As ever, a good number of these are for sale in the classifieds. We've curated a selection to suit every budget - and walk you through the timeline of Renault's benchmark hot hatch.
Madness to start here? Not a bit of it. The idea of a diesel Renault Sport might be as obsolete today as a shirt from C&A, but a figure no less senior than Renault Sport's performance engineering boss, Fabian Berthomieu, told PH that the old oil burner was one of his personal favourites. The source of its likability isn't hard to fathom: alongside 175hp, you got 265lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm and (unlike other diesel Meganes) the 2.0-litre lump came with balancer shafts to make a smoother job of revving out. It also got Dieppe's double-axis front suspension to eradicate torque steer, and, with the optional Cup chassis, unique spring and damper settings and fully switchable ESP. Our seller doesn't mention suspension specifically here, but confirms that 40+mpg is achievable - a distinction you won't find anywhere else on this list.
It is instructive now to remember that the second generation of Megane was not hot hatch royalty from the start. The 225 version was okay - better in Cup format - but the model didn't really excel until 2006, when Renault launched the R26 to commemorate its triumph in Formula 1 the year before. A sports exhaust accounted for the modest increase in power, but it was the combination of a Cup chassis with a limited-slip differential which proved to be the car's making. Three years later, Dieppe famously stripped 123kg from the car, fitted new springs and Toyo Proxes and took a serious chunk out of the front-drive Nurburgring lap record. Having struggled to sell initially, the R26.R is now collector-grade expensive; the standard R26 though can be had on PH in decent looking nick for under £7k.
For awhile the third generation RS model came with 250hp, and (again, in LSD-sporting Cup configuration) was very commendable. Nevertheless, it's worth seeking out the post 2012 cars, which received the 15hp upgrade that Dieppe originally delivered to the Trophy badged model in 2011. While modest, the increase in the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine's output proved to be its making: delivering a flat six second 0-62mph time, but also the kind of free-revving performance that made you wonder if the (unfortunately named) F4Rt unit really had forced induction to thank for its power band. Renault went on to make the Megane prettier and nicer to interact with, but for just shy of £11k in this case, all the vital ingredients are already onboard.
This was the last iteration of the outgoing Megane sold in the UK, and while Renault stuffed the option list with endless and expensive possibilities, the base car was already nigh on perfect. And that's what you get here: a sprinkling of necessities (Bluetooth, manual air conditioning, cruise control, an alarm) with a blemish-free chassis underneath and a rousing petrol engine to the front. The latter was delivered in its most energetic format, but really it's all about integration - the car just worked brilliantly at being a practical, affordable and deeply thrilling hot hatch. Moreover, as far as the C segment is concerned, it might just qualify as the last properly analogue one to ever be made. Certainly it is the best, and yours for less than £18k.
Of course, if you must have the bragging right too, there's only one version to go for. The final third generation Trophy was cooked up in 2014, and in R format, retook the Nurburgring front-drive production record from the Seat Leon Cupra. The R accomplished this featin much the same way as the R26.R had five years earlier: by stripping 101kg (mostly from the interior) and lavishing money on expensive components for the chassis. As with its forbear, rare examples of the flyweight model go for silly money now - but it isn't necessarily the Trophy to recommend. The R-less version is much better value, especially if you can find one like this which has had all the trick bits stuck on. Thus you get the Akrapovic titanium exhaust, Ohlin dampers and the Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres in a car which retains its infotainment system, air conditioning and back seats. In the long run, you'll be wanting all those items regardless of the weight penalty. And it's the best part of £10k cheaper than the one we'll tell you about tomorrow.