Apologies that you join this test while I’m driving the oldest car here, and apologies that you join this test mid-corner.
It’s just pertinent to tell you that I’m driving the Renault Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy – do you mind if I variously shorten that name at times? – and its cornering balance is less neutral than I remember.
The Trophy, which is Autocar’s long-term test car, has done a couple of photo shoots on closed circuits and a track day at Spa since it arrived with us a month or so ago. And from inside, it feels like they haven’t been kind to its front tyres.
That’s pertinent, because the Renault’s 271bhp is a hefty amount of power to divert through the front wheels. We’ve thought so before, when a Ford Focus RS we ran needed three tyre changes in 12,000 miles, and I don’t wonder that we will think so again.
The reason it’s pertinent now is because the Renault isn’t even the most powerful front-wheel-drive hot hatchback currently on the block. That accolade now goes to the reason the Renault is on this page at all, which is the arrival of Honda’s new Civic Type R.
Like previous Type Rs, it is front driven. Unlike previous Type Rs, and like the Renault, it comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine rather than the usual Type R solution, namely a high-revving naturally aspirated unit. When even Honda is fitting turbocharged engines to its performance cars, you know turbos are here to stay.
And because Honda was so serious about the new Type R’s track capabilities, particularly around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, it has blessed the car with 35bhp more than the Renault. With 306bhp, that makes it the most powerful front-drive hot hatch currently in production.
The Renault is one of the foils for it here, because Renaultsport’s engineers aren’t exactly strangers to the Nürburgring themselves, given that they and the limited-run Mégane Trophy-R held the front-drive production car lap record there until the Honda arrived at the end of the lap four seconds faster (7min 50sec versus 7min 54sec, if you’re interested).
This sort of thing keeps the manufacturers interested after the months they spend chassis tuning and running durability tests there, and it’s not a bad way to measure the relative performance of cars, but it won’t bother us today. Volkswagen’s Golf R is the kind of car that demonstrates why. Volkswagen doesn’t quote a Nürburgring time for the Golf R, yet still we rate it as one of the finest hot hatches ever produced.
We’ve borrowed a manual version rather than the DSG-equipped car that resides on our long-term test fleet because the other two are manual, although it means that this Golf has three doors like the Renault rather than the Civic’s five.
But marking the Golf out more than that is the fact that it has VW’s 4Motion four-wheel drive system, whose latest generation doesn’t just leave it front driven until the front wheels start to spin up. Instead, it will know to divert power to the rear, too, while you’re turning in to a corner, so that as you begin to accelerate out, you’ll be doing so in a car with rear-biased handling.
Just how rear biased we’ll have to see, but it should be good for the longevity of its front rubber. It also has a positive effect on its standing-start acceleration: the Golf wants 5.3sec to reach 62mph from rest, the Honda 5.7sec and the Renault 6.0sec.
That’s despite the inevitable downside of having four-wheel drive. The Golf’s kerb weight, 1476kg, is a full 100kg heavier than the Renault’s. The Honda is only 6kg heavier than the Renault, at 1382kg. Given that weight penalty, perhaps it’s no surprise that VW isn’t interested in quoting you a ’Ring lap time. (It’s about 8min 15sec, according to the t’interweb.)