The past few weeks have been nothing if not busy for the PH Megane Trophy. It's now through 8,000 miles, which is some achievement given how seldom it's used for commuting and - truth be told - how little I've been in it recently. Given how divisive this Megane is proving, and how I'm warming to KUB over time, a second (and third, and fourth) opinion is surely going to prove no bad thing.
But we'll deal with those next time. Because this month has finally been the one in which the Trophy got out on track, as part of our Oulton Park Saturday Service. It's been something I've been desperate to do with the car ever since arrival, because if there's one place you would expect a car with 'Renault Sport' and 'Trophy' badges on it to be great, it's a circuit. Even at the launch of the regular of the 280, an element of track prowess was clear to see, one that should only be built on further with the Trophy, so a dry, warm Oulton Park was the ideal place to find out for myself.
By and large, the Megane was really, really good. I think we forget that a level of track ability is pretty much demanded of fairly ordinary performance cars nowadays, where not that long ago even genuine exotica would have struggled with a few hot laps. And the Megane certainly did not disgrace itself; however, and quite crucially, it never felt inspirational, either.
Let's deal with the good, first. Even on a pretty senior track like Oulton, it always felt quick, nudging 110mph before braking for Lodge and reaching even higher speeds than that on the run out of Cascades. While typically unnoticed, I think the engine deserves some recognition for its performance and response, especially given the capacity deficit to the rest of the sector. Using the gearbox in a more committed fashion makes it feel less awkward, too.
Speaking of awkward, the four-wheel steer - especially in Race mode, with the rear wheels going the other way to the fronts up to 62mph - really helped it to scoot through the slower bends; the car felt nimble and neutral, and able to make use of its strong traction almost immediately after turning in. It made more sense there than in any road situation, I'd say.
Furthermore, in the faster corners - Old Hall, Cascades, Druids - the Trophy felt secure and confidence inspiring; where older Meganes traded on flighty agility, which was great once you got the hang of it, this one feels more immediately accessible, the chassis super composed without falling into safety understeer.
It was proving entertaining company. The problem was the fun simply didn't last long enough. The brake pedal went long and grumbly sooner than expected, the front Potenzas lost bite sooner than expected, the whole car felt to have lost that Renault Sport resilience and stamina... well, sooner than expected. I reckon a tyre change (the Trophy-R uses a different compound of Potenza, for example) and upgraded fluid would work wonders, but that sort of modifying shouldn't have to be done on a Megane Trophy that's £35k. There's clearly potential in there, potential that's certainly realised in the Trophy-R, but I didn't come away from the track experience any more enamoured with the car than before.
Despite a less than glowing track outing, though, the Megane redeemed itself in an impressive group test showing. It's easy when using a car regularly to lose sight of what it does well, and there's nothing better for showing that off (or exposing any problems) than a comparison with rivals. So while it couldn't match the Focus's incredible performance in wet weather, the Megane countered by just being so exciting in the right moment. That it looked and sounded the best of the group meant the Megane justified its second place. Renault best hope the i30 N doesn't improve much with its facelift, though, because it was close.
Finally, that i30 N provided an interesting lesson in how to better offer dynamic configurability. Because, while it does have a tonne of settings, there's a tangible difference between them and they're easily set into an 'N' favourite mode. The Renault's 'Perso' setting is not only fiddlier, but has a baffling array of parameters: the driver can choose to set Dynamic driving system, Powertrain, Throttle pedal and Exhaust sound just for starters. Which kind of all sound like much the same thing. Don't forget, either, that this is a car without any adjustability in the suspension, usually exactly when these modes come into their own. I'll stick with Sport for road and Race for track - the latter next time hopefully with some better tyres...
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: Nearly tremendous on track, nearly group test glory