Renault Megane review:
Renaultsport 250 Cup
by David Finlay (17 October 2011)
Just before the Megane Renaultsport arrived, a fellow described it to me excitedly as being "even better than the Clio 200 Cup!" I didn't respond as enthusiastically as he perhaps hoped. As this grumpy review explains, I am not a fan of the Clio, and the prospect of driving something it was better than did not fill me with joy.
Having spent several days with the car, though, I find myself in amicable disagreement with my informant. This is, for me, outstandingly better than the Clio. It is almost certainly the best high-performance Renault I have ever driven.
Its superiority over the Clio (to continue a theme that won't extend beyond this paragraph) is most apparent in damp or wet conditions. The Clio had such difficulty coping with those that I would have to recommend it be brought out only when the sun is shining. The Megane dealt with the excess water brilliantly. At its worst, it gradually declined into a front-end washout which would be expected of any car fitted with 40-section tyres.
Those tyres are Michelin Pilot Sports, and they're part of the Cup chassis which distinguishes this car from the (better-equipped and more expensive) non-Cup Megane Renaultsport. Other items include grooved brake discs, satin black alloy wheels, stiffer suspension and a limited slip differential - a real mechanical one, not those electronic equivalents which you'll find elsewhere on the market.
That specification might make the Cup seem somewhat hardcore, and indeed it is. But you wouldn't necessarily know that if you drove it slowly. The 250bhp engine, which makes quite a bark when you're pushing it, is incredibly quiet at tickover and works perfectly well at speeds as low as 1000rpm. The suspension is certainly firm, but it's not crashy. The steering, though heavy, is smooth. Only the tough and unforgiving clutch and gearchange make the Cup a difficult car to drive round town - shifting smoothly from one gear to another is quite an art.
You can make pretty good progress in the Cup with about as much driving effort as would be required to make most cars cruise gently. But there comes a point where you can feel it sitting up and taking notice. The limited slip diff starts to come into play, and both ends become more responsive, ready to be told exactly what to do and just waiting for a big application of power.
On dry roads, or even mildly wet ones, there hardly seems to be a limit to what the car will do, though there is enough evidence to suggest that slight underdamping at the front will eventually become critical and lead to bigtime understeer. You would, however, have to be doing a spectacularly bad job behind the wheel to encounter this anywhere this side of a race circuit.
Other hot hatches are as quick. Some are quicker. Few give quite the feeling that they are prepared to obey orders so precisely. Driving the Cup is in many ways a raw experience, and there will be people who prefer the more muffled approach of rival products. But I do like what Renault has done, and perhaps you will too.
Previous Renaultsport Meganes were based on hatchbacks, but this one is a coupé, and if you don't particularly need practicality there certainly isn't an overabundance of it here. Rear seat space is so limited that only small children will be able to fit in there, and the windows are so tiny that they will feel as if they've been locked in a dungeon. For the same reason, reversing is quite out of the question.
Our test car was fitted with Recaro seats, which provide excellent support but are liable to savage your thighs as you climb in and out. They're optional and cost £1025, for which you also get bright, shouty yellow seatbelts (not for me, thanks). The seats have yellow stitching, too, and this is also used at the top of the steering wheel so that you can tell when the front wheels are pointing straight ahead, though on this subject I'm with top racing coach John Stevens, who believes that if you can't automatically straighten those wheels without reference to a visual aid there must be something wrong with your steering technique.