Re­nault Mé­gane RS Tro­phy

Hard­core hot hatch

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - MATT PRIOR @mat­ty_prior

Is this soon? It feels soon. The Re­nault Mé­gane RS only ar­rived in the sum­mer and yet here, al­ready, is the Tro­phy ver­sion, gen­er­ally the go-to vari­ant of RS mod­els for those who like their hot hatches flam­ing. And the truth is it would have come ear­lier still but for the back­log of mod­els wait­ing to go through WLTP emis­sions test­ing.

New to the Mé­gane RS Tro­phy is more power, and you get stuff, some of which you can add as an op­tion on the reg­u­lar RS, and some of which you can’t.

Out­put from the 1.8 turbo petrol is 296bhp, up 20bhp over the reg­u­lar RS, and if you spec the dual-clutch gear­box, torque is up from 288lb ft to 310lb ft. Spec the stan­dard six-speed man­ual and torque is lim­ited to 295lb ft be­cause that’s all the ’box can han­dle.

Throt­tle re­sponse is said to be quicker ei­ther way on this 296bhp unit, though, ow­ing to the adop­tion of a ce­ramic turbo bear­ing, while there’s a freer-breath­ing ex­haust, which has an ac­tive flap in it, which Re­nault says of­fers “two tones”. Is that mad­ness or spe­cial? Any­way, with it shut it’s “easy on the ears” and with it open “the full sporty po­ten­tial can be ex­pressed”. So ba­si­cally quiet or loud.

There are 19in wheels, whose de­sign is in­spired by the RS01 con­cept car (very cool, too), shod with Bridge­stone Potenza 001 tyres, and the up­com­ing op­tion of 007s as soon as they’re ho­molo­gated, which are bet­ter for dry use and on a cir­cuit. You can spec a lighter wheel rim, which to me looks less cool but it does save 2kg per cor­ner. All of this stuff is Tro­phy-spe­cific.

Then you get the Cup chas­sis

as stan­dard, which is avail­able as an op­tion on the reg­u­lar RS. That brings a se­ries of nice round num­bers – 25% stiffer dampers, 30% stiffer springs and 10% stiffer anti-roll bars – as well as a Torsen lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial and bi-ma­te­rial front brake discs, which are 1.8kg per cor­ner lighter than the reg­u­lar RS’S.

To de­note a Tro­phy, there’s a bit of badg­ing on the out­side, but it’s a pretty sub­tle trans­for­ma­tion. In­side, there’s the op­tion of a new seat – an Al­can­tara-shod Re­caro that sits you 20mm lower than nor­mal.

The new seat is great, lend­ing the Tro­phy a good driv­ing po­si­tion, if ul­ti­mately one that’s less ad­justable than a Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI’S. The in­te­rior feels solid and the Mé­gane, gen­er­ally, feels a large car.

It’s also a quick one. Throt­tle re­sponse is good for a heav­ily blown turbo. There’s a de­gree of in­duc­tion noise but most of the sound­track comes from the ex­haust’s melo­dra­matic pops and crack­les on the over­run. The Tro­phy we tried was a six-speed man­ual, whose shift is notchier than you’d hope, but pos­i­tive enough. We drove the Tro­phy on track and road in a car shod with the new 007 tyres; at first in the damp but it mostly dried out.

Be­cause you can (and prob­a­bly would) spec the Cup chas­sis on a stan­dard RS, there is no great trans­for­ma­tion here. The Tro­phy drives the same way, to my feel, as an RS with Cup set­tings. I guess with a di­rect back-to-back test through the same cor­ner with the lighter wheels and 007 tyres com­pared with reg­u­lar rims and 001s, you could spot mi­nor changes in wheel con­trol and steer­ing feel, but it’d be of the kind that dis­ap­pears with a bit of tyre wear or heat or pres­sure dif­fer­ence, leav­ing the in­her­ent bal­ance the same.

That bal­ance, then, is good, and en­gag­ing, but still cu­ri­ous. There was a time when a Mé­gane would be the clear driver’s choice over a Honda or Volk­swa­gen or Hyundai, but that time isn’t now.

The Mé­gane is ar­guably still the most ag­ile of these, and al­most cer­tainly the most will­ing to en­gage the rear wheels in a cor­ner, be­cause it has adopted four-wheel steer to help do it. This elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled as­sis­tance to the back wheels steers them in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to the fronts at any­thing be­low 62mph, and more markedly if you choose Race on the drive mode se­lec­tor than if you’re in the Nor­mal or Sport set­tings. Re­nault reck­ons Race might be a bit bitey, too ag­gres­sive, for the road.

There’s no doubt that it’s will­ing to go plenty side­ways, plenty quickly, if you turn in to a cor­ner on any­thing other than throt­tle. Lift and it’ll tuck in; trail the brakes and it’ll tuck in; just turn and it’ll tuck in. The Mé­gane is as lairy as front-driv­ers cur­rently get, and if you then get back on the power, it pulls it­self straight again. There’s a de­gree of torque steer – man­age­able but ev­i­dent – and good steer­ing feel, but the bal­ance you ex­pe­ri­ence is usu­ally one of manag­ing un­der­steer or manag­ing over­steer, rather than just play­ing with a hint of ei­ther.

In the old Re­nault­sport Mé­gane, es­pe­cially in Tro­phy spec­i­fi­ca­tion, you felt you were in charge of the most pre­cise, scyth­ing, ac­cu­rate hot hatch in the world. Now I don’t

I like driv­ing the Tro­phy a lot and some peo­ple will like it more than all the ri­vals

think that’s true. A Golf GTI is more pas­sive, true, but it’s very ac­cu­rate. A Hyundai i30 N has, to me, a more pleas­ing and, cru­cially, more nat­u­ral chas­sis bal­ance, too, and I think a Honda Civic Type R feels more pre­cise (if, to me, less ex­cit­ing).

The Mé­gane feels like it’s ar­ti­fi­cially help­ing you out, notic­ing you turn­ing the wheel and de­cid­ing you want to turn loads, right now. I won­der if ac­tive rear steer is the au­to­mo­tive equiv­a­lent of 3D cin­ema: an un­nec­es­sary ad­denda, put on to in­crease the per­ceived drama and en­thu­si­asm to some­thing that didn’t re­ally need it in the first place. The only cars I’ve driven with it fit­ted that I didn’t want to try with­out it were Rolls-royces.

I think the Tro­phy is good on the road, mind. Body con­trol is tight but ride com­fort is rel­a­tively pli­ant, de­spite the in­crease in stiff­ness over the reg­u­lar chas­sis, be­cause there are hy­draulic bump stops to round off the worst of things. Its cor­ner­ing stance feels more nat­u­ral on the road, too, with the drive mode and there­fore rear steer’s ag­gres­sive­ness knocked back, although it’s still to­wards the up­per end of the agility scale. Un­usu­ally, though, on the cus­tomis­able drive modes, I found my­self do­ing the op­po­site to usual, and up­ping the steer­ing weight and low­er­ing the en­gine (there­fore ex­haust) shou­ti­ness.

The Tro­phy is a fine hot hatch­back, with a char­ac­ter and agility that in pre­vi­ous years would have been re­ward­ing enough to make it the best car in the class. But with a feel of ar­ti­fi­cial­ity to the way it shifts its cor­ner bal­ance that, most no­tably, an i30 N feels en­tirely nat­u­ral do­ing, the Mé­gane feels like it’s try­ing too hard to please these days. Ri­vals seem to do fine with­out it and the truth is there are more of them and they’re bet­ter than they’ve ever been, too.

The Tro­phy will come in at around £32,000, a £4000 in­crease over the stan­dard car. That’s pretty good value if you work out the cost of the op­tional kit – 19in wheels, the Cup chas­sis and bi-ma­te­rial brakes are £3350 alone – mak­ing the Tro­phy fi­nan­cially quite ap­peal­ing, es­pe­cially as it’ll be the eas­ier ver­sion to re­sell later. I like it. I like driv­ing it a lot, and some peo­ple will like it more than all the ri­vals. But to me, it feels like a good and com­pet­i­tive hot hatch among many and not, as it once was, the ob­vi­ous boss of them all.

How good are the op­tional seats? They hold you tight and in the right place and, even on a cir­cuit, you just for­get about them. Which is en­tirely the idea. MP That prom­i­nent, big, cen­tral ex­haust exit emits melo­dra­matic pops and crack­les on the over­run TESTER’S NOTE

Mé­gane RS Tro­phy is quick and has good throt­tle re­sponse for a car with a heav­ily blown turbo

New Al­can­tara-trimmed Re­caro seat pro­vides a good driv­ing po­si­tion in a cabin that feels solid

Vis­ual changes over the stan­dard Mé­gane RS are rel­a­tively sub­tle

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