What is it?
This is a final, splendid throw of the dice. The introduction of a new generation of Mégane means that Renault will end production of the current Renault Sport version in July, making the Cup-S the last, fleeting opportunity to buy Dieppe’s long-standing masterpiece.
To help generate some shutting-up-shop volume, the manufacturer has returned the model to its roots. So while there’s nothing substantially new or different about the car, there is still a reason to get excited about the Cup-S: namely, its cut-price theme.
This is prudent. As good as the recent Trophy and Trophy-R were (think ‘extremely’), it became harder and harder to recommend them whole-heartedly when, for much the same outlay, you could have the all-round, real-world magnificence of the much more civilised Volkswagen Golf R.
The Cup-S rectifies that problem. You now get Trophy-spec power – in other words, the full 271bhp – with the Cup chassis (stiffened springs, dampers plus the limited-slip diff) for just £23,935 on the road. Inevitably, you lose some niceties (there’s a 275 Nav version that reinstates the 7.0in touchscreen, DAB tuner, dual-zone climate control and satellite navigation), but the throwback theme isn’t stringent enough to deny you 18in wheels, air-con, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
This means that if you avoid the temptation to go all tick-happy at the optioning phase, the Cup-S could be yours for around £3500 less than the significantly slower (and less talented) Volkswagen Golf GTI. You’ll only be paying about £2k more than Renault wants for the less substantial Clio RS 220 Trophy – and in return you’ll be getting what is arguably the pre-eminent hot hatch of the decade.
What's it like?
For now, it’s difficult to say precisely how the standard car feels, because Renault has used the Cup-S spec merely as starting point for its test cars, adding (at great expense) much of the trick kit we’ve seen before. Consequently, the car you see wears 19in wheels with Bridgestone Potenza rubber (£1k), adjustable Ohlins dampers (£2k), an Akrapovic titanium exhaust (£2500) and a host of other extras that bump the price up to an unfeasible £33,555.
Plainly, this is what Renault would like you to do: begin with the empty plate that is the Cup chassis and then shamelessly and prolifically pile on the extra helpings. However, paying £3500 more for your Mégane than Ford is asking for the new Focus RS is not what we recommend you do.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic, of course - taut like a banjo string, brilliant sounding and very fast in a wonderfully low-mass, mechanical kind of way – but the car beneath all the tinsel would be, too. The ability to tinker with the damper response in the pit lane at a track day is the Ohlins advantage, yet the road-biased compromise originally struck by Renault Sport is (from memory) just as brilliant.
Certainly, the best bits on offer - the diff, the immaculate steering and the absurdly rev-happy higher-output F4Rt engine - are all on board either way. The hard-edged cackle-pop of the Akrapovic exhaust would be hard to sacrifice, as would the Recaro seats and the bigger wheels. But the best Renault Sport Méganes have always been less-is-more machines; there’s no reason to believe that the last one wouldn’t be.
Should I buy one?
For the money, it’s hard to see how you would regret buying a Cup-S. The Mégane may be long in the tooth and less obviously sophisticated than the growing host of all-wheel-drive alternatives that now dominate the hot hatch premier league – but its brilliance hasn’t been diluted one bit.
This is low-cost, low-weight, high-thrill motoring in its old-school mould - and given the wobbly direction in which Renault Sport seems headed, the Cup-S might be best car it makes for a very long time. Take advantage now before it’s finally gone for good.
Renault Mégane RS 275 Cup-S
Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £23,935; Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbo, petrol; Power 271bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 266lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1394kg; Top speed 158mph; 0-62mph 5.8sec; Economy 37.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 174g/km, 29%