It’s never been totally clear what the ‘R’ in Renault Sport Mégane Trophy-R actually stands for. Given the model’s hardcore track focus, presumably it represents racing, but for this latest version it could equally stand for redemption.
The third-generation Mégane RS has had a somewhat mixed reception thus far; by any standard it’s an exceptionally capable car, but some of the magic that made its predecessor one of the finest front-drivers ever to hit the road has been lost.
Whether intentional or not, in broadening the Mégane RS’s appeal Renault has sacrificed a little desirability in the eyes of the hardcore enthusiasts that made Australia the second biggest Renault Sport market per capita behind only its French homeland.
The Trophy-R is Renault’s response. Its engineers have thrown everything they can at this hardcore, limited-edition hot hatch, in the process wrestling back the front-wheel drive Nürburgring lap record from the Honda Civic Type R with a remarkable 7min40.1sec lap, a solitary second behind the likes of the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV and Porsche 997 911 Turbo.
Just 500 will be built, with 20 of those making their way to Australian shores. Thirty of those 500 will be special Record Editions, equipped to the same standard as the Nürburgring hot-lapper with carbon-ceramic brakes and carbon fibre wheels from Geelong’s Carbon Revolution, but just one example will come to Australia with the price to be set by auction.
This is because the Trophy-R Record Edition is terrifyingly expensive. Converting its UK price to Aussie dollars results in a figure of AUD$131,000, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that that UK price is scarily similar to machinery like the Porsche Cayman GT4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S.
Happily, the regular Trophy-R doesn’t cost anywhere near that much, though $74,990 is still a fair chunk of change, particularly in comparison to the $61,990 Renault charged for the previous RS275 Trophy-R, let alone the $52,990 you’ll need for the standard RS Trophy.
So what do you get for your extra $22K? Well, let’s start with what you don’t get. Key to the Trophy-R’s speed is a significant weight loss. In total, more than 100kg have been shed, with no part escaping scrutiny in the quest for the lowest possible number on the scales.
Replacing the rear seats with a plastic cover saves 25.3kg, composite front seats a further 7kg each side, a carbon-composite bonnet deletes 8kg, the Akrapovic exhaust is 6kg lighter than standard and the lightweight wheels lose 2kg from each corner (with the carbon wheels a further 2kg lighter each). But that’s just the obvious stuff: a smaller battery saves 4.5kg, no back seats mean you can fix the rear windows in place and make them thinner, there’s no rear wiper and a smaller infotainment screen deletes 250g.
The biggest saving, however, comes from an unlikely source. For the hardcore Trophy-R Renault Sport has ditched the standard car’s all-wheel steering to the benefit of 38kg and, possibly, more predictable handling. Thankfully, there is giveth as well as taketh.
Adjustable Öhlins suspension can be tweaked for height, compression and rebound, Brembo brakes do the stopping, there’s an extra degree of front negative camber, track-spec Bridgestone Potenza S007 tyres, new ducts and diffusers double the downforce with only a 1.5 per cent drag penalty and, like the Trophy, power lifts from the standard car’s 205kW/390Nm to 220kW/400Nm with a ceramic ball-bearing turbo for quicker response. Renault claims the result is a top speed of 262km/h and a 0-100km/h sprint of just 5.4sec which, if replicable, will make the Trophy-R the quickest-accelerating front-driver we’ve ever tested.
It is, but only by a whisker. Funnily enough, our current benchmark bum-dragger is the Civic Type R with a 0-100km/h time of 5.68sec and 13.66sec quarter mile at 174.92km/h. Just as at that famous German racetrack, the Mégane Trophy-R is fractions of a per cent faster, clocking 0-100km/h in 5.66sec and 13.60sec at 175.31km/h over 400m. There’s probably another tenth or so in the Renault, but extracting good acceleration numbers out of it is, frankly, a right pain in the posterior.
For once traction isn’t an issue – the sticky Bridgestones and limited-slip diff are up to the task of handling the power – but all sorts of electronic protections. Launch control is standard but doesn’t allow nearly enough revs (count on times around the 6.0sec mark using it) and the ECU won’t allow more than 3000rpm or so when at a standstill.
There is a way around it: activate launch control but then abort the start and come to a stop once more; flooring the throttle will momentarily spike the revs to around 4000rpm, then slip the clutch (dropping it triggers another override and bogs the engine) to get the car moving and change gears as quickly as you can. It’s not the most pleasant experience, nor the most consistent.
The drivetrain itself is fine without being anything particularly special; the engine certainly feels keener for the loss of kilograms but there’s still a degree of turbo lag, it could do with a more enthusiastic top end and the gearbox is accurate enough but doesn’t have the finely-honed precision of, say, a Civic Type R – gearshift quality has never been a fast Mégane strong suit.
But if you want to spend $70K and go quickly in a straight line, buy a Mustang, the Trophy-R is all about corners, preferably ones with kerbs that match its red-and-white colour scheme. The Bend’s West Circuit has 12 of these, ready for the Renault’s attention.
It quickly becomes apparent that deleting 4CONTROL system has done the Trophy-R no harm whatsoever; in a powerpoint presentation or data spreadsheet all-wheel steer no doubt has its benefits, but unless it’s perfectly calibrated (see Ferrari 812 Superfast, Porsche 911 GT3, Mercedes-AMG GT63) we’ll take the consistency and predictability of front-steer only. Suddenly, the Megane’s steering is a highlight for its accuracy and weighting.
Once the Bridgestones are up to temperature, accuracy is the word that best defines the Trophy-R. On cold tyres lurid oversteer is only a throttle lift or trailed brake away, but as the rubber warms the adjustability is replaced by grip – lots and lots of grip. Too much grip? It’s possible.
The Bend’s wide, flowing layout doesn’t play to the Mégane’s strengths to the same degree as somewhere like Winton or Wakefield, but the experience is a little underwhelming for something so focused.
There’s definite appeal in the precision the Trophy-R displays, but it gives up its speed quite easily; while the adhesion is impressive, on track you quickly reach that threshold and then wonder…what’s next?
Don’t get me wrong, the Trophy-R operates at an extremely high level, but I can’t shake the thought that a Civic Type R, particularly on similar rubber, would be every bit as accurate and just as quick, without resorting to the extreme measures of the Renault.
The good news is, as long as you don’t need to carry more than two people, those extreme measures don’t really hurt the Mégane’s day-to-day useability. Air-con and an infotainment system both make the cut this time – unsurprisingly, virtually every customer of the previous Trophy-R ticked those two options – which means you can remain cool and use music to drown out the substantial road noise.
At urban speeds the ride is pretty uncompromising, the resultant jiggling a reminder a personal Trophy-R-style diet mightn’t be a bad idea, but like most competition-spec dampers bump absorption increases along with road speed and the Mégane never loses its composure.
Perhaps ironically, given the focus on ’Ring heroics and track performance, the Trophy-R comes alive on the road. The accuracy and precision that were impressive but not necessarily required on the wide expanses of the track suddenly become invaluable, allowing the Mégane to be driven extremely hard with total confidence.
With familiarity it’s possible to commit to corners early, factoring in a small degree of slip so that the front wheels kiss the apex perfectly, the beautiful steering feeding constant information to your fingertips.
This communication means you don’t have to drive the Mégane a million miles an hour to enjoy its responses, yet if you do it relishes the challenge. The brakes are strong and on the road you don’t really notice the engine’s lack of zing at the top end, the outrageous fireworks from the exhaust on the over-run capturing your attention instead.
Unlike on track, in this environment the Mégane Trophy-R provides a deftness of touch and degree of theatre a Civic Type R can’t match. At $75K its value is questionable, but if the 20 punters with their names next to Australia’s Trophy-Rs intend to use them as something fun and rare to attack a weekend drive day, then it’s difficult to fault their logic. For the rest of us, if some of the R’s talent has filtered its way into the regular Trophy, then the Mégane RS’s redemption will be complete.
2020 Renault Mégane Trophy-R
BODY: 5-door, 2-seat hatch
ENGINE: 1798cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
BORE/STROKE: 79.7 x 90.1mm
POWER: 220kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 400Nm @ 3200rpm
POWER-TO- WEIGHT: 169kW/tonne
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
TRACKS: 1620/1598mm (f/r)
STEERING: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: 355mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 290mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 19.0 x 8.5-inch (f/r)
TYRES: 245/35 R19 (f/r) Bridgstone Potenza S007
PROS: Brilliant on-road dynamics; steering; looks cool; noise
CONS: Impractical; expensive; uninspiring powertrain
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
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