THE fastest front-wheel-drive production car around Germany’s Nurburging has landed in Australia among a quartet of smoking Renault Sport Megane RS265 variants designed to help the French car-maker repel interlopers in the increasingly crowded hot hatch market.
With Ford’s 184kW Focus ST just two months away and at least three other European-bred hot hatches on the horizon – including Volvo’s 187kW V40 T5 – the French company has turned up the heat with the upgraded Megane sports flagship.
Packing an extra 11kW of power and 20Nm more torque than the superseded Megane RS250, the 195kW/360Nm RS265 lapped the famed ‘Ring Nordschleife in just 8:08 minutes with Renault development driver Laurent Hurgon at the wheel in June last year.
Belatedly, that version of the three-door Megane RS has shown up Down Under in four flavours, including a special edition – dubbed RS265 Trophy 8:08 in honour of its benchmark time – armed with the same sticky Bridgestone tyres and Recaro sports seats used in the German hot lap.
The bad news is that Renault Australia is importing just 100 of the Trophy 8:08 hatchbacks for Aussie customers this year, but the good news is that three other RS265 variants without sales restrictions are also on the boat from Spain, where this model is made.
The ‘standard’ models start with the RS265 Cup ($42,640 plus on-road costs) and step up to the RS265 Trophy ($47,140) and range-topping RS265 Trophy+ ($51,640).
The Trophy 8:08 special edition comes in between the Trophy and Trophy+, at $49,990.
The price for the base Cup reflects a $750 price rise over the previous RS250 equivalent, while the Trophy, which used to be called Trophee in the French fashion, goes up $150.
The Trophy+ is new to the range, boasting a higher level of features than ever before.
According to Renault legend, the RS265 was the brainchild of French gendarmes who wanted more poke from their crook-catching RS250 pursuit cars.
The ‘265’ refers to the horsepower of the feisty turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, translating to 195kW.
To achieve the extra performance, Renault turned up the wick on the turbo pressure by 0.2 bar, to 2.5 bar, while also modifying the air intake to suit.
The result is one of the hottest front-drive hatches in captivity, crunching the 0-100km/h sprint in a neat 6.0 seconds (one-tenth quicker than the RS250) and matching its nearest logical competitor, the Volkswagen Scirocco R.
Full power only comes on tap when the driver selects sporty modes in the new electronic RS Dynamic Management system.
In the standard mode for everyday driving, the power is restricted to a mere 184kW – the same as the previous RS250 – while engine mapping and ESC controls are controlled for smooth performance.
‘Sport’ mode eases off the ESC control for more corner action, while the engine mapping is adjusted to not only increase throttle response but also to boost power and torque to the full 195kW and 360Nm.
The driver can throw caution to the wind with the ‘Off’ mode, which disconnects the ESC altogether while unleashing full kilowatts.
To add to the driving satisfaction, the sportier driving modes also deliver “an attractive and intoxicating burble” on overrun from the exhaust, which has fewer obstructions than before for a meatier note at all revs, including idle.
Peak power is delivered at 5500rpm, while 80 per cent of the torque is available from 1900rpm, with all 360Nm peaking at 3000rpm.
Although the engine has been let off the leash, Renault Sport has managed to tame fuel consumption by 5.7 per cent, to 8.2 litres per 100km on the official combined test cycle. Carbon dioxide emissions are down from 201 grams per kilometre to a claimed 190g/km.
As before, the fastest Megane is equipped only with a six-speed manual gearbox, driving the front wheels.
To help tame the front end, the RS265 employs a limited-slip differential and Renault Sport Technologies’ steering axis front suspension.
The latter shuffles the front suspension and steering components to separate the steering axis from the damper to minimise the dreaded torque steer suffered by most high-power front-drive cars.
All RS265s get a new function, RS Monitor, to allow the driver to play race engineer by scrolling through a range of engine and performance data and even change the throttle mapping with a choice of five modes – snow, progressive, linear, sport and extreme.
The display screen can show real-time power and torque figures as well as G-forces, while the stop-watch function can memorise the best 400-metre standing start and 0-100km/h sprint times.
If things go pear-shaped, stopping power is supplied by four-pot Brembo front brakes with 340mm discs (290mm on rear).
Exterior teaks on the RS are minor, with LED daytime-running lamps perched at the front on what Renault describes as the F1 blade.
For a little extra show, drivers can opt for the $890 Red Design Pack that adds distinctive red striping across the front splitter, around the alloy wheels and down the side bump strip.
The entry-level RS265 Cup gets Renault Sport cloth front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, eight airbags, Brembo four-pot front brakes, auto headlights and wipers, LED daytime-running lights, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate-control with an air quality sensor, Bluetooth with audio streaming, heated exterior mirrors and space-saver spare wheel.
The mid-range RS265 Trophy gains Recaro front bucket seats with cloth trim, 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start and tyre pressure monitor.
Moving up to the flagship RS265 Trophy+ means top-shelf leather-trimmed seats with heating, electrical adjustment and memory functions, along with sat-nav and reversing camera on a seven-inch screen, bi-Xenon directional headlights, fixed glass roof with a shade cover and front parking sensors to go with the rear sensors.
The limited-edition RS265 8:08 comes with 19-inch wheels fitted and the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres, the leather-trimmed Recaro seats, bi-Xenon directional headlights and two unique colours – liquid yellow and pearl white.