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First drive: Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.

First drive: Mégane Renaultsport 250
Renault will allow buyers to choose between hard- and soft-core versions of its hot Mégane. Guess which we like...

 



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| First Drive | Ascari, Spain | 2009 Mégane Renaultsport 250 |

The landscape changed when the current Ford Focus RS reared its brutal head. With RevoKnuckles raised, it basically punched out everything in its wake because it floated like a butterfly and stung like a jockstrap full of nettles. All of a sudden, a hot hatch can only be truly hot if there's enough heat going through the front wheels to risk making it un-drivable. The beleaguered chassis engineers are then tasked with reigning it all back in. Damn you, Ford!

So here we have the Mégane Renaultsport 250, whose name is derived from the 250 metric horses (that's 247bhp) sent through the front wheels from its 2.0-litre turbo engine - a comprehensive overhaul of the R26.R's unit. Obviously that's some way short of the Ford's 301bhp, but still a good deal more than is required to make the front wheels steer themselves - as we found when we drove the 256bhp Mazda3 MPS recently. This could get messy.

In the Metal

The Mégane Renaultsport 250 (RS250) is - for now - only available as a three-door coupé, but from launch will come in two flavours: Sport and Cup. Spot one with red Brembo brake callipers and you're looking at a Cup car; unpainted (silver) and it's a Sport. Visually both cars are otherwise identical.

Performance-suggesting accoutrements include flared arches (to accommodate rims of 235mm girth), a wider air intake that sits atop an F1-style 'blade', side skirts, a roof spoiler and a wide-bore central tailpipe encased within the rear splitter. Inside there's a pair of heavily bolstered - and very comfy - leather buckets (or deep Recaros with the Cup option), yellow stitching on anything that can be sewn together, a yellow rev counter and carbon-effect dash inserts.

There's a distinct contrast between the exterior and interior treatment though. The bodywork is, to our tastes, a little too aftermarket, while the cabin is probably too standard - a smattering more colour wouldn't go amiss.

What you get for your Money

The Cup version will hit the shops in January at Ł21,995, and the standard Sport at the same time for a grand more. The former isn't so much a stripped out version as one tweaked for the more vivacious driver, although it does get less standard kit. Both weigh and perform the same (1,387kg, 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds), but the Cup sits on stiffer springs with wheels shod in Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber (as opposed to Michelin Pilot Sport 2), its brake discs are grooved, and it dispenses with luxury garnish like heated leather electric seats, dual-zone climate control, and auto lights and wipers.

The Cup's chassis is stiffened up by 15 percent overall, via thicker anti roll bars, harder dampers and notably stiffer springs. The fundamental difference, though, is the Cup's mechanical limited-slip differential on the front axle. According to Renault, the LSD makes the Cup a whole second per kilometre quicker on its test track than the Sport, because it allows the car to carry greater speed around corners without descending into understeer.

And for those who want it all, it's possible to buy a Sport and add a Cup pack for around Ł2,000 extra, resulting in a fully-fledged spec sheet but with the addition of the stiffer setup, the LSD and a set of leather-bound Recaros.

Driving it

A chasm has hitherto existed between the spongy setup of Renault's regular output and the unyielding hardness of Renaultsport's versions - but the Sport RS250 gets the blend spot on. It's firm, but there's an underlying suppleness that prevents it from smacking into potholes and thumping back to ground over crests, yet all the while the body is kept firmly under control.

However, that composure - and the fact the cabin lacks drama - almost belies the savage nature of the way the RS250 gathers speed. The engine note doesn't help either, because at the peak of the rev range the four-pot turbo sounds boisterous rather than tuneful. However, aware of that, Renault has dialled in a loud induction noise that gets more prominent with a prod of the ESP button (aka Renaultsport Dynamic Management). Switchable between on, Sport and off, the button progressively sharpens up the throttle mapping and offers peak torque (251lb.ft) slightly lower in the rev range, as well as loosening up or turning off the stability nannies.

But because it puts all those horses down without a hint of anguish (thanks partly to a torque limit of 236lb.ft in first gear) the feeling can be one of a car perhaps lacking all the visceral edge you'd want. Rapid and composed, yes, but a little too sensible for its body kit.

The Cup is another matter, though. Tightening up the suspension blesses the car with the 'augmented Clio Cup' feel that its looks hint at. All of a sudden, the steering - already well weighted in the Sport, if a touch slack - provides a useful chunk more feel, and though the ride gets a bit choppy, it still fails to veer into broken coccyx territory. Renault claims that the Cup's appeal lies mostly with track day types, so it was this version we used for a few laps around the Ascari circuit. While we can't confirm Renault's time-shaving claims for the LSD-equipped car, we can say that the RS250 Cup is as neutral handling and forgiving as you could hope a front drive hot hatch to be. The back end comes out in a lovely, progressive, controllable manner, though you'd have to do something really daft to lose it.

Back to the road, where losing the back end isn't a concern (we'd hope), the Cup is still the version we'd chose because even at low speeds it serves up the more involving experience. However, we'll reserve the right to change our minds until we've given the car a once over on the UK's cracked up road network, where the extra give of the Sport setup might be more welcome. Both versions boast brakes with a reassuring ability to scrub off speed quickly, and the six-speed manual - an uprated version of that in lesser Méganes - feels nice and tight through the gate.

Worth Noting

In the spirit of the last-generation Mégane Renaultsport, which evolved gradually from being a bit of a sop to ultimately the sharpest hot hatch on sale, Renault is hinting at a similar lifecycle for the RS250. The take-up of five-door Renaultsport Méganes was around five percent, so there probably won't be one this time, but there is talk of a version based on the Sport Tourer estate: a 'lifestyle' RS250 makes more economic sense, and is more conducive to the required visual overhaul than a five-door hatch, we're told.

Renaultsport chiefs also refuse to rule out a power hike at some stage, and there's likely to be a stripped out version in the vein of the R26R too. Exciting.

Summary

Set against the firm-edged sharpness of the Cup chassis, the supple Sport version can almost feel a little vapid. However, to some that will make it appealing as a day-to-day hot hatch in the same vein as the VW Golf GTI - albeit a cheaper one with a turn of pace that trounces the German legend. Still, we wouldn't look any further than a base-spec Cup version: 22 grand won't buy you this much pace, grip or front-wheel drive enjoyment anywhere else.

Mark Nichol - 22 Oct 2009









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2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.



2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 

2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250. Image by Renault.
 






 

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