What is it?
Renault has savagely pruned its UK range, but it knows what it is good at and the Renaultsport cars are safe. The whole Renault Megane range has had a refresh with extra splashes of chrome or gloss black inside, and further mutants of the already mutant-looking nose now with strips of daytime LEDs. These form part of the 'F1 blade' on the Renaultsport models, which can also have a Red Design pack with red accents on the blade, the side strakes, the rear diffuser and the wheel rims.
That's how you might spot the latest Renaultsport Megane, but more important is that the 261bhp previously restricted to the limited-run Trophy version is now on tap in the regular cars, now (metrically) known as Renaultsport Megane 265. As usual there are Cup and normal versions, the latter costing an extra £1200 (making £26,025) and featuring squashier seats, various superfluous gadgets and softer suspension.
Also as usual you can have the Cup chassis on your non-Cup, the £1350 it costs bringing you a GKN torque-biasing differential (maximum torque-difference ratio 2.3 to one) as well as the firmer suspension with 35 per cent stiffer front springs, 38 per cent stiffer rear ones and an overall 15 per cent rise in roll stiffness. Red calipers for the Brembo brakes, too.
What’s it like?
But the key thing is the enhanced engine. You have to press the ESP button to switch it from the former 247bhp default position to the new 261bhp, simultaneously loosening the ESP strictures. Keep it pressed and all traction and stability aids are extinguished and the Megane 265's true character can show through.
Some cars get a bit unruly when the electronics are off, suggesting the systems have a bit of a sticking-plaster role. Not so the 265. On the fast-but-technical Monte Blanco circuit the Cup proved as friendly as a 2.0-litre hatchback able to hit just shy of 160mph can be, tucking in beautifully as you come off the brakes and turn, drifting all-of-a-piece if the entry speed was too ambitious, nailing the torque to the road as you spear towards the exit and the diff does its stuff.
It's the sort of car that helps you out, waits for you to act, works with you without imposing an agenda. And it's mighty rapid: the 250 could feel curiously flat and undramatic, especially after the old-generation R26, but the bite and the brilliant torque spread are right back in the 265 along with the deep, granular exhaust note overlaid with the whoosh of expelled air plus some upshift pops and bangs for good measure. The almost-racing Recaros and the optional telemetry system add to the drama, too.