| First Drive | Seville, Spain | Mégane Renaultsport 265 |
Model tested: Mégane Renaultsport 265 Cup
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: three-door hatchback
Rivals: Mazda3 MPS, SEAT Leon Cupra R, Volkswagen Golf R
CO2 emissions: 190g/km
Combined economy: 34.4mpg
Top speed: 158mph
0-62mph: 6.0 seconds
Power: 265hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 3,000rpm
In the Metal:
It's always been a good looking car the RS Mégane, the blistered arches, chunky sills, large alloy wheels and centrally-mounted exhaust leaving you in no doubt as to its intentions. The latest changes making up the 2012 model year upgrade are incredibly subtle but include standard LED strips, black headlight masks and new wheel choices.
It's the same inside, where the only real differences are in the interior trim options - including a two-tone light grey and charcoal combination. The option of the excellent Recaro seats (either leather or cloth) remains though, and it's without doubt the first box we'd be ticking on the order form.
On the road this Cup chassis 265 would possibly be a little too much - especially if you plan to drive it every day. For that we'd stick with the standard Renaultsport Mégane 265, its slightly more forgiving suspension and more comfortable cabin proving much more suited to the rigours of day-to-day life - and it's almost as sharp to drive too.
However, on track, or even your favourite B-road, the Renaultsport Mégane 265 Cup is undoubtedly the choice. Quick reactions from the well-weighted steering combine with the bespoke front suspension and the Cup's limited slip differential to make for a devastatingly confident and competent hot hatch.
In fact the Cup has so much grip the ESP system is rarely troubled and you can carry more pace through the bends than first expected. And with strong four-pot Brembo brakes to scrub speed effectively, you're safe in the knowledge that, should you run out of talent, the middle pedal will quickly bring it all back under control.
Straight-line performance is equally impressive, this turbocharged 2.0-litre engine feeling incredibly linear and willing to rev right out to the redline - hence the need for the audible alarm as a reminder to change up a gear. And making use of the six ratios on offer is equally pleasant thanks to the short-shifting nature of the lever and well-spaced pedals for matching revs when down-changing.
It's all accompanied by a chorus of pops, bangs and fizzes from the centrally-mounted exhaust as well, while the Sport mode of the ESP system unleashes the engine's extra 15hp (taking it to the total 265hp figure) and allowing greater slip angles before intervening for maximum fun.
What you get for your Money:
Choose the standard Renaultsport Mégane 265, itself available with the Cup chassis, but retaining all of its luxuries, and you'll need Ł26,025. Still good value in the face of the lower powered Volkswagen Golf GTI, but comparatively expensive next to the Cup version of the Mégane at Ł24,825. It might not have the electric heated seats or dual-zone climate control of its brother, but its added agility and mechanical limited slip differential (as well as the financial saving) means you soon forget about any equipment shortfall. And like all other Renault models the Mégane Renaultsport 265 Cup benefits from the firm's new 'Four plus' warranty, breakdown assistance and servicing package.
Leave the satnav on the options list and you can make use of the special RS monitor - a device that provides data on various parameters including turbo boost pressure, brake use and oil temperature. It will also inform drivers how much torque and power is being utilised while recording G-forces, lap times and even your best 0-62mph sprints. In Europe around 40 per cent of customers fit the device - though in petrolhead filled Japan this jumps to an incredible 100 per cent.
In short, this is without doubt the best serious hot hatch out there. There are rivals that are better all-rounders, especially for day-to-day life, but as a car to actually drive and enjoy the experience the Renault stands head and shoulders above the rest. Whether you're on a smooth circuit or familiar back road the Mégane Renaultsport 265 Cup has what it takes to always ensure you finish your journey with a smile on your face.