Renault's Megane RS 275 Trophy combines a stiff, focused chassis with a strong, torquey 2.0-liter to create one of the sharpest handling hot-hatches out there. Gizmag spent a week with the Trophy to find out what all the fuss is about.
To create the R.S 275 Trophy, Renault takes a standard R.S 265 and bumps peak power up by 10 horsepower, taking the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder's output up to 275 hp (201 kW). There's no increase in torque from the 360 Nm (265 lb-ft) produced by non-Trophy models, but limited edition cars do gain bigger, 19-inch Speedline Turini wheels and a titanium Akrapovic exhaust system.
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Although the torque figure hasn't increased, it defines much of the driving experience in the Megane. Peak torque is available from just 3,000 rpm, and the 2.0-liter turbo motor will pull strongly from below 2,000 rpm without complaint, making it easy to surge into gaps in the traffic regardless of what gear you're in. That's not to say the RS is all about low-end torque – there's plenty to be gained by chasing the redline. The engine loves to rev, running smoothly all the way to cutout where the car's rev limiter beeps, you grab another gear and do it all again.
As well as making life easy around town, the engine's torque makes it incredibly flexible when you get a little spirited. On sweeping roads, you can leave the Megane in third gear and ride the torque curve from 40 to 130 km/h (25-80 mph), with only tight corners or hairpins requiring a downshift to second.
While a strong motor is one thing, the Trophy's reputation as one of the most driver-focused hatches out there was earned in the corners. It doesn't matter whether you're on sweeping roads or tackling tight switchbacks, the 275 Trophy hangs on doggedly through the corners with hardly any body roll. Even though it's front drive, Renault's engineers have done a great job of setting the car up to resist understeer – no matter how clumsy you get, it always feels like you can push the car harder and it will just hang on. If the front does start to push wide, all it takes is a gentle lift of the throttle to pull the nose back into line.
Brilliant though it may be in the twisties, the Trophy's rock-solid body control isn't ideal for everyday driving. While it's never bone-jarringly uncomfortable, the Megane's suspension setup will be too firm for some buyers who want to drive their RS every day, although it never became unbearable on the daily commute during the week we had the car.
In spite of the criticism that electric steering often draws, the 275 Trophy's system gives brilliant feedback. It's easy to tell what's happening with the front wheels because the steering wheel is constantly talking to you, letting you know just how much grip you do (or don't) have. The only time the Trophy really struggles for traction is accelerating away from slow corners – while the car's limited-slip differential does a good job of channeling all that power through the front wheels, every now and again the car battles with wheelspin. At full throttle in the lower gears the wheel gently tugs away in your hands, but torque steer should only be an issue for clumsy first-gear heroes trying to win traffic light drag races.
Even in its most aggressive setting the car's stability control rarely cuts in, while pressing the RS button on the dash and entering sport mode loosens the reins even further, allowing more action before jumping in to right the ship. A long press on the RS button will turn the system off completely, but we never felt held back with it on.
As well as relaxing the stability control system, pressing the RS button sharpens the throttle up to the point where it's almost too jumpy to use around town: the car feels like it's constantly straining against the leash. While it might be a bit annoying around town, however, that sharp throttle does add to the car's racy feel when you're really having a go.
If there is a weaker point in the Megane's driving experience it's the gearshift, which isn't quite as slick or fast as the gearchange on the Ford Fiesta ST we reviewed earlier in the year. That said, Renault has done a brilliant job with the pedals – the clutch is light, and the brake pedal inspires confidence with its firm feel. They're also nicely placed for heel-and-toe downshifts, and car's titanium Akrapovich exhaust system lets rip with a brilliant set of cracks and pops when you lift off the throttle in sport mode.
Inside, the Trophy combines some brilliant racy touches with some less than perfect ergonomics. The Alcantara trimmed Recaro seats are brilliant, combining padding in all the right places for longer drives, with stiff side bolsters that hold you firmly in place through the corners. The Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel and metal gearknob also do a good job of making the cabin feel special and racy.
All the controls you use for actually driving are excellent, but the Megane's R-Link infotainment controller feels seriously plasticky, and the combination of twists, pushes and joystick-like nudges that it takes to move around the system can be confusing. The R-Link also has touchscreen control, but even with the gangly arms that come with being just over 2 meters tall I couldn't comfortably get close enough to touch the screen – let alone navigate around the system on the move.
Couple this with the fact the cruise control/speed limiter switch is positioned inexplicably down next to the handbrake, there's nowhere to properly stash bottles and the glovebox is tiny, and it becomes clear that the Megane's interior isn't quite as well thought out as the inside of Volkswagen's hot-hatch offerings.
R-Link does have a few tricks up its sleeve, most notably in the form the Renault's RS Monitor. RS monitor gives the driver access to a raft of interesting displays about the car's performance: from throttle position to G-Force, turbo boost pressure and intake temperature, the RS Monitor has enough data to please even the most discerning geeks out there. For track-day drivers with a taste for showboating, the RS can record your laptimes and download them onto a USB stick to tell all your friends about it ... and if you're buying a bright-yellow hatchback, we assume that you're going to want to tell your friends about it.
The Megane RS 275 Trophy isn't without its limitations, but if you're after a great toy, a racy car with unshakeable handling balance that makes you feel special whenever you drive it, the RS will definitely fit the bill.
And the asking price? Around £28,930/AUD$54,000, which puts the Megane RS 275 Trophy in similar territory to the Golf R, but well above the Ford Fiesta.