Gareth Butterfield enjoys a road test of the surprisingly grown up Renault Megane GT
WHEN it comes to building hot hatches, Renault has an impressive back-catalogue from which to draw inspiration.
My memory takes me back as far as the bonkers Renault 5 Turbo, which was mid-engined and powerful enough to worry your chiropractor.
It was followed up by similar short-run specials which saw the same engine layout shoe-horned into the Clio Chassis and these have sat alongside some brilliant front-engined versions.
For example, I lusted after a Renault 16v when I was an impressionable youngster, and when my brother bought a Clio 182 I was so jealous I contemplated beating him up.
The Clio Williams remains one of the most sought-after and valued classic hot-hatches and anyone who’s taken a Megane R26.R out in anger will have found themselves chasing down Porsches with some degree of success.
And now Renault has made a new hot hatch. The Megane GT.
But there’s a problem. Not that they’ve ever been known to tack on huge, unnecessary bodykits and pointlessly large wheels, but the newcomer looks a bit drab.
Sure, the new Megane on which it’s based is a fairly handsome thing, but this does nothing to tell people you’re driving a souped-up version. And surely the point of driving a hot hatch is to make a statement?
If it wasn’t for a bit of chrome trim and a subtle GT badge beneath the Renault diamond, many could be forgiven for mistaking the GT for the usual Megane.
You could even opt for a diesel version with around 40 less bhp, which will only do more to turn off those who like their cars loud and shouty.
Thankfully, it’s a bit more showy inside. The first thing you notice is the beautiful, thick-rimmed steering wheel and the cosy, figure-hugging sports seats.
There’s some nice bits of trim added to remind you you’re in the sporting flagship and, true to form with the current Renault line-up, it’s loaded with technology.
It’s important to add that this isn’t the full extent of Renault madness we’re going to end up seeing from the manufacturer – we’re expecting a 300bhp version later in the year.
Having said that, despite it only having a 1.6-litre engine, the GT is now slouch. In fact, it feels very, very quick.
Changing gears is done automatically either by the car, or through tall, column-mounted paddle-shifters and although the 202bhp turbocharged engine is no rev-happy monster, it pairs up beautifully with the quick gearbox and sporty exhaust note.
The hot hatch market is making a bit of a comeback of late, but the Megane GT is the only one with a surprise ace up its sleeve in the form of four-wheel-steering.
While this might seem like a bit of a departure from the back-to-basics Renault hatches of the past, it’s not an unwelcome feature.
The theory is, at low speeds, it turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to those at the front, making it easier to manoeuvre. But then, above 50mph, the front and rear wheels angle in the same direction, which Renault says boosts stability – and therefore confidence – in faster corners.
Does it work? Yes, I think so. It’s difficult to tell on the road, but there’s a subtle dose of extra composure and, while the responses are far from lightning quick, it’s a very nice car to drive quickly.
Fuel economy is fairly good, as are its emissions, but if you opt for the petrol engine you’ll doubtless not be interested. The diesel version, incidentally, can just about kiss 50mpg and emissions are 134g/km. Yawn.
But it’s thrills the Megane promises, if not overtly, and it’s thrills that it delivers. you could have one for around £25,000 and that undercuts hot hatch royalty such as the VW Golf GTI and also the Seat Leon Cupra. The Ford Focus ST will be a thorn in its side, but the Renault offers more standard kit and it has that four-wheel-steering for boasting about down the pub.
The one thing the Megane GT has in spades, however, is subtlety. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I admire this.
If you really do want your hot Renault to look like a boyracer’s wet dream, buy it some go-faster stripes.
If you like a spirited drive, plenty of gadgets, a comfortable ride and enough power to beat the afore-mentioned boy-racers off the line without them knowing what’s hit them, buy the Megane GT.
It feels more grown up than its rivals, more upmarket and, in a weird way, more responsible. Even though it’s actually a bit of a nutter.
So it’s a bit like your favourite uncle. Sure, he might wear a bit too much corduroy for your liking, but you know that if you lend him your mountain bike, he can still pull the longest wheelie you’ve ever seen.
It might not quite be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it’s a dark horse. And I like that about it.