Renaultsport Megane 265: First drive
Already proven as a formidable hot hatch and with supercar-matching pace on track, the technicians at Renaultsport have worked their magic on the 2012 Megane model, giving it a new nose and a power increase.
I travelled to the Monteblanco circuit in Seville to find out if the exclusivity of the previous Trophy model has now been made more accessible for those looking to drive a reverred track and road car.
Changes to the exterior are fairly minimal and most notable is the face sporting black headlights The RS is distinguishable from red detailing applied to the front apron, wheel rims and side skirts, available as a £350 option. The Renaultsport monitor is also now available in the 265, previously only a Trophy toy.
Inside, red stitching highlights the gear shift lever, steering wheel and a red line swipes across the dash. Metal pedals and a bright rev counter also liven up the interior.
The reworked engine now offers an increase of 14bhp over the last RS 250 model to 261bhp, level-pegging with the special edition Trophy from last year. Torque is up by 20nm to 360Nm at 3,000rpm, although this is still 20Nm short of the Trophy model. Overall kerb weight is down 9kg too. Pressing the Sport button allows access to this power boost and a distinct change in idle is followed by a sharper throttle response. The exhaust note is what you'll immediately take note of though. It crackles and pops when you lift off the throttle and is seriously addictive, goading you to accelerate faster all the time for that throaty response.
The 2.0-litre turbo engine gives a raft of torque from way down in the 1,500 rpm mark and a linear power delivery means it just hammers on right up to the red line. Even at low speeds in sixth gear, turbo lag is virtually non-existent.
Push the RS into corners and that engine starts to work in perfect harmony with the chassis. It remains flat and the electric steering does nothing to dampen the reassuringly sharp feel.
The banks and undulations of Monteblanco are fairly severe, yet you can chuck the Megane at the apex and the chassis will willingly follow. Massive Brembo 340mm discs are strong enough to give you the confidence for late braking and the independent steering axis front suspension gives you feedback through every movement so you know exactly where to point it and how fast to push it.
On the road, that turbo gives just as much a kick in second gear acceleration as it does at over 180 kmh in 4th, never running out of puff in any band of the rev range. Then, when you want to tone things down and cruise along at 60, the gurgling exhaust quietens down to give a pleasant driving experience that is neither bumpy or jiggly. In fact, it's just as comfortable as the lesser Meganes in the range. Be warned though, its a mighty challenge not to plant the accelerator at every available opportunity.
This car feels immensely capable, but more importantly, it is forgiving enough to make you feel capable and gives you the confidence to push it even harder. It juggles track car ferocity and road car comfort with ease.
Where the Megane doesn't quite match its rivals is with interior quality and practicality. The dash plastics still look a bit dull, even with the red pinstripes and it needs more of a colour injection to make it a nicer place to sit. It lacks the premium feel of a Golf, and the rear seats let down the overall sporty look if you go for the Luxe leather pack. The yellow and black Recaros look and feel much more exclusive. Gear changes could also be smoother.
But this is nitpicking. As soon as you press the engine start button and get an earful of that deep exhaust burble, all the little niggles are left by the roadside.
The RS is met with stiff competition in the hot hatch market and is priced bang in the middle at £24,825 on. But, in my mind, other manufacturers just can't beat what this Megane offers pound for pound.
All the best bits of the exclusive 2011 Trophy RS are now offered on the 265 package, just without the look-at-me bells and whistles. Renault isn't lying when it says owners love their RS cars and this new Megane further cements how au fait Renault is with making a proper enthusiast's car available to the masses. If you want one, be quick, as demand for this new offering will continue to multiply.