It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest the Renault Sport Megane IV has had a pretty tough time of it from launch. Stuck between a rock and a hard place would sell its task short, those two seemingly then sandwiched by an immovable object and an unstoppable force. Not only did it have to match the driver appeal and cult status of the last Renault Sport Megane, adored by enthusiasts the world over, it was aiming to create a more usable, rounded, mature RS experience. And that meant taking on the VW Golf R, probably the most complete everyday fast car available at the money - it just doesn't have weak link.
As yet, it doesn't feel to have quite hit the sweet spot. The Cup is great on circuit, if not quite as great as it was, and the Sport chassis is really lovely on the road, but the jury's still out on whether it represents as multi-talented a package as the Golf. We're yet to try the dual-clutch transmission in the UK as well; you might sneer, but don't forget it's a very similar powertrain to that which works so nicely in the Alpine A110. Let's see.
What was needed, to really establish the Megane's credentials, was a prolonged period of time beyond the usual few days of a road test. And that's exactly what we have, HS19 KUB our Trophy to use until the end of the year.
It was called into action almost immediately, taking on the Honda Civic Type R in our recent twin test; while it was denied victory then, that verdict comes from only a couple of hours driving. What will be interesting to compare is the impression it leaves after a few weeks and months. While I loved using the Civic's FK2 predecessor as an everyday car, the goading and attention was wearisome at times - probably not what you want when spending more than £30k on a hatch, and something I'm hoping the Megane, without much in the way of aero addenda, can avoid to some extent.
The PH Trophy is well over £30k as well, as may have noted in the twin test. We had no decision in the final spec (all of the long-termers given to mags are yellow), and the chosen options mean a £32k car is a £36,000 one as tested. It'll be interesting to see what seems worthwhile; Liquid Yellow looks utterly superb, so would most likely stay, though I reckon that a Visio system (with lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and auto high beam) could probably be done without. Even adding just the paint, the Recaro seats and Bose pack (with bigger infotainment screen as well as the audio upgrade) means another £3.5k on the price, which is worth bearing in mind when rivals like the Civic and i30 N have very few extras offered.
Beyond the twin test, I've not used the Megane much just yet, though it did serve as perfect transport for a trip to Renault F1 at Enstone last week. It's an incredible facility, one with decades of history, having been Toleman's base in 1984 when Senna took that sensational Monaco podium, the Benetton HQ when Flavio Briatore signed Schumacher in 1991 and, of course, home to Renault F1 for Alonso's back-to-back titles. Being built in an old quarry gives it the feel of a secret tech bunker, too, sprawling subterranean outposts hosting all manner of amazing engineering work.
Now look, I'm obviously not going to claim that a Megane is like an F1 car. Not even close. But there are links (beyond just the yellow), the F1 team slowly but surely improving season after season - through analysing, testing and improving what they have - in a similar fashion to the modern Renault Sport road cars. Since the reintroduction of the Renault Sport F1 car, the team have finished ninth (2016), sixth (2017) and fourth (2018) in the constructors' championship. It means there's progress from experience, as there has been for the cars: remember how the Megane II went from underwhelming 225 to inspiring F1 Team R26 in a few short years?
Which all bodes quite well for the 300 Trophy, the car already feeling more alive and urgent than a regular 280 Cup. The question is, however, whether that's a sensible path to pursue, given the market's apparent fondness for more accommodating, less aggressive hot hatches. Jack has already been camping with the Meg and noticed the... intensity of the ride, this Trophy's track credentials perhaps not best advertised in rural Essex.
Still, something to address in the next couple of months. First it has to be my holiday transport, taking in the country and seaside just at school holiday time - joy. It'll be easy to find in a car park of crossovers, at least...
Car: 2019 Renault Sport Megane 300 Trophy
Run by: Matt
On fleet since: June 2019
List price new: £31,835 (price as standard; as tested £36,085 comprised of Liquid Yellow paint for £1,300, Bose Pack (Bose sound system with seven speakers, digital amp and sub, plus 8.7-inch touchscreen with R-Link 2), for £800, Front parking sensors and rear parking camera for £400, Visio system (Lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and auto high beam) for £250 and Recaro Sports Pack (Renault Sport Recaro seats with red stitching and Alcantara) for £1,500)
Last month at a glance: Another Trophy triumph? Time to find out
[Renault F1 pics: Luca Mazzocco, others Dafydd Wood/Jack Mansfield]