Car reviews - Renault - Megane - RS265
Awesome engine, limpet-like grip, torque-steer control, all-round performance, more refined cabin, extra gadgets including performance control systems, timeless coupe styling
Room for improvement
Lack of satisfying exhaust note, no dual-clutch transmission option
23 Aug 2012
THE French gendarmes must be the happiest police on the planet, barrelling around the highways and byways of La Belle France in Renault Megane RS265 cop cars with a licence to press pedal to the metal from time to time to keep speeding supercar owners in their place.
We spent just a few short hours in the new RS265, and the smile is permanently implanted.
The RS265 is a facelift of the RS250 that has done duty in Oz since 2010. The higher number represents the extra horsepower of the revised 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that was a given a hike in boost pressure and a few other tweaks to qualify for a French police force tender for a new set of pursuit wheels.
Renault decided that what was good for the cops was good for the punters, and released the 195kW version as the RS265.
In Australia, that engine with an extra 11kW and 20Nm has been delivered along with a minor facelift that gives possibly the best hot hatch on the road even more appeal.
Exterior changes are minor, and are best exemplified by items such as the new LED daytime running lamps on the front splitter, which Renault describes as an F1 blade due to its resemblance to a front wing of a Formula One car.
But really, we are happy the designers showed restraint, as this flagship Megane, with its fender extensions, squat stance and cute coupe-like rear end, remains one of the outstanding shapes on the road.
The muscular and distinctive design offers plenty of promise, and we are glad to report that the latest RS delivers in spades.
Firstly, it is difficult to believe that the RS265 is front-wheel drive, such is the control of the 195kW of power through the front end.
Like Ford's Focus RS and Opel's Astra OPC, the RS250 uses clever front suspension design to tame the forces that create torque steer in lesser beasts.
But the Renault goes further, with a smart limited-slip differential that aids traction in stunning fashion. Powering out of tight corners with the engine revs soaring, the RS265 simply hunkers down and gets the job done. On several occasions during this drive, we posed the question: who needs all-wheel drive?
Performance on country roads is further enhanced by a finely tuned suspension that is firm but compliant. Sure, we experienced some rather dramatic bump-thump on massive potholes on our sprint through country Queensland, but nothing unusual for a car of this order.
Apart from a little 'tram-lining' tugging at the wheel in dips in the bitumen on occasion, the RS265 sat true, undisturbed by the usual bumps and lumps.
The lateral grip of this ‘Cup’ chassis is astonishing, and we wondered if some vaunted supercars would see which way the RS265 went on twisty back roads.
Likewise, braking from the four-pot Brembos was never an issue in the hilly terrain, although he pedal feel is rather firm.
Road noise was noticeable but acceptable in the RS265 Cup base model we drove first up.
However, when we stepped up to the special edition RS265 Trophy 8:08 with its bigger 18-inch wheels and shallower rubber, the increase in coarse-bitumen drone and sharpness of bump impact was immediately noticeable.
The harder Recaro bucket seats of this model might not have helped, either.
The bonus of the Trophy 8:08 – so named for its fastest lap around Germany's Nurburgring in testing – is its sticky Bridgestone tyres that nail this version to the tarmac.
All RS265 owners (except those with sat-nav that hogs the LCD screen) can partake of the new on-board computer system that not only reads out performance figures such as power, torque and G forces in real time, but also records lap and sprint times.
As well, the system allows the driver to pre-set performance parameters from ‘easy as she goes’ to ‘what the hell are you doing’ (we might have made up those titles, but you get the drift) for the throttle and engine mapping.
Also, a switchable driving mode features three levels of performance control for the ESC and engine performance, from everyday ‘on’ to track-only ‘off’, with the latter referring to the ESC nanny.
We spent most of our time in the middling ‘sport’ which backs off the ESC a little for some extra on-road movement without endangering life and limb.
Interestingly, the ‘sport’ mode also unleashes the extra grunt ordered up by the gendarmes, taking the peak power up from the old 184kW to 195kW. Seriously we defy anyone without a backyard dyno to tell the difference.
In that region, it is all white-knuckle ride stuff, punctuated with “boy, does she go” comments.
Mercifully, the Megane RS has lost nothing of the 250's tractability, pulling forgivingly from quite low revs for relaxed, never-peaky everyday driving.
The only disappointment for this driver was the engine note. We had been told that Renault Sport engineers had delivered a warmer, rorty song from the exhausts, but it still sounded raucous and only mildly satisfying.
We had also hoped for a bit of the throttle overrun pop-pop action that we enjoyed so much from the Focus RS with its wonderful Volvo-sourced five-cylinder turbo, but no such luck.
We did find the rev limiter on a couple of occasions when we were a little tardy with the shifts on the six-speed manual gearbox that is the only choice with this car.
The upcoming Renault Clio RS (due here at the end of 2013) is set to get a dual-clutch auto, and we wondering how much this would add to the Megane RS. In this generation, at least, we are unlikely to find out.
Still, the manual shift is smooth and accurate, matching the steering that delivers on all fronts.
The standard Renault Sport seats have plenty of side support, positioning the driver relatively low at the wheel in the hot hatch tradition at Renault.
The up-spec Recaro bucket seats are deeper again, not to mention harder. For those who want the quasi-race experience, these are the go, but for all others, the RS seats are just great (and far easier to get in and out of too).
For the record, the rear seat is tight (who would have thought?) but the boot under the smallish rear hatch is adequate for a couple on holiday, especially with the rear bench folded for extra space.
A big bouquet to the designers who have given the interior a lift, with stylish piano black in place of the RS250’s cheap-looking hard black plastic. Also, the soft-touch carbon-fibre-look fabric on the doors is a fine finish that we predict will be all the rage from now on.
This time, the tacho has a greyish-white background (why?), adding to the rather messy appearance of the instruments. To each their own.
We must give a big thank-you to the person who decided that enough was enough with incomprehensible audio systems found in Renault products. The new one in the RS265 is straight-forward. Merci beaucoup!
It is just one more reason to consider the Renault RS265, which has reinforced its position at the top of the hot hatch tree.
French police – we salute you. And we won’t speed if ever we are in France.
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