I discovered the French sense of humor piloting the new Renault Megane 250 Cup through the Scottish Highlands. When I inadvertently induced a lift-off oversteer situation, I found myself staring at an oncoming tractor through a strategically placed EuroNCAP 5-star crash rating sticker on the windscreen. The team at Renaultsport might have made one of the finest hot hatches on the market today (again!), yet its nice to know that the engineers at Renault in Paris crafted a safety cage among the best on the continent to protect you when your talent runs out, whether you impact a tractor, hedge, or stray Italian.
The vehicles from Renaultsport are not your typical French hatch. The team takes the shell of a regular Renault Megane to their workshop in some wine infused countryside barn, and create monster three-doors of such brilliance, you’ll swear they sold their souls to the devil (again) in order to learn such unholy talents. The Megane 250 Cup leaves the premises much more than a body-molded and be-spoilered wannabe. What you receive from the dealer forecourt becomes one of those cars that only comes along once in great while, a car with soul, passion, and pure awesome.
The swoopy body work takes a great departure from the interesting angled front and flat rear window from the previous Megane. The front looks aggressive, especially with LED running lights, and the rear evokes the classic French boat-tail styling with a few aggressive cues limited to the central exhaust and straked spoiler. Pictures do not do the Megane justice, as seeing it in real life, where it has real presence, it looks just so…. right. Despite being so French. Look closer though, and you find real, functional design cues. That rear diffuser is real, and works well at high speed on the Nurburgring (I know from personal experience). The brake vents on the front wheel arches really do help keep the massive stoppers cool, and the rear spoiler works efficiently not for downforce, but to clean up the airflow for better high speed stability. Renaultsport added everything you need, but tacked on nothing you don’t.
Strapping yourself into the immensely comfortable Recaros (real race-prepped versions are also available, but not as long-trip worthy), you realize despite Renaultsport’s best intentions, the interior still comes straight from the line that produced the 5-door diesel family hatch. Durable, but well screwed together soft-touch plastics abound in a simple, but useful arrangement. The yellow tachometer gives you the only hint at the true nature of the Megane.
Renault must have hired some Citroen designers, as weirdness crept into the cabin in unusual places. For instance, the instrument panel needles do not light up at all, so in every situation, you cannot tell what speed you are doing, which necessitates turning on the headlights in order to get everything to legibly illuminate. The air-con resets itself to the default “on” position every time you restart the car. The handbrake and engine start button are placed on the opposite side of the car as the driver, a right-hand drive market only problem… but how hard would hit have been to move the buttons and lever? The stylish rear C-pillars, while awesome looking, create a serious blind spot as well, making you rely on your mirrors quite a bit more. However, in the 250 Cup, who cares if anything is behind you really?
You don’t buy a Megane 250 Cup for its interior cleverness or annoyance. You buy it to drive the living snot out of it, which this weekend, I did for 4 hours through some of the best driving roads of Scotland.
In this element of damp, twisty, bumpy roads the Megane came alive in a way I have very rarely experienced. The steering wheel communicated things to your hands as if psychic. You knew exactly what the front wheels were doing, where it was gripping, and which way the car wanted to go, yet put in a slight inputs, and the car responded with alacrity and precision superior to that of anything coming out of Wolfsburg. The brakes responded with gravitational force, yet were very linear and adjustable, once you get used to the sharp initial bite.
The exhaust, while a bit muted for this genre, popped and banged as if little demons were detonating IEDs in the muffler. The turbo mill whistled, and whooshed while the cylinders snapped and crackled in a display only a romance language speaking nation can produce. The firm suspension, while making me regret wearing loose boxer shorts in St. Andrews, became a thing of controlled beauty when landing after getting all four wheels in the air. The whole thing sounded and felt alive, as if you were taming a dragon spitting real flames out the back, and only your raw driving talent was keeping you, and your passengers from careening into the Cairghorns in a fiery death not seen since the time of William Wallace.
We jumped over crests, drifted through hairpin turns spraying snow and grit at Balmoral Castle in an attempt to annoy the Queen. We blew past Corsas full of Chavs in a turbo boost symphony of epic. The Megane rewarded, flattered, and kept us safe while making us driving gods of the highest order. The Megane costs less than a Focus RS, yet turns in quicker lap times, goes faster on real roads, and returns 27mpg in real time traffic. Five days after my return from Afghanistan, the Megane gave me heaven after seeing only hell.