An engine looking for a better chassis.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's December 2005 issue.
That was the general consensus about the Renault Sport Mégane 225, released late last year. With WRX rivalling power and speed, when it found a bend, sadly it turned into a bit of a dog.
Subsequently, the cheaper Clio inherited the handling crown, while Mégane was left in the corner, understeering, with no steering feedback and an overbearing ESP system that not only panicked at the mention of tyre slip, but also had the arrogance to re-arm itself if disabled.
Its torquey, smooth 2.0-litre turbo four deserved more. And that’s what Renault is offering. Following international criticism, engineers worked on problem areas. And while Mégane 225 is still available in unchanged trim, with a $2000 price drop to $39,990, the new model joining it is firmer, harder and sharper: welcome the Mégane Cup, and its cache of problems solved.
Criticism 1: Dead steering. Mégane’s electrically assisted steering was lifeless around centre, and had not much feel away from it. Cup loses a flexible joint in the steering shaft, and gets reprogrammed software. The result is more precision and feel through the bend and a bit more weight around centre. Tick.
Criticism 2: Soft suspension. It rides well, but the Mégane 225 doesn’t like the track. It pitches around, never too sure if it wants to over- or understeer. The fix is 25 percent stiffer springs up front and 77 percent stiffer out back. Firmer dampers also help, as does the slightly thicker front sway bar. Tick.
Criticism 3: Intrusive ESP. Our pet hate from PCOTY and Bang this year, the Mégane 225’s ESP can be deactivated, but at 60km/h, it reactivates itself. And the level of intrusion is verging on rude, traction control not only prematurely cutting power at the merest sniff of wheelspin, but painfully slow to release its grip.
Exit a tight corner, and Mégane’s intervening ESP allows bugger-all hard acceleration. ESP is the biggest improvement; it’s still there, but even when on, it intrudes way less. Better still, once deactivated, it stays that way, only intervening when it senses a near catastrophe.
So it’s still not 100 percent switchable, but the ‘second tier’ of fixed ESP allows plenty of scope for fun. Tick. Lastly, while brakes and the 17-inch rubber isn’t a cause for complaint, Renault’s improved that too, with cross-drilled rotors and a slightly larger master cylinder to lessen pedal effort.
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There’s also a one-inch wheel and tyre upgrade, to 18-inch alloys that are a combined 6kg lighter than the 17s. On grippy Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres, with the revised ESP and firmer suspension, at last there’s a capable chassis that can channel the unchanged 165kW/300Nm engine.
From 3000rpm it’s strong and surging to 7000rpm, with thick dollops of torque and driveability in between on a mild 0.75bar (11psi) boost. Mégane’s Cup make-over is much-needed, and a valuable addition with a price that slots it into competition with the new WRX and Golf GTI DSG. Sounds like a shootout is on the cards.
2005 Renault Sport Mégane Cup specs:
Engine: 2.0 DOHC, 16-valve intercooled turbo four-cylinder