Subaru’s Impreza WRX is one. And Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo is another. Even Ford’s XR8 and Holden’s Commodore SS are considered the road-going versions of V8 Supercars, kind of. Glamour by association, I think it’s called. Now you can place the Renault Sport Mégane on that list.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s September 2006 issue
After Renault and Alonso snaffled both the 2005 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Formula One trophies, the Renault PR machine decided that something a little more special than just a commemorative mug was in order. Enter the (and take a deep breath) Renault Sport Mégane 225 F1 Team Limited Edition. We’ll call it the F1 for short.
Thankfully those same Frenchies decided their commemorative car was best styled off the new three-door Mégane II. This update offers a prettier face and an ever so slightly re-styled rump.
The ‘black-gloss’ 18-inch lightweight alloys and the matching wing mirrors lend the three-door F1 plenty of visual aggression. It also gets funky looking blue and black sports pews, but we miss out on the Recaro seats that all OS cars cop because they don’t meet our ADRs. Bummer.
Sadly the Formula One stickers don’t equate to extra oomph, and the Mégane F1 has to make do with the Mégane 225’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder which bangs out 165kW (at 5500rpm) and 300Nm. But, and this is important, 90 percent of that 300Nm is on tap nice and early from 2000rpm before peaking at 6000rpm, so there’s always plenty of shove available. The engine’s smooth, but there’s precious little noise. A car as angry-looking as this should snap and crackle on over-run, like the MINI, or the old Golf R32. But it doesn’t and that’s a pity.
But no-one ever knocked the Mégane for not having the ability to get down and boogie. Show it a straight stretch of road and the thing just rolls along like thunder. Pick a gear, any gear and the Mégane will effortlessly build speed regardless of the incline – tt really is the V8 of turbo’d hot hatches. It shirks the peak and rush of cars like the WRX, offering instead a thick and consistent dollop of creamy torque. And that’s the stuff that makes a car feel fast, anyway. Up to a point.
And you reach that point just as you grab second gear on your way into a slower corner. Despite the awesome mid-corner grip offered by the Dunlop SportMaxx rubber they can’t keep the F1 from falling into understeer. Maybe it’s because the weighty donk hangs slightly over the edge of the front axle – just enough to affect its poise in slow corners, anyway. It’s way better in faster corners and is much more adjustable. The steering gets better, too, once the road opens out. It loads up nicely, and while it’s not exactly Porsche communicative, it does keep you in the loop with a low whisper.
The six-speed manual ’box is a slick shifter even if the throws are a little long; then again, you don’t have to stir it that often to keep it on the boil. But the pedals do need to be used, and they offer nothing in the way of feel. It’s hard to judge the clutch take-up point and the brake pedal needs a good shove before it reacts, too.
But the F1 stops all right when you do give the pedal a hit, as it runs the same Brembo rotors and four-piston calipers as the 225 Cup. Around town the F1 will stand on its nose at just the merest whiff of the brakes. But out in the open, when the wick has been wound out, they actually fade surprisingly quickly. They never completely go away, they just fade to a point and then hold.
The F1 rides on the Cup chassis but it gets re-jigged rear dampers. And these new dampers have made the F1 a much better car; it’s more compliant, more settled and better able to exploit the tyres’ grip – in faster corners. The bulk of the car’s grip comes from its tyres, which get worked pretty hard. After just one day of being fanged around, the F1’s Dunlops were very much the worse for wear.
The three-door F1 is truly in a class of its own; style and aggression all rolled into one. It’s never going to be as quick in tight stuff as either a WRX or a Golf GTI, but in opening third- and fourth-gear bends it’s got the Golf’s measure and is capable of level-pegging the Rex.
If you want one, and you should, then you’d better get in quick. There are only 30 slated for Australia and by the time you read this it’s very likely that they’ll all have been sold. Go on, hurry!
Then again, the way Alonso’s going this year there’s every chance Renault will have to do something equally as special to celebrate next year.
2006 RENAULT SPORT MEGANE 225 F1 TEAM LIMITED EDITION SPECS
Engine: 2.0-litre, inline-4 turbo
Power: 165kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 2000rpm
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