An invitation had just arrived to drive the new Renault Megane, but before we could savour the sweet new Renaultsport 265 version we had to chew our way through a host of TCEs and DCIs. Wholesome yes, but not particularly PH-worthy.
Truth be told, first press shots of the Megane 265 were a little troubling. When the first lines of the press release boast of power hikes and styling packs, and you have to dig deep to find even a mention of spring rates and dampers, let alone weight savings, alarm bells start to ring. Had the men from Dieppe finally been sucked into the front-wheel drive arms race?
So it was a relief, then, when the Capsicum red Megane 265 with Cup Pack arrived, mercifully unmolested by the optional 'Red Design Pack' (red striping on the front blade, rear diffuser and side protection mouldings). And it wasn't lost on us that this is the same shade used for the legendary Clio Trophy either.
Renaultsport does grown-up shocker
That it can put on a suit and tie and act sensible is commendable, but it's not what Renaultsport is about. What we really want to know is how it performs on a typical British B-road. The opportunity to find out arrives shortly after Tonbridge, as we continue our journey across to Eurotunnel's Folkestone terminal cross-country.
Leave the Sport mode off and you're effectively in a Megane 250, the extra 15hp being restrained until you press the stability control button. And for the first few miles we keep the leash on but it still feels rapid. Blip down an extra ratio approaching a tight corner, plant the throttle about a second earlier than seems feasible and feel the limited-slip differential and clever Perfohub front suspension work their magic, pulling you out of the turn.
More of the good stuff
Accessing the Sport mode releases both the full power and the full potential of the 265. The traction and stability control now intervene at a higher threshold and a sharper throttle response signals the increased urgency. Perhaps a little too sharp, if we're being picky, and delivering too much, too early in the pedal travel. Spec the optional Renaultsport Monitor, with its lap timer and live data display, and you can choose from several different maps. Without it, you're stuck with the default setting.
It's probably a good thing that you need to actively seek out this extra power, because when you do any recalibration of the throttle pedal pales into insignificance compared to the mental readjustment required. Suffice to say it's a total B-road weapon. Properly quick and with a fantastically throaty exhaust note, embellished by the occasional pop and crackle, that just adds to the drama. Such a shame then, that more of the noise isn't allowed to permeate the cabin.
Welcome to Belgium
The antidote, as always, to this enthusiasm is the Belgian autoroute. Yet, once again the Megane's quality cabin rises to the occasion. Only the Cup chassis, with its stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bar, disrupts the calm.
With a busy and well-attended track day diary run by Renaultsport both in the UK and on the continent, most Megane 265 owners will be tempted onto a circuit sooner or later. Indeed, judging by the number of 250s and 265 Trophy versions in the paddock at Spa, the Megane III has been incredibly successful in mainland Europe.
Only 50 of the 265 Trophy models were available to buy in the UK last year but, despite the new car being all but identical to this 'limited edition', the UK owners we speak to at the event aren't too upset. The consensus seems that it was always going to be an obvious next step for the Megane. That every Trophy came with free entry to the entire UK track day calendar may also have had a strong placatory effect.
Such is the popularity of these events, and Spa in particular, that 140 cars (35 from the UK), have signed up. Big numbers, but Spa's a big track and by the afternoon sessions there's plenty of space on the circuit. So how does the Megane 265 perform? Well, as you might expect. In places it could do with more power, and almost everywhere it would benefit from less weight, but these are entirely forgivable criticisms considering this is no stripped-out track special. That it can keep pace, and occasionally even outpace, the 888-shod R26.R on track is testament to its talents.
With greater freedom to explore the chassis, it quickly becomes obvious that trail-braking really helps to bring the rear into play and tuck the nose into the apex. Accelerate hard from the clipping point and the front end just grips and goes. Only the brakes force us to back off when they began to grumble shortly after lunch.
OK, so it's very thirsty and a bit lardy on track, but this new Megane can both tick the daily driver box, and dissect a B-road like a Group N spec tarmac special. Would we have one? Damn right we would. But that still leaves the eternal Renaultsport conundrum; to Cup or not to Cup? Well, that depends on the fortitude of your co-driver, because as much as the limited-slip differential of the Cup chassis makes this car, on the wrong road in the wrong mood, the ride is stubborn enough to destroy relationships.
Renault Megane Renaultsport 265
Engine:1,998cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Torque (lb ft):265@3,000-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.0 sec
Top speed: 158mph
MPG: 28mpg (18mpg including track time)
Price: £26,040 (£24,840 265 Cup)