I’d forgotten how fine the Mégane 225’s engine and gearbox were until last week. Or maybe the underwhelming nature of the rest of the car was enough to take the sheen off what must rank as one of the most effective and brutally strong engines ever used in a hot hatch. Certainly it took a while to adjust to an engine that feels as urgent from 50mph in fifth as a Honda Civic Type-R does in third.
No surprises then that Renault has decided against fiddling with its 1998cc turbo four for this limited-edition Mégane Trophy. And yet somehow the thing feels more urgent and even faster than it does in the slightly disappointing 225. As is so often the case, tweaking the platform through which it sends 222bhp and 221lb ft has improved the overall package to the extent that it adds that necessary extra gloss.
Even as it launched the Mégane 225 a little under a year ago, Renault admitted that something a little snortier would better suit the Renaultsport heritage. The 225 is a comfortable, rapid hatchback, but the non-switchable ESP, poor steering and overall lack of vigour count against it. This limited-edition Trophy aims to right those wrongs and will sell for £20,000 alongside the £19,500 standard car. Just 500 will be built, with 200 making their way to the UK, and later in the year the chassis modifications developed for this model will become available as a ‘Cup’ suspension pack for the standard car.
Under the skin
Those changes are enough to dramatically alter the way the car drives, and certainly make it more appealing to the intended market. Spring rates are up 25 per cent at the front and a colossal 77 per cent at the rear. Revised dampers take advantage of the added stiffness, and all the rubber suspension bushes are replaced by firmer polyurethane items, plus the front roll bar has been reduced by 1mm. The electric power steering has been completely reprogrammed and a rubber coupling that served as a steering damper, but actually contributed greatly to the uncommunicative rack, has been replaced by an all-metal union. This is a modification that will feature on all Méganes produced after summer 2005.
It doesn’t stop there. A new tyre, the Dunlop Sport Maxx, has been developed especially for the Trophy. It has a high silicon content and is claimed to offer superb wet-weather grip. The brakes are the same diameter as before but now cross-drilled for better cooling and the diameter of the master cylinder has been increased by 2mm. Unsprung mass has been reduced by 1.5kg per corner by lightweight wheels. And, best of all, those pesky electronics can now be switched off, safe in the knowledge that they will remain off. Most of the time.
Renault isn’t willing to hand all the decision-making back to the driver just yet. If the car senses a large slide and simultaneous triggering of the anti-lock brakes it will intervene. Sounds like giving six back and then casually removing a half-dozen, but it works, and on the track I couldn’t get the ESP to chime in once.
Driving the Trophy
Hatches don’t come any faster than this. On a twisty little provincial circuit just south of Barcelona, the Trophy laps as fast as anything sub-Porsche Boxster S. Traction is good but still not enough to cope with a torque curve that peaks at 2000rpm and remains as flat as week-old glass of Coke all the way to 6000rpm.