Gareth Butterfield hangs on for dear life to the fast and furious Renault Megane RS Trophy
THERE’S a certain list of criteria a hot-hatch must meet these days. If a car hasn’t got 300bhp, it doesn’t seem to cut it, and if it doesn’t have an exhaust that could wake the dead, it’s also starting off on the back-foot.
A lairy paint job, alcantara steering wheel, big bucket seats and stiff suspension are also prerequisites of membership to this oh-so special club, along with a dose of exclusivity and a high, but accessible, price.
This week I’ve been testing one of the Renault Megane’s alter-egos, the hardcore RS Trophy. RS stands for Renaultsport, and it’s a fabulous moniker to have on a car. It’s graced some of the greatest road cars ever made.
So is the RS Trophy one of them? Well, firstly, an introduction. Renault’s fast Megane comes in three flavours – an RS280, an RS 300 Trophy and the uber-bonkers £50k Trophy-R. As an all-rounder I’m told the Trophy is the one to pick, so that’s the one I asked for.
And it’s a bit of a nutter. Especially in the textbook “liquid yellow” it looks muscular and aggressive. The details on the RS are lovely and it’s one of those cars that looks like it’s going quickly even when it’s parked.
The RS280 is quite a bit cheaper than the Trophy version, but you’d miss out on the 300bhp engine with its ceramic turbo bearings, grooved brake discs, an on-board telemetry system and trick suspension. This, then, is a car for people who know how to drive.
And on the road, with all the electronic driver modes turned up, it’s quite an animal. Its agility is remarkable, and you quickly realise it’s completely wasted out in the wild. Its talents are best explored on a race track, I’m in no doubt of that.
Such is the genius of Renaultsport’s chassis tuning, you’ll never find its true limits on a B-Road, and you feel like it has much more to give. But the very direct steering rack and the 4Control four-wheel steering give it a sure-footedness I’ve rarely experienced in any sort of road car. It’s a hoot, sure, but frustratingly over-talented.
All the while you’ll be serenaded by a rorty exhaust note from that gaping single-exit, centrally-mounted pipe, which pops and bangs away constantly, scaring passers-by but delighting fellow petrol-heads.
And, even when you’re not pressing on, you can slink back into a relatively calm and sedate interior which, to be honest, is a bit at odds with the engineering madness that lurks beneath.
I love the leather and alcantara steering wheel, it’s one of the nicest in any hot hatch, and the optional Recaro seats are as close to perfect as you’ll get, but pretty much everything else is standard Megane. And I’m sorry, but it leaves me a bit cold.
The big infotainment screen works well, but it feels and looks like a half-hearted stab at following the current trend – and my wife reckons it’s angled slightly away from the right hand side. She hates it.
The controls are all light and easy to come by, but for a £30,000+ car that feels so special in so many ways, the dashboard is perhaps its biggest let down.
There are plus-sides to the otherwise normal cabin upon which the RS Trophy has been plonked, though. The rear seats have plenty of space, despite the size of the fronts, and boot space is excellent. It also has five doors. More common now, but it makes it even more practical.
For all its stripped-out weight-saving, its clever damping and its ludicrously highly-tuned 1.8-litre engine, you can almost forgive the Megane for feeling a bit raucous for everyday driving. But if you’re after a mile-muncher, look elsewhere. The suspension will always be firm, especially on those lightweight 19″ alloys, and you will soon tire of the booming exhaust.
But that’s hardly the point, is it? In a very competitive market, Renualt has created what is probably the best-handling and most thrilling hot hatch you can buy today. And I say “probably” because I didn’t get a chance to try it on a racing circuit.
The RS Trophy is so extremely well-honed you simply can’t find enough of its foibles on public roads to be sure it could beat other contenders such as the Civic Type-R and the Golf GTI.
But does that mean it’s the best hot hatch on the market? possibly, depending on your tastes, and how often you visit the Nurburgring.
Is it the ultimate road weapon? Probably not. But it is a lot of fun.