Driven: Megane Renaultsport 250 Cup

Renaultsport shoots, it scores again... Yep, the guys who are making us smile on a daily basis at the wheel of our long-term Clio Renaultsport 200 loaner are about to repeat the trick for a whole new bunch of customers with the latest in a line of hot Meganes.

Although, after my first half day behind the wheel of the 'standard' sport chassis version of the Megane Renaultsport 250 at the launch last week, I arrived at the hotel following a thrash around the mountain roads of Malaga province with one of those awkward 'ho-hum' feelings. (The sort of feeling that tends not to go down well with car company execs when they're lavishing hospitality on a chap over dinner.)

I needn't have worried, because it took all of ten minutes to replace 'ho-hum' with 'hot-diggity' when I got my paws on the 250 Cup variant the next morning. It's another little cracker from the Renaultsport stable, and a worthy bearer of the car's new R.S. badging. (Which has been 'double-dotted' to avoid the attention of legal eagles at Ford and Porsche.)

Not that the standard sport chassis 250 isn't a fast and able machine, offering much of what you'd probably admire about a quick VW or Audi. But there are a lot of competent cars out there these days, and around the switchback bends on the road up to Ronda from the coast, the model which effectively tops the Renaultsport range was notable more for its outstanding grip, traction and - well, refinement and comfort - than any particular sense of sporting ambition.

The standard Renaultsport 250 feels extremely well planted, with a smidge of well-controlled body roll that settles neatly into a corner, and a front end 'you can really lean on', in the words of Renault's technical director Steve Marvin.

Indeed, with the standard sport chassis featuring an updated version of the newly named PerfoHub front suspension (the set-up copied by Ford with its RevoKnuckle), the front wheels are astonishingly reluctant to relinquish their grip on the tarmac at all, whether on the way into a corner under braking, or under full power on the exit.

The steering operates with impressive precision too, but the downside for me (perhaps having been spoiled by the delicate helm of our Clio Cup) is a wheel that is over-weighted for my taste, and lacks the Clio's rewarding sense of immediacy on turn-in. In fact, the standard car has a (let's face it 'relative') hint of stolidity in its ride and handling, too, unquestionably delivering what is asked of it in outright mechanical and performance terms, but never quite feeling light enough on its toes to really reward the driver. Sacre bleu! Is this what Renaultsport has come to mean?

Following later discussions with the Renaultsport team, this potentially sacrilegious assessment began to make sense. It seems the non-Cup chassis 250 is targeted primarily at customers who want a dose of Renaultsport's sporty style and cachet in a top-of-the-range model that rides and handles like a German compact exec. Frankly they can't be ars*d with details like LSDs, stiffer suspension and instant throttle response, and if they like what they're getting, who are we to grumble? (Although I may have innocently 'paraphrased' the official view a little bit there...)

One thing I can repeat accurately though, (as Mr Marvin informed me an unusually piercing glare), is that even in Cup guise this car should be compared to the old R26 which it replaces, and not the stripped out track toy that is the R26.R - a mix-up that is too easily made by careless reviewers, he contended, leaving me feeling suitably chastened before I'd even got to the point! (Incidentally, we might get a hardcore new 'R' version later, but probably not until this 250 is well into its dotage.)

Anyway, considering the goodly array of luxury bits and bobs, increasingly convincing Renault build quality and a three-door design that (I think) gives the VW Scirocco a run for its money, there is undoubtedly a case to be made for the Renaultsport 250 in the standard sport chassis guise. Start making value comparisons, and at £22,995 it's a bit of a bargain against the 265hp Scirocco R for instance, which is predicted to cost closer to £26k with the standard six-speed 'box.

For some, of course, the VW badge alone will be worth the extra, which I think goes to show there are some proper berks out there. After driving the 250 with a 'proper' Cup chassis on the road and track for day two of last week's event, I have to say that includes anyone who pays an extra grand to own a Megane Renaultsport in any other chassis configuration than this - although the all-but essential Recaro seat upgrade counteracts the Cup's economic advantage in one fell swoop.

The Cup version is where Renaultsport's development team have really earned their beans, managing once again to distil an intoxicating essence from a mundane family runabout that in standard (non-250) form has as much appeal for the average PHer as another Christmas at the mother-in-law's.

The Cup, thanks to its stiffer, lowered suspension, mechanical Limited Slip Diff and re-mapped ECU's feels an entirely different car to its sibling. The standard 250 is planted, secure and honest, while the 250 Cup adds an extra layer of enjoyment that is most noticeable through the steering, with turn-in sharpened up to the extent that it wants to go hunting corners with you.

How much that has to do with the more aggressive 235/35 Continental Sport Contact tyres on our test car's optional 19ins wheels, the 15 percent additional anti-roll stiffness, or the 35 percent stiffer springs I can't exactly say, but trust me, the Cup combination works a treat. With an LSD to all but eliminate wheel-slip that's already notably absent in the standard 250 chassis, the overall package is an absolute delight when you fling it into corners. With a new Dynamic Management system offering three levels of ESP/traction intervention, you can play it safe, introduce some giggles in the form of increased slip angles, or throw caution to the wind and discover just how entertaining a well-sorted hatch can be in its unfettered state - the 250 Cup's back end moving around with delicious ease on the race track, as ably demonstrated for us by two-time French National Rally Champion Emanuel Guigou at the Ascari circuit, and rather less ably by me...

Yet in spite of all this raw ability, the ride maintains a fluency and underlying comfort that belies the ballistic efficiency of the machine around corners, which is why - for me - there can be no excuse at all to take the car without the Cup chassis. The story isn't about losing the 250's refinement to any meaningful extent; it's about losing its inhibitions.

That's in part due to a new version of Renaultsport's turbocharged 2.0 four cylinder engine, which is a pleasing thing in spite of its official 'F4Rt' designation. (Sorry folks, I was too busy being pleased with myself for noticing this unusual acronym to have noted down what it meant!) Anyway, it revs freely to its 250hp maximum output at 5,500rpm and even though torque and power drift away a little towards the 6,500rpm limiter, the engine's hardening roar brings sufficient reward for stretching every gear as far as it will go. (At 6,000rpm you get flashed by the shift light on the stand-out yellow rev-counter and beeped at, giving you a split-second to change gear and beat the limiter if you're sufficiently focused.)

Again, the Cup offers a bigger reward for enthusiast drivers here, as the throttle mapping feels considerably sharper - particularly in the Dynamic Management 'sport' and 'everything off' modes - and the exhaust sounds fruitier too. Major differences over its 230hp predecessor are limited to sodium filled exhaust valves for additional cooling, new intercoolers and a larger turbo but more than 25 percent of its parts are new, says Renaultsport, and the engine's specific output is an impressive 125hp per litre.

The engine is coupled to a six speed manual gearbox with a shorter shift than the version in the standard Megane, and taller ratios give a sportier feel as well as exploiting performance - 0-61mph can be achieved in just 6.1secs and the 250 is flat out at 156mph according to the quoted figures.

With a solidity of build, and seemingly high quality materials the new Megane 250 Renaultsport has much to offer then. But while it's undoubtedly treading on German toes in many respects, there are one or two little foibles in its design and execution that you wouldn't expect to slip through a more 'ruthless' German development program. The ergonomics of the ICE and Nav switchgear leave something to be desired, for instance, and we found a glitch on both cars we drove that meant Nav system volume was inextricably linked to radio volume - you couldn't have one without the other, which was a nuisance.

Externally, too, I wondered about the 'stuck on' quality of the extended arches (with blacked-out fake vent behind the front wheel) and unusually raised sill extensions which look nice from the side, but a bit dubious when the door is open. (Our Renaultsport Clio's extended arches are bespoke panels, but that car was developed in times when there was a little more cash-flow around, it seems.)

But that's all a bit nit-picky really, because Renaultsport has definitely not skimped where it counts and the Megane 250 Cup is a terrific driver's car as a result, especially at the price (from £21,995). And that, unless I'm very much mistaken, is exactly what Renaultsport intended.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (52) Join the discussion on the forum

  • BBS-LM 27 Oct 2009

    Looks like again Renault-sport have come up trumps with the new 250 cup, and a Proper LSD is always welcome, and not one of them cop out, it works just like a LSD but using the brakes Bullst excuse. Well done to Renault for getting the Basics right.

    Edited by BBS-LM on Tuesday 27th October 13:42

  • correct 27 Oct 2009

    powered by FART!

  • ThatPhilBrettGuy 27 Oct 2009

    It's not 4 wheel drive. Rubbish!

    Oh, sorry, wrong carwink

  • pbirkett 27 Oct 2009

    Once again, those wheels are disgusting. Fussy, awful design which spoils the whole car IMO.

  • justin220 27 Oct 2009

    God thats Ugly

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