| Week at the Wheel | Mégane Renaultsport 250 Cup |
Inside & Out:
The interior and exterior of the RS250 Mégane together provide an interesting dichotomy: the body kit is over-styled and a bit aftermarket for our tastes, whereas the interior doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from base model Mégane diesels
. The Cup version's Recaro seats are wonderful, though - providing your frame is slender enough to slot inside them, that is.
Quality is good, with Renault clearly having taken a leaf from the Volkswagen Group's bumper manual on tactility. It's just a shame that no leaf was taken from Bang & Olufsen's compendium of sound quality, because the standard stereo is among the worst we've heard in any car, ever; you don't so much turn it up and down as dial in more or less distortion.
Engine & Transmission:
Thankfully, all the above can be forgiven because of the way this thing drives. The engine's power delivery and noise form a primary part what makes this car so compelling. The 250bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine behaves almost like a V8 diesel, in the positive sense, because all its punch comes in a whopping great lash through the mid-range. It's surprising and addictive, and sounds barking mad, though we appreciate some might not like the fact it runs out of steam right where a Honda VTEC unit begins to pick up - about 5,500rpm.
That means there's a lot of gear changing to be done, but fortunately the Renaultsport-fettled six-speed manual is a very well judged shift. It's light through the gate while simultaneously feeling mechanical and precise.
Ride & Handling:
Is the RS250's ride and handling balance perfect? Nope - far from it, in fact - but it's just so much fun that we feel duty bound to award it five stars. Even though this car is genuinely quick (0-62mph in 6.1 seconds and seems quicker), it still has the feel of a car you can safely rag, in the right place and time of course, without having to reach obscene speeds - a quality the Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup
The ride is bouncy and bone bothering, especially over the UK's post-winter pothole-a-rama, but it's something most will put up with for the sake of the handling - and it's nowhere near as bad as a Honda Civic Type-R
. It's the way grip comes through the corners that gives this car its dynamic x-factor. The Cup model has a limited slip differential as standard, and it can really be felt in the way it's possible to plant the throttle mid-corner: the car simply pulls itself around, no messing about. Even day-to-day, on roundabouts and things, the steering is so accurately judged and full of feel that any turn is a joy.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money:
What we like about the RS250 is that the best version, the Cup, is also the cheapest. For Ł1,000 less than the fully laden Sport, the Cup strips out fatty stuff like heated leather seats and adds good things like the differential. It's the difference between jogging in a suit with a rock-filled briefcase and jogging wearing a set of Nike Airs, carrying nothing but an iPod. Same man, different experience.
And it's not as though the Cup does without. It has air conditioning rather than climate control, and manually adjusted seats, but really, who cares? What some call sparse others will call focused - we're in the latter camp.
We can't give the RS250 five stars because the fact is that there are better hot hatches - the Ford Focus RS
is more dramatic and the VW Golf R
is both quicker and easier to live with. However, few cars offer the entertainment value or actual value of the RS250, in any category. On a price vs. performance basis it's extremely easy to recommend, but more than that, it stands out as one of the best driver's cars on sale today.