The RenaultSport Megane has had some plastic surgery but is it still a great drivers car?
The last 12 months or so has seen a thrilling renaissance for the hot hatch. And during that time it’s fair to say the goalposts have shifted a little. Not that long ago, anything over 250 bhp was regarded as pretty extreme. Now, should your budget allow, you can find a hot hatch with 316 bhp and rear-wheel drive. Or how about 355 bhp and four-wheel drive? Frankly, it’s all gone a bit mad.
So where does this leave the traditional class champion, the Renaultsport Mégane? A mild facelift for 2014 has sharpened up the looks inside and out, but this is effectively still an evolution of the car that Renault brought out in 2009.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, particularly where dynamics are concerned, and there have been some useful changes along the way. For a start, the Mégane 265 now comes with the 265 bhp engine that first saw service in the limited edition Trophy model. Meanwhile the Cup chassis – once offered as a separate model – is now an option pack that features lightweight wheels, stiffer suspension and a proper limited slip differential.
Inside, the Mégane is starting to show its age in places. There are great swathes of plastic across the dash and a few scratchy panels here and there. On the move there’s more wind and road noise than you’d find in many of its competitors and the coupe-like profile trades some rear seat space for style.
None of that matters when you’re on the right road, however, because the Mégane is still a uniquely engaging hot hatch. While some of the big-league front-wheel drive performance cars can feel a touch feral, tugging at the steering wheel and delivering their power in one great slug of turbocharged torque, the Renault feels altogether more accomplished. Turbo lag is virtually non-existent, as is torque steer, while the mechanical limited slip diff on our Cup chassis-equipped test car proves to be an addictive as well as highly effective means of putting the power down.
Even in a straight line the Mégane feels genuinely quick – good for its claimed 6 second 0 to 60 mph time. At least it should be if you can find a straight, dry road. Today we don’t have either, but the Continental Sport Contact 5 tyres fitted to the optional 19-inch wheels are finding remarkable purchase on the streaming wet tarmac. If you drive in a particularly ham-fisted manner with the ESP turned off it is possible to get the nose to push wide. More often, though, it just digs in, gently tightening its line as the mechanical diff gets to work.
If you’re feeling mischievous there’s plenty of throttle adjustability to be had, but what’s truly impressive is the way this combines with an overriding sense of composure. It’s hard to think of any car that nails quite the same balance between playfulness and stability. Somehow the Mégane’s chassis always feels like it’s on your side, irrespective of the quality of the road surface or your level of exuberance.
The same is true of the steering, which provides a quick, linear response without being nervous or darty. It’s communicative too, proving that electrically assisted power steering needn’t be a bad thing for a driver’s car. In fact, combined with firm but pliant damping it all adds up to the sensation of absolutely zero slack. Topping off the experience is the sharp throttle response, the firm (almost racecar-like) brake pedal and a satisfying (not to mention increasingly rare) 6-speed manual transmission.
Of course, with the opposition constantly upping its game the Renaultsport Mégane 265 needs to be good. This is probably the last facelift we’ll see on the current model (which does raise the enticing prospect of an R26.R-style runout edition) yet it remains the best driver’s car in the class. And it doesn’t just compare favourably to the other front-wheel drive hot hatches. Lean on the Mégane hard enough and its chassis rewards like few others can, irrespective of price, power or the number of driveshafts.
Mégane Renaultsport 265
Base price: £26,925
Price as tested: £31,665
0-62mph: 6.0 sec
Max speed: 158 mph
Weight: 1,394 kg
CO2 emissions: 174 g/km
Fuel economy (combined): 37.7 mpg