Like many a PHer, I've been both lucky and unlucky enough to own a Lotus. Lucky in the sense that they deliver driving nirvana; the sensation of being plumbed into a car to the extent that it feels like part of your own anatomy, combined with stunning looks and modest running costs.
And unlucky in the sense that from that point onwards, you will forever compare every sports car you drive to a Lotus. It is without a doubt the benchmark of how a such a car should drive and how it makes you feel as a driver. Heck, the first time I drove a McLaren I thought to myself - oh yeah, this is a bit like my Lotus, just a bit posher, faster and a lot more money. My S2 111S remains one of the best cars I've ever owned and one I'll forever regret selling.
For me, the Renaultsport Megane is to the hot hatch what a Lotus is to the sports car. The epitome of the genre. In fact, not just the Megane, but almost any Renaultsport, which is why I've now owned seven of them. (I say almost - I'm looking at you Clio 200T.) No matter what car I buy next, I can't help but compare it to a Renault and find myself being drawn back.
My BMW 130i was a case in point; if only the brakes were as good as a Megane, if only it cornered like a Megane, if only it got me as excited to go for a drive like my old Megane did. You can see what happened.
With such limited opportunity to drive over the past few months, every trip in the Cup-S has felt like an event. Dropping into leather Recaros that grip your hips, looking at the carbon fibre on the dash and grabbing hold of the alcantara steering wheel makes it feel purposeful before you even start the engine.
There's no denying there are more premium interiors and more comfortable suspension on offer in its rivals, but that's missing the point. You don't crave a delicious cold craft beer all week and end up drinking a hot chocolate to make you feel warm and cosy on a Friday night. Even at slow speeds, the Megane feels so planted, taught and hunkered down, ready for anything you throw at it. As it warms up and the Akrapovic exhaust gets hotter, it rewards your mounting enthusiasm with whips and cracks on gear changes and overrun.
The brakes aren't over servoed like in so many modern cars; the four-pot Brembos up front are happy to oblige in slowing the car down quickly when you push hard enough. The Ohlins dampers coupled with the mechanical limited-slip differential are the icing on the cake though. There's no other hot hatch I've driven that you can throw into a corner with so much confidence and pace. The dry grip is immense and depending on how you've set up the throttle response in RS Monitor, the power delivery can feel savage, if, like me, you prefer things to be less linear.
Moreover there is the implacable sense that everything around you was developed by engineers that were passionate about their work: the steering is perfectly weighted and incredibly precise, and the pedals are mounted just right for heel and toeing. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
Yet it has everything you'd expect to find in a modern premium hot hatch: sat nav, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, parking sensors and automatic headlights. The Recaros are even comfortable on a long journey. The second generation of Renaultsport Megane really does let you have your cake and eat it.
Sure, there are other hot hatches that will be cheaper to run or comfier or make you and yours look classier. But if you've got £10-15k burning a hole in your wallet, there really is nothing that comes close to delivering the knife-edge driving experience. I've seen early higher mileage 250s for sale for as little as £6k, which considering it's very much the same car as the 275, is an absolute steal.
If you've got this far and can't already tell, I'm utterly besotted with GJ65 BYO. As someone who typically struggles to keep a car for longer than six months, I really can't see myself selling the Megane any time soon. I just can't think of anything for similar money that I could possibly replace it with. Other than a Lotus.
Car: 2015 Renault Sport Megane 275 Cup-S
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: September 2020
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