Renault has forgotten more about designing and engineering hot hatches than most car manufacturers will ever know. Its performance division, Renaultsport, has arguably been responsible for more of the world’s iconic fast hatchbacks than any other company.
That means our expectations of the new Megane 300 Trophy could hardly be any greater, not least because with 296bhp it’s the most powerful road-going Renaultsport of all time.
WHERE THE TROPHY FITS INTO THE RANGE
There will be a yet more uncompromising version of the Megane in due course, likely to be badged Trophy-R and perhaps making do without rear seats in the pursuit of lightness. For the vast majority of buyers that’ll make it just about no use whatsoever. This 300 Trophy is the focused, single-minded, high-performance Megane that could still be put to use as a family car.
It slots in just above the Renaultsport Megane 280. Its power advantage is modest (20bhp), but there are substantial changes elsewhere, including a ceramic turbo bearing that allows the turbocharger to spool up much more quickly, improving throttle response. There’s a freer flowing exhaust as well with an active flap – that means it can be quiet and subdued one moment, then noisy and parpy the press of a button later – and wheels that save 2kg per corner. Clearly, then, Renaultsport has concentrated on honing and fine tuning the Megane rather than tearing everything up and starting all over again.
The Cup Chassis comes as standard equipment. It includes springs that are 25 per cent stiffer than you’ll find on the Megane 280, plus dampers that are stiffer by 30 per cent and anti-roll bars by 10 per cent. The kit also includes a limited-slip differential for improved traction and bi-material front brake discs that trim away a little more weight. (The Cup Chassis is offered as an optional extra on the existing Megane 280.)
The Trophy borrows its four-wheel steering system from that car, while the clever hydraulic bump stops are carried over as well. They sit within the dampers and absorb impacts right at the end of the suspension travel, meaning the car should never skip or bounce heavily when it lands into a compression at speed or when it suddenly hits a large bump in the road. These are the lengths Renaultsport has gone to with its latest fast Megane in an effort to make it at least as brilliant to drive as the versions that have come before it.
THE DISCREET OPTION
While certain hot hatches in the £30,000 bracket look about as subtle as a brick to the jaw – read: Honda Civic Type R – the Trophy is somewhat more discreet, eye-popping Liquid Yellow paintwork notwithstanding, while still looking full of intent. Its cabin is a very sombre place in which to sit, though, because with black rubberised plastics across the top of the dashboard and the door cards, as well as black carpets, black Alcantara over the seats and a matt black finish to the dashboard fascia, what tiny flashes of colour you do see come as welcome relief. This is an oppressively dark cabin, although the build and material quality are both pretty good.
What’s really very good indeed is the seating position, which lets you set the driver’s seat good and low (particularly if the £1,500 optional Recaros are fitted, as they are here, which drop even lower by 20mm). This is perhaps the first Renaultsport hot hatch that you cannot mark down for having a frustratingly lofty seating position.
The boot is generous and the five-door bodystyle means access to the bench seat in the back is as easy as it can be, although adults will feel somewhat cramped in there. Dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth, sat-nav and USB sockets are all included as standard, as is a multitude of airbags. For £250 you can add Renault’s Visio system, which incorporates a lane departure warning device and traffic sign recognition. The basic price is £31,835, meaning it costs just about the same as the Civic Type R.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE WITH A CIVIC TYPE R?
What that car does so well is to combine fearsome performance and exciting handling with a level of comfort and refinement you simply wouldn’t credit it on the basis of its wild exterior styling. The Renault does without adaptive dampers and so doesn’t quite match the Honda’s surprising duality. Around town and on the motorway its ride is firm, but not unbearably so. In fact, given how tight the springs and dampers actually are, the degree of compliance and cushioning you sense is pretty remarkable.
What that tight ride quality translates to once you hit a B-road is an astonishing level of body control and agility. Like a true Renaultsport hot hatch this new Trophy is hugely exciting to drive. It has bundles of cornering grip and very good traction, and although its steering can feel a touch unnatural and at times remote (thanks perhaps to the four-wheel steering system) there is simply no doubting the amount of turn-in grip the chassis manages to claw out of the road surface.
The 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine, meanwhile, is very strong and more responsive still. Characterful, too. The car hardly morphs from one persona to another as you switch through its various driving modes (its passive dampers mean the ride quality is just the ride quality; fiddling with the modes does nothing to change it) although when you do switch from Neutral or Comfort to Sport or Race, the exhaust note does change dramatically. In either of the racier modes it crackles and pops when you lift off the throttle like a rally car with anti-lag.
For the full rally car experience Renault will sell you a Trophy with a paddle shift dual-clutch gearbox, but the six-speed manual is so well-suited to the car we’d urge you not to upgrade. The manual’s shift action can be a little notchy, but stirring the lever by hand and blipping the throttle yourself on downshifts is such a pillar of the hot hatch driving experience that it seems a shame to do without.
It would be no stretch at all to say that with the Megane 300 Trophy, Renaultsport has lived up to its reputation as a master hot hatch builder. This latest model doesn’t quite scale the heights that certain of its forebears have reached – it doesn’t steer with quite enough transparency, nor is its chassis balance as deft or as engaging – but it’s capable enough and thrilling enough to be ranked among the very best hot hatches on sale today.
Price: Renault Sport Megane 300 Trophy from £31,835. As tested £36,085
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 162mph
Fuel economy: 34.4mpg (Combined)
History Guide Renaultsport Megane
Renaultsport Megane II
We’ll probably look back on the Renaultsport Megane II, on sale from 2010, as the high watermark for the French hot hatch. They were never the fastest cars in their class, but they were almost always the most exciting to drive without ever being too uncompromising for everyday use. Even the unhinged Megane 275 Trophy-R, which had bucket seats in the front and a roll cage in the rear, was adequately comfortable on the road.
Search for a used Renault Megane II on CarGurus
Renaultsport Megane I
The original Renaultsport Megane, introduced in 2004, had distinctive styling on its side and was at least competitive against its rivals in terms of power and performance. It wasn’t until the 2006 Renault F1 Team R26 model, however, that the Megane became a class-leading hot hatch. The stripped-out R26.R wasn’t a sales success, but it’s remembered today as one of the best performance hatches ever.
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