RENAULT MEGANE RS 265 REVIEW
Vehicle style: Sports hatch
Engine: 2.0 litre F4R 16-valve turbocharged petrol
Power: 195kW @ 5500rpm | Torque: 360Nm @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel Consumption listed: 8.2 l/100km | tested: 10.7 l/100km
You know you've got a classy front-driver under you when you can tighten its line through a sweeper with the throttle.
And when barrelling into a really tight one, you can bring the back around - in classic progressive oversteer - simultaneously as you tuck the nose in.
This is Renault's stove-hot new Megane RS 265. Hot hatch? It's as hot as they come. Better, it matches the heat it's packing under the bonnet with a flat and very nicely balanced chassis.
With hunkered-forward lines, fat black guards-filling rims, brilliant sports seats and a raucous exhaust when under the whip, it's a blast at the wheel.
And it won't only set your heart racing: what we've got here in the RS 265 is a track day weapon, straight out of the box.
We drove both the RS 265 Cup, the base model at $42,640, and the limited-edition RS 265 Trophy 8:08 at $49,990 - the latter's badge commemorating the Megane RS's 8:08 minutes record-setting lap for a front-drive car of the Nurburgring.
Dynamically, for the bits that matter most, each is identical.
Each has the same six-speed box behind the same 2.0 litre 16-valve turbocharged 195kW and 360Nm engine. And each offers the same selectable 'sport' settings and track-day metrics.
But the Trophy 8:08 gets 19-inch alloys, Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres and superb leather Recaros (and a few other dress up bits).
Yes, Renault has cooked up a very tasty cassoulet with its new Megane RS 265.
There's nothing wrong with the interior of the cheaper 265 Cup. At first glance, except for the cloth trim (which has a robust tightly-woven quality feel), you could easily not notice the differences.
It misses the leather inserts of the Trophy 8:08, but gets the same combo of shiny piano-black surfacing, metal highlights and bezels, and the same understated, sporty style.
The switchgear feels right, as do the tactile surfaces, and it is (fortunately) spared the overdesign and fussy lines of some.
It's also tight. Where the previous Megane's dash was prone to jiggle over rough roads, this one is as solid as a drum.
The Recaro front seats and leather-trim highlights of the Trophy 8:08 shift things up a notch or two. The Recaro seats are brilliant - grippy, with a superbly shaped back and base, they're as good as you'll find.
With lots of adjustment, a nicely 'square-on' reach and rake-adjustable multi-function wheel, fat six-speed shifter comfortably at hand, and pedals also placed just right, it's easy to get comfortably set for press-on driving.
The settings for 'sport' mode are easily found and navigated, and the in-dash screen is about where you'd want it. So, the ergonomics, often a point of contention with French cars, would seem about right.
It's only the cruise control - curiously placed at the elbow in the centre-console - that perhaps fell casualty to a long lunch with too much red.
The rear seats seem reasonably well-shaped, and, set low, provide ample headroom for someone of my stumpy-legged stature.
On a casual assessment, I would put the Megane 265 interior on par with the Scirocco for style, finish and layout, with perhaps the Scirocco a nose ahead for tactile feel.
For features, the Megane RS 265 is well-appointed. Standard fare includes auto headlights (with washers and "see me home" function), LED daytime running lights and rear parking sensors. The 8:08 also gets hands-free entry with automatic door-locking and tyre-pressure monitor.
There's also dual-zone climate control, cruise control, rain-sensing automatic wipers, Bluetooth and audio streaming, multi-function steering wheel, CD/MP3 player, Arkamys 3D audio, aux-in and USB input, and electric heated foldable door mirrors among a longer list.
For safety it comes with the full catastrophe of ABS, brake-force distribution and brake assist, Brembo front brakes, three mode ESP (normal/sport/off). limited slip differential, anti-slip control, and front seatbelt pretensioners.
Storage inside is a bit slim. The bin in the centre console/arm-rest is too narrow for even a smallish SLR camera (I tethered it to the floor) but the cup and bottle holders are ok.
The glove box is also too small. (Most women, I'd reckon, would be looking for more in-cabin storage.)
But the boot is good. It's deep and wide thanks to the low floor and space-saver spare, and offers a pretty reasonable 344 litres, but the loading lip is high.
On The Road
This thing goes like a shower. Engage 'Sport', and few cars can be slapped around a mountain road like the Megane RS 265.
And that howl, rising in shrill outrage from 4000rpm - the throttle-body and fat tail-pipe in raucous harmony - is absolutely delicious. Not since the sorely-missed Integra Type R have we heard such a chorus.
So what is happening under the bonnet? Serious mumbo, my friends. In any language, 195kW and 360Nm of torque are hefty figures for a smallish 'personal' front-wheel-drive hatch.
Load in the revs, and above 4000rpm the Renault simply scorches. It pulls like mad all the way to 6000rpm, flattening out just before the rev-limiter chimes in to stop you over-cooking things.
Off the line, over those first few metres, it doesn't hold quite the edge. Renault claims a 6.0 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash (the same as the Scirocco) and a speed-limited 255km/h top speed. But once rolling, when cornering, or overtaking, and with things in full-song, it's a belter.
This is where the RS 265 differs most markedly from the Scirocco R. Peak torque in the Volkswagen stormer chimes in at a lower 2500rpm. The result is that it strains a little more eagerly at the leash at lower speeds.
And, interestingly, despite its love for revs and the higher rpm for peak torque, the Renault F4R turbo engine is an undersquare design with an 82.7mm X 93mm bore and stroke.
The sweet-spot for changes would seem to be around 5300rpm (but we'd need to look at the torque and power graphs to be sure), but it spins so freely and things happen so quickly it's easy to belt past the optimum change points.
And despite the welter of kiloWatts and Newton metres pounding through the front wheels, it doesn't wrench at the wheel with the murderous intent of powerful front-drivers of old. The Megane RS 265 is a masterclass in managing power to the road.
While you're aware of the power - there is beautiful feel through the 'tight' well-weighted electrically-assisted steering - torque steer is a non-event.
On gear changes under full power there's a momentary release then tug, but there's no tendency to pull wide when powering out of turns.
The Megane's secret is its mechanical limited slip differential and 'independent steering axis' front suspension.
It's 'engineering black arts' at work, but in separating the Megane RS's steering axis from the front suspension damper (unlike a convention MacPherson strut arrangement), Renault engineers have created a suspension geometry that negates torque-steer, even when powering out of an apex under full throttle.
Like the Scirocco R, the brilliant front-end of the Megane RS 265 narrows the argument even more on that boring old chestnut of front-versus-rear-versus-AWD.
Select 'sport', and everything sharpens - steering, throttle response, and the power and torque mapping. The sound too changes, the muted growl becomes a snarl, and it pops on the over-run when lifting off.
The ESP also changes; it allows more slide before intervening. And, as we mentioned at the outset, such is the balance in the chassis that you can slide the tail at the same time as you tuck the nose deep into an apex, and then just fire out.
Quite simply, the Megane RS 265 is fast. Quick out of the hole, fast when on the move, and greased lightning round a set of curves.
And a Toyota 86 wouldn't have the faintest where it had gone.
It's screwed down tight on the road, it's a sports car after all, but it's not uncomfortably tight or harsh underneath.
The McPherson strut front and torsion rear allow enough initial compliance to take the harshness out of the ride, it won't rattle the fillings out of your head on broken Aussie tarmac, and road noise and thumping from below is also well-attenuated.
First Drive Verdict
We can perhaps thank some unheralded French walloper for this car.
The story goes that the French Gendarmerie Nationale called for tenders for new "rapid intervention vehicles" to replace its fleet of Subaru WRXs. Renault obliged, boosting both the horsepower and torque of the Megane RS 250 to win the tender.
Then, possibly out of a Gallic sense of "it's only fair", it applied the same tweaks to its production RS models - the ones we've got here, hot off the press, with that hammered-down Cup chassis and wonderful rorty powerhouse under the bonnet.
Whether in Cup or Trophy configuration, the RS 265 is one very good hot-hatch from Renault.
It looks good, it's well priced, and it has the muscle to match its athletic lines. This car is going to command a lot of respect both in the hood and on the track.
Would we take it over the Scirocco R? Too early to call. Certainly, on price (and zero-percent finance at the moment), the Renault has the edge. On performance, it possibly also edges out the Scirocco. So, yes, we'd recommend a long hard look.
- 2013 Renault Megane RS 265 Cup - $42,640
- 2013 Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy - $47,140
- 2013 Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy 8:08 - $49,990
- 2013 Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy+ - $51,640
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.
Note: Photos are international RS 265 Trophy. Australian images coming.