Never make rules for yourself, because you will inevitably break them. I’ve adhered to this philosophy most of my adult life, and therefore the alarm bells should have been ringing when myself and Editor Chris-R decided it might be an idea to loosely enforce some kind of GRR ‘floor’ in terms of price and performance below which, in the interests of being as entertaining as possible to you people, we would not venture. That line was drawn, in terms of new cars reviews somewhere around the faster, premium hot-hatches – the Golf R and its brethren – because we felt that anything slower or cheaper might not be exciting enough.
“You know that old pal from uni you meet once a year for beers who always persuades you to allow your behavior to regress to teenage levels? That’s the Trophy R”
That approach felt entirely sensible until last Sunday morning, when I drove the new £36,430 Megane Trophy R for the first time. It does not meet the supra-Golf-R criteria. But boy do you need to hear about this car.
On a circuit, the Megane Trophy R is staggeringly good fun. Short of a Porsche GT3, I can’t really think of a car which can mix some level of road-usability (it has no rear seats, fixed front buckets and no radio) with such serious track ability. And a full manufacturer’s warranty.
We had the car down at Portimao circuit in the Algarve as part of a group of the best tackle from 2014 and, on paper, it was so profoundly out of its depth I considered cancelling the booking with Renault UK. That would have denied me some of the most enjoyable laps I’ve completed in 2014.
The Megane weighs just 1297kg and is powered by a 275hp four-cylinder motor. It has Öhlins dampers, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup rubber and some 340mm front Brembos. It is fitted with a limited slip differential as standard and the exhaust is by Akrapovic. In other words, its list of go-faster collaborators is as sexy as that of Ferrari and Porsche.
Three things make a front-wheel-drive machine fun on a circuit: as little understeer as possible, proper LSD-augmented traction and a mobile rear axle. It will come as no surprise given my positivity towards this little rocket-sled that the Megane excels in all three categories.
It may be a little down on power compared to the new German arrivals, but the upside to having no noticeable interior trim is that bantam kerb-weight, but as is often the case – the numbers cannot convey the immediacy or the impish character that goads you into driving like you’ve just passed your test. You know that old pal from uni you meet once a year for beers who always persuades you to allow your behavior to regress to teenage levels? That’s the Trophy R.
Especially when the rear tyres are cold. Hold the little RS button down long enough and the stability control system switches through its track mode into ‘get ready for world class oversteer’ mode. On a trailing throttle, the R is about as sideways as you always imagined a 2002 Turbo was on wet mud. It’s hilarious – just poke the nose into the apex, back-off and choose your shape.
It takes a few laps (I only drove it on track) for the rubber to get warm, at which point the tail stops rotating so easily and you are left with surely the most effective, amusing track tool for the money. The gearshift is a riot of speed and dares you to go faster and faster. The motor whips through the mid-range but keeps pulling to nearly seven, at which point the exhaust is echoing around the cabin and the whole car is a frenzied gnashing of noise and energy. And the driver is grinning like a fool.
It’s damn fast too. We were shooting a forthcoming film and used an Aston Vanquish V12S for some tracking shots – anywhere other than the long straights, the Megane was all over the £150k Brit.
Of course I have no idea just how harsh the car is on the road, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s for the hardcore few, and it confirms that Renault is one of the few mainstream brands which still understands people like me and you.
Okay, the brakes went away a little too early, and once up to full-temperature there was just a little too much understeer, but I loved the way this car felt like a complete tearaway in the French hatch tradition, a singular ball of agitation set against the emerging wall of German super-hatches and their slightly bland indomitability.
I was going to tell you all to buy one immediately, but I gather they are all sold. Blast.