Renault Megane Sport

renault_megane_renault_sport_01.jpg

If ever there was a car that failed to live up to its vast potential, it’s Renault Sport’s Megane 225. Looking at the specifications, it’s hard to see how this supremely cheeky-looking hot hatch could go wrong. It has a class-leading 165 kW of power, all the requisite sports hardware, and is fettled by the same organisation responsible for the soul-gratifying Clio Sport.

Yet somewhere things went amiss. Awkward electric power steering, a fidgety ride and curiously unresolved handling added up to a character that was a little unruly for most.

Renault obviously agrees because there’s now a new hot Megane on the streets, badged with the “Cup” tag. The changes will be music to the ears of enthusiasts. Renault has revised the steering, stiffened the suspension even further, uprated the Brembo brakes, added new 18-inch wheels and tyres, and removed or reduced the input of some of the electronic doodads such as brake assist and stability control, which used to sully the driving experience.renault_megane_renault_sport_02.jpg

The remainder of the package follows the lead established by the 225. And given that the 2.0-litre turbo four, six-speed manual gearbox and generous specifications were generally well regarded, that’s no bad thing.

Also static is the $42,990 price tag, keeping the Cup aligned with a range of potential rivals, from VW’s excellent Golf GTI to Subaru’s WRX.

A host of small but highly focused changes aim at giving the Megane the handling smarts to match its pace. They don’t totally transform the way it drives but they do add up to a much more effective package.

Chief in this improvement is the steering. It’s still not quite as alive or accurate as the best in the business, but it’s a lot better than before. The vague feel and inconsistent weighting have been all but banished and the Cup feels confidence-inspiring when hustled through corners.

With those Brembo brakes, stiffer suspension and stickier rubber, the Cup rises from chump to serious contender through the bends. Bodyroll and other unwanted movement are kept well in check, grip and braking power are stupendous and the balance nicely responsive to driver input. Putting those rampaging 165 kW down to road through the front wheels can still be challenging at times, but it’s no longer a frustration.

Throw a broken, pockmarked road into the mix and the Cup is less in its element, crashing over big potholes and easily being thrown around by big mid-corner bumps. But a regimented ride is much easier to justify now that the handling lives up to expectations.

Dynamic woes mostly resolved, you’re left to enjoy the Cup’s other attributes. The 165 kW turbo four is still a responsive, free-revving cracker, serving up a wallop of power whenever the throttle is floored. Some turbo lag is evident at low revs but the engine is supremely flexible and shrugs off the demands of lazy urban cruising.

The six-speed manual gearbox has long throws but is otherwise an impressively sweet-shifting unit. Renault claims 8.8 L/100 km in combined urban-highway driving, though you won’t get anywhere near that if you’ve got a heavy right foot.

The cabin is a little dreary – bright-orange seatbelts and stitching excepted – but is well designed and assembled with quality materials. Space and comfort rate highly up front, thanks to supportive seats and a wide range of seating and steering-wheel adjustment. There are heaps of handy storage areas and standard equipment is generous.

Back-seat space, however, is less remarkable. So is the boot, but at least you get a full-size spare under there.

The Cup is less effective than VW’s wonderfully well-rounded Golf GTI, but its ferocious delivery, much-improved handling and intensely individual character could be potent lures for hard-core, hot-hatch buyers.

Nuts & Bolts

Price
$42,990 (manual only), plus options and on-road costs.
Warranty
3 years/100,000 km.
Engine Size/Type
2.0-litre, double overhead cam, 16-valve four-cylinder, turbocharged. 165 kW at 5500 rpm and 300 Nm at 3000 rpm.
Transmission/Driven Wheels
Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive.
Fuel Consumption
8.8 L/100 km, premium unleaded. Fuel tank 60 litres.
Insurance
Premium $722 (RACV wholly owned, driver 40-plus, rating one, medium-risk suburb, $450 excess).
Steering
Rack and pinion, 2.5 turns lock to lock. Turning circle 10.4 m.
Suspension
Independent front; semi-independent rear.
Wheels/Tyres
Alloy, 18 x 7.5-inch. Tyres 235/40. Space-saver spare.
Equipment
Six airbags; traction/stability control; climate control; power windows; power mirrors; trip computer; cruise control; leather trim; CD player; rain-sensing wipers; immobiliser.
How Heavy
1361 kg.
How Big
Length 4228 mm, Width 1777 mm, Height 1437 mm, Wheelbase 2617 mm.


Scribbled on July 8th 2007 in Renault, Renault Megane
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