Driven: Megane Renaultsport 250 Cup
Latest (F4Rt-powered) Megane is a breath of fresh air
Although, after my first half day behind the wheel of the 'standard' sport chassis version of the Megane Renaultsport 250 at the launch last week, I arrived at the hotel following a thrash around the mountain roads of Malaga province with one of those awkward 'ho-hum' feelings. (The sort of feeling that tends not to go down well with car company execs when they're lavishing hospitality on a chap over dinner.)
Not that the standard sport chassis 250 isn't a fast and able machine, offering much of what you'd probably admire about a quick VW or Audi. But there are a lot of competent cars out there these days, and around the switchback bends on the road up to Ronda from the coast, the model which effectively tops the Renaultsport range was notable more for its outstanding grip, traction and - well, refinement and comfort - than any particular sense of sporting ambition.
Indeed, with the standard sport chassis featuring an updated version of the newly named PerfoHub front suspension (the set-up copied by Ford with its RevoKnuckle), the front wheels are astonishingly reluctant to relinquish their grip on the tarmac at all, whether on the way into a corner under braking, or under full power on the exit.
Following later discussions with the Renaultsport team, this potentially sacrilegious assessment began to make sense. It seems the non-Cup chassis 250 is targeted primarily at customers who want a dose of Renaultsport's sporty style and cachet in a top-of-the-range model that rides and handles like a German compact exec. Frankly they can't be ars*d with details like LSDs, stiffer suspension and instant throttle response, and if they like what they're getting, who are we to grumble? (Although I may have innocently 'paraphrased' the official view a little bit there...)
Anyway, considering the goodly array of luxury bits and bobs, increasingly convincing Renault build quality and a three-door design that (I think) gives the VW Scirocco a run for its money, there is undoubtedly a case to be made for the Renaultsport 250 in the standard sport chassis guise. Start making value comparisons, and at £22,995 it's a bit of a bargain against the 265hp Scirocco R for instance, which is predicted to cost closer to £26k with the standard six-speed 'box.
The Cup version is where Renaultsport's development team have really earned their beans, managing once again to distil an intoxicating essence from a mundane family runabout that in standard (non-250) form has as much appeal for the average PHer as another Christmas at the mother-in-law's.
How much that has to do with the more aggressive 235/35 Continental Sport Contact tyres on our test car's optional 19ins wheels, the 15 percent additional anti-roll stiffness, or the 35 percent stiffer springs I can't exactly say, but trust me, the Cup combination works a treat. With an LSD to all but eliminate wheel-slip that's already notably absent in the standard 250 chassis, the overall package is an absolute delight when you fling it into corners. With a new Dynamic Management system offering three levels of ESP/traction intervention, you can play it safe, introduce some giggles in the form of increased slip angles, or throw caution to the wind and discover just how entertaining a well-sorted hatch can be in its unfettered state - the 250 Cup's back end moving around with delicious ease on the race track, as ably demonstrated for us by two-time French National Rally Champion Emanuel Guigou at the Ascari circuit, and rather less ably by me...
That's in part due to a new version of Renaultsport's turbocharged 2.0 four cylinder engine, which is a pleasing thing in spite of its official 'F4Rt' designation. (Sorry folks, I was too busy being pleased with myself for noticing this unusual acronym to have noted down what it meant!) Anyway, it revs freely to its 250hp maximum output at 5,500rpm and even though torque and power drift away a little towards the 6,500rpm limiter, the engine's hardening roar brings sufficient reward for stretching every gear as far as it will go. (At 6,000rpm you get flashed by the shift light on the stand-out yellow rev-counter and beeped at, giving you a split-second to change gear and beat the limiter if you're sufficiently focused.)
The engine is coupled to a six speed manual gearbox with a shorter shift than the version in the standard Megane, and taller ratios give a sportier feel as well as exploiting performance - 0-61mph can be achieved in just 6.1secs and the 250 is flat out at 156mph according to the quoted figures.
Externally, too, I wondered about the 'stuck on' quality of the extended arches (with blacked-out fake vent behind the front wheel) and unusually raised sill extensions which look nice from the side, but a bit dubious when the door is open. (Our Renaultsport Clio's extended arches are bespoke panels, but that car was developed in times when there was a little more cash-flow around, it seems.)