What is it?
An updated version of an ageing hot-hatch icon. The current RenaultSport Megane 275 Cup Premium may be in the twilight of its life, but key upgrades – and brilliant fundamentals – keep it utterly engaging and hugely desirable. It’s a performance car for those who really are into driving for the hell of it, and those who enjoy the occasional track day.
What’s new about it?
A super-trick (and costly) titanium exhaust system from specialist Akrapovic that delivers a rich, rorty note under throttle and whip-cracks when you lift to brake or change gear. It also gets a slight lift in power from the 2.0-litre turbo engine, taking outputs to 201kW and 360Nm, among a handful of other more minor upgrades.
What’s it like to drive fast?
Anyone who finds driving a pleasure rather than a chore will agree that ‘fastest’ does not equate to ‘best’. Driving enjoyment comes from connection with the car; feedback from the controls, a sense of ‘oneness’ when hustling through your favourite back road’s corners. The Megane RS275 has all this and more, leading us to the inescapable conclusion that it’s the most involving and best-handling front-wheel-drive car currently available in Australia. The fact it’s still so good this far into its lifecycle makes it even more remarkable.
Central to the Megane’s driver appeal is that it’s engineered by the company’s motorsport division – clearly a team that knows how to extract the best from a front-wheel-drive layout. The suspension is re-engineered to help provide super-sharp, feelsome steering and resolute body control. In an age where real steering feel is being steadily diluted, the RS275 is a revelation. The wheel telegraphs what’s going on down at tyre level, informing the driver how much grip and corner entry speed is available. Hint: it’s almost always more than you initially figured. Powering out of corners brings just a hint of wheel wriggling in your hands – just enough to let you know how well the front tyres are finding traction.
The 2.0-litre engine is turbocharged yet mostly avoids typical turbo drawbacks of soft low-rev performance or mushy throttle response. It’s raspy and eager, and pulls hard to peak power, at which point a helpful buzzer chimes in to insist you upshift. Yes, as a proper driver’s car, the Megane demands you shift your own gears; there’s no automatic option. Fortunately, the shift action is short between gear slots and wonderfully slick, so the process only enhances the driver’s sense of connection with the car. Then there’re the brakes, which give a strong bite from a firm, progressive-feeling pedal. Unlike many front-wheel-drive cars, which start to wilt and feel a bit reluctant when driven with real enthusiasm, the Megane laps it up.
What about the commute home?
In order to deliver the brilliant handling and body control, Renault’s engineers had to settle on a very firm suspension tune, and there’s no Comfort button to soften things off. The result ride is ultra-disciplined quality, the wheels moving with short, quick responses to lumps and bumps in the road. It’s sophisticated enough to round off most surfaces, but at lower speeds and around town, some drivers may find the level of jiggling and slight restlessness a bit wearying.
The cabin treatment leaves you in no doubt as to the Megane RS275’s priorities: front seats are from performance specialist Recaro, and once you’re in them, they embrace you like a long-lost relative. Side support for thighs and back is especially welcome, given the type of driving the Megane encourages. They require a bit of muscle to slide and recline forward to access the rear seat, though. Space back there is limited – fine for kids up to early teens but adults will only endure it for short hops. Cabin design is minimalist, which has helped it age well, but compared to more modern rivals, it lacks some now-ubiquitous safety and convenience features, and has a few operations quirks that require familiarisation.
What’s it worth and is it worth it?
You can get into the slightly lower-spec Megane RS265 for $43,990, which is strong value against the hot-hatch opposition. The Cup Premium version here pushes that out to $52,990, well above VW’s benchmark Golf GTi ($41,000 as a manual) and line-ball with its more focused sibling, the Golf R ($52,740.) The Megane isn’t as polished or as well-equipped as the latter, but its more hardcore focus makes that tolerable. Given its status as sharpest front-driver on the market, we reckon it’s solid value.
Click here to find out more about the Renault Sport Megane RS275 Cup Premium.