for its own back with its previous Megane hot hatches, because they were so utterly brilliant that it became progressively more difficult to keep moving the game on. This feels like the first slip up, but fortunately the bar is set so high that even a slight slip promises greatness.
The Renault Megane RS has its foibles – it’s too firm and feels big and heavy for a start – but that punchy engine and incredible agility more than make up for it. Sadly, given recent efforts, it doesn’t quite bother the leaders in the hot hatch pack, but it’s not far behind.