Tested – Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy | Drive Magazine

28 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Tested – Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy | Drive Magazine

Tested #8211; Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy

Legend or Larceny?

When Nissan first came out with the R35 GT-R, I have to admit, I was hugely critical. #8220;Just a Datsun Turbo,#8221; and #8220;Too much chunky not enough charisma#8221; were some of the phrases I at first dismissed it with. Until I drove one that is, and the forceful realisation that regardless of my own personal level of automotive snobbishness, regardless of whether the looks worked for me or not, this was a car that did even more than was asked of it. A lot more, and both the company and the public were asking a lot.

Similarly when Renault introduced this Megane RS 265 Trophy, I lashed it for being based mostly on sticky-trick tyres, a smidgeon more boost pressure and a race car ride. Just not enough, I reckoned, to justify the stiff R410K price tag for a weekends-only toy still closely based on a car which can only lay claim to the fringes of hot-hatch dominance.

Now after driving one for a week, I have to admit I was wrong. At least, on one of these criticisms. Much to my surprise, it turns out that the Trophy isn#8217;t actually organ-threateningly stiff. It#8217;s nothing like as punishingly hard as a Clio RS for instance, nor is it as sometimes-obstructively jouncy as a Cooper S. There#8217;s enough pliancy in the suspension for it to at least deal reasonably with the rigours of every day roads #8211; enough that from this perspective at least, the RS Trophy actually could see some regular use without racking up large doctors bills.

In fact, the looks of this mega-Megane are more race car than the ride. Which is to say, the Trophy looks like a thoroughbred track refugee out on the street, with that F1-aping front splitter highlighted with red garnish and those preposterously flared arches which the black alloys with red piping fill generously.

People clocking it on the road look positively astonished more than particularly mesmerised by its brutish beauty. Although the young adults and car enthusiasts obviously appreciate the rarity value and jostle for a closer viewing position. I suppose that#8217;s only natural, considering this is a record-breaking athlete thanks to an official Nurburgring lap time of just 8#8217;08#8243;.

The fastest of any FWD car, ever. That#8217;s fairly special right there.

And yet within the first hour of collecting the RS Trophy, I wasn#8217;t really picking up on this sense of awe that surrounds it. Probably because I was going a bit too quickly to see the reactions, and discovering a pretty major fib which strangely I haven#8217;t read about in any other road test of this car, which has of course been received with pretty much universal adulation.

Renault claim that thanks to the extra 11kW over the standard RS for a beefy total of 195kW at the flywheel, and of course the stickier tyres, the Trophy gains a mere 0.1s in the 0-100km/h dash over the regular car #8211; 6 seconds dead versus 6.1, while quite naturally the top speed remains limited to 250km/h. As irrelevant as it might be, I have to report that this simply is not true.

I held the throttle wide open for literally minutes of open road on my *ahem* secret test track facility, and an indicated 244 was all that she could give. Which I later verify on the GPS, is around 235 true speed. The big two-five-oh just isn#8217;t on the cards, even the ultra-skilled test pilots could not have been seeing this figure entering the scary Tiergarten bend at the end of the longest straight on the famed German circuit-cum-tollroad.

There were other problems too. Although certainly feeling frisky, the Trophy just doesn#8217;t really accelerate as fearsomely as it looks like it#8217;s going to. Sure a 6s sprint to 100km/h is good going, but to match this time you have to be brutalising it, dumping the clutch at high revs and then slamming the shift through as fast as possible without lifting off the throttle.

And when you aren#8217;t driving like that, in deference to your significant initial investment perhaps, there#8217;s quite a lot of turbo lag as well as a big torque hole low down that makes the subjective perception of the performance seem a little diminished. It feels fast, but not fast in any sort of special kind of way.

You also have to disable the traction control to get anywhere near to matching that sprint time. In fact leaving the TC enabled at all is frustrating, as the point where the extra boost really delivers its best, just past 5000rpm, breaks traction in first, second, and usually third gear. Just in a straight line on a dry road with the throttle buried.

Which of course is enough for the traction control to come down hard on the rampant turbo motor cutting the power right when the interesting stuff starts happening. So to enjoy the best of this particular madcap motor, the ESP has to at least be clicked into Sport, preferably just disabled entirely because even in Sport the hammer sometimes comes down with a disappointing over-eagerness.

While you do get quite a tasty exhaust note in the Sport mode, you also get an elevated idle speed which doesn#8217;t do your fuel consumption any good at all, as now at the traffic lights the motor is still turning over at 1200 #8211; 1300rpm, rather than the 900-odd of the conventional ECU map. At least thanks to the softening effect on response due to the blown nature of the thing, the Sport throttle map doesn#8217;t result in that awful lurching which Clio RS drivers will be familiar with. You can still diddle along in traffic quite comfortably in this mode.

Another every day drawback is the complete lack of blind spot visibility, although since the C-pillars of the Trophy are unchanged from the regular car this isn#8217;t something which affects only this limited-edition. Either way, without becoming very familiar with the blind spot sections of the wing mirrors you#8217;re always operating on faith in this region, which can be disconcerting in traffic. Oh, and while Renault quote a #8220;maximum#8221; rated fuel economy in the region of 11l/100km, don#8217;t expect to really do less than 12 as a general combined-cycle average.

Also, our demo car with just a few thousand kms on the clock was already shedding its outer window lining on the rear glass, on both sides. The extensive use of plastic at the front and rear shakes around a lot too to the vibrations of the road and engine, which you can especially see at night due to the madly-jostling edges of your headlight beams. It#8217;s all pretty noisy even at cruising speed, and the turning circle is far larger than a car of this size should need.

However, before the Renault SA guys and gals throw up in disgust and stop reading what might look to be turning into yet another infamous lambasting of a product which the remainder of the globe#8217;s motoring press can do nothing but sing the praises of, let#8217;s change step right here. Despite the fibs on the stats, and the quirks and foibles, the RS Trophy really is nothing less than a class leader.

The thing is, if the Trophy was competing in #8220;just#8221; the hot-hatch class, like the standard Megane RS does, the compromises and the fact-fudging would see it losing out to far more rounded opponents, like the Golf GTI Ed35 off the top of my head. The Golf is almost as quick but on a whole other level of practicality, it#8217;s more comfortable but almost as exciting through the bends, more reasonably priced and stands out surprisingly effectively for a Golf while retaining the build quality of the badge.

But that isn#8217;t the competition the Trophy takes aim at. In fact, even the Scirocco R isn#8217;t really in the centre of the Trophy#8217;s crosshairs #8211; although directly competitive on price and straight line performance it doesn#8217;t quite match the ruthlessly focussed nature of this particular RS.

The rarity factor (only 30 will ever come to SA), legendary record-holding status and abundant and dramatic flair of the Trophy pitch it more realistically against machinery which make its price tag seem downright cheap. Like the 1-Series M or Audi RS3 for French car fanatics. Even the Porsche Cayman and Lotus Elise would be prime track day targets for the Trophy driver to hassle.

This is a car that was built to be as special as not just a Megane can be, but as special as Renault the recognised kings of the FWD performance hatchback can make at the moment, at least until the launch of the new Alpine should that ever actually happen. And that won#8217;t be FWD. It#8217;s a car that was built without the pressure of having to have a market to buy it, as only a few are being made so only those who really want one actually have a chance of having one.

There are undoubtedly more customers than there are actual cars to buy. So they could afford to go a little mad.

By the end of my time with the Trophy, I had gone as far as starting to liken it to icons like the Lamborghini Countach #8211; same wildly exuberant approach to aesthetics, a similarly devil-may-car thirst, and it was later confirmed that even the great Lamborghini (as did quite a few of the supercar-makers of the era) may have been a little ambitious in quoting the famous top speeds of particularly the original examples of this mid-engined exotic. It was also a car which some might struggle to justify as an every day drive, but it was always an event and on the right road and conditions could deliver a drive that would stick with you for life.

Unlike the GT-R I started this article with, this Renault may not have the outright fire to engender breathless respect in a straight line, but point it through a good set of bends at speed and the result is the same. Those sticky tyres and front LSD make it absolutely ravenous for apexes, devouring one after the other with the enthusiasm of a fat kid packing away chocolate donuts.

Yes you can easily interrupt this brutal flow with too much power, full throttle causing understeer straight away with lock in any of the first three gears again, but you#8217;ve actually got to adapt your style a bit to get the best from the Trophy. A bit like an old 911, it teaches you new ways of doing things #8211; what I found devastatingly effective was to not just barrel in and rely on the abundant mechanical grip to pull you through, but rather get the hyperactive nose settled onto a line as early as possible and then smoothly increase the throttle opening long before you#8217;d expect to be able to do this in an #8220;average#8221; hot FWD hatch.

The 19#8243; Potenzas seem to dig like crazy for traction when they#8217;re comfortably leaning onto their very shallow sidewalls, and you can feel the diff doing its best work when there#8217;s power coming through and literally sling-shotting you past the clipping point and roaring and sputtering out onto the straight. It#8217;s utterly enthralling and extremely addictive.

Despite the steering being electric there#8217;s nothing short of generous amounts of information being fed to your central nervous system for utmost confidence, even if most of this is probably the work of the gifted chassis more than the steering itself. And the fact that it#8217;s a six-speed manual only is worthy of praise these days, forcing you to remember those driving tricks we enthusiasts always used to employ before DSGs became the norm. The shift is a little rubbery but feels just right when snap-shifting furiously up and down it working a great bit of tarmac to the max.

And then there are the big, Brembo-clamped disc brakes, which deliver immense stopping power with a precision feel and no chance of fading on the public road at least. And that adequately pliant suspension setup has the circa 1300kg of mass well in hand, with tigerish responses to any inputs and a seemingly unbreachable level of control.

It all comes together to create a gem which shines more brightly than all of the cold hard on-paper statistics could suggest. The Megane RS Trophy is one of those cars that admirers of the RS brand should hanker for and crave, a car which deserves respect and admiration for being so pure and focussed that non-emotional considerations are utterly irrelevant. It#8217;s all about the irrational, the heartfelt, the unfathomably infectious, and the unbridled joy of celebrating modern high performance motoring in its own unique shape, form, and fashion.

For that unbelievably narrow objective, for that deliberately ultra-niche target market, the Megane RS Trophy is simply unparalleled. It is a weapon, and as a weapon it#8217;s utterly mesmerising. It#8217;s not the best all-round hot hatch on the market, no, but it couldn#8217;t care less because it just doesn#8217;t want to be.

A sword does not feel bad about not being able to cut a loaf of bread neatly just because like a knife it also has a blade and a hilt, and a gun is no less devastatingly effective at doing what it was built to do just because it can#8217;t whip up an award-winning souffle as well.

It#8217;s just very, very special.

Russell Bennett

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