French police specifications have turned Renault's best into a record-breaker. They shopped local when they chose to upgrade recently. In Europe, with more corners, autobahns and Italian drivers, the police are in an arms race. They won't catch a Porsche unless they're packing heat themselves.
So some lucky rozzers get to sample serious metal. German cops do get Porsches. Exotic brands such as Lamborghini and Ferrari loan out their supercars, with British and Italian plod both beneficiaries in the past.
Renault has form here, going back to its Alpine A110 rally star of the 1960s and beyond. The requirements for the gendarmerie rapid response vehicle were specific: 265hp (195kW if you drive in metric), the same as the Subaru WRXs it already runs. Nothing from Renault qualified, although it did have something close.
It’s priced from $42,640 for the Cup and climbs up to $51,640 for the Trophy+ plus on-road costs. The upgraded RS does include a set of driving data screens, including a g-meter, and five different throttle response settings, with track work in mind.
The top-spec car's kit levels are generous, but there's also an enticing special edition called 8.08 after the car's Nurburgring time which looks like the pick of the bunch. Australia's appetite for the RS250 is second only to France and Germany's, with 262 sold so far this year. And of course French orders are swelled not just by national pride but the demands of the gendarmerie, which has 80 and ordered 20 more. What chance of seeing a couple in our own highway patrols?
The cabin has a more premium feel, with a soft carbon weave lookalike fabric in the doors and shiny black plastic around the centre console. The radio controls have been improved but the buttons are still too tiny. While I'm picking nits, the gearshift action isn't my favourite and the clutch take-up is a bit high. It's partly a case of finding the correct seating position, which can be a little elusive.
Its Megane RS250 has 250 horses under the bonnet and a reputation as the best-handling hatchback you can buy. All it needed was more power. The answer: turn up the spin cycle on the twin-scroll turbocharger pumping air into the car's 2.0-litre four-cylinder. The extra horsepower meets the gendarmerie's specifications and gives the RS265, as it's now known, even more of an edge. Torque increases as well, by 20Nm, with 80 per cent of that available from 1900rpm.
The result is a marginal but worthwhile improvement in acceleration to 100km/h by one-tenth to 6.0 seconds. Top speed on the RS265 rises 5km/h to 255km/h while fuel consumption drops a little to 8.2 litres per 100km. Which is helpful when it’s slurping 98 RON. Like the previous version, it comes only with a six-speed manual.
Full power is accessed via a Dynamic Management system, which delivers the extra oomph when the sport button is pressed. This also lowers the intervention threshold for electronic stability control, which can be turned off completely for track days.
As before, power goes only to the front wheels and Renault tackles the problems of using them for traction and direction with a limited slip differential that proportions torque to the wheels in response to their grip levels. It's mechanical, so there's no loss of power. Renault's sophisticated front suspension set-up also separates the steering and dampers, reducing torque steer -- tugging at the wheel under hard acceleration.
To test the RS265, Renault went to the home of rear-wheel-drive performance cars that cost two or three times as much: the Nurburgring track in Germany. It came away with more than an impressive lap time for the twisty 21km. It set a record for a front-wheel-drive car of 8 minutes and 8 seconds. On the drive program in Queensland, a challenging road reminded me why I liked the previous model so much. Few cars could stay with the RS265 around corners. It eats them up with relish and then licks its lips.
The 18-inch wheels on the entry model will protest a bit but their grip levels are exemplary and to make this car understeer on a public road you'd need to go bonkers. You can upgrade to even stickier 19-inchers with only a slight degradation in the ride quality. The ride quality feels sophisticated on either set of alloys and the car's overall composure is superb. Nothing rattles it -- challenging surfaces, rapid changes of direction and road camber, or all at once.
It just confidently holds its line and the steering, although electric, is precise and absorbs problems that would shake other cars off course or shudder their steering wheels. This electric steering is among the best I've sampled and torque steer is so negligible as to be effectively absent. It didn't lack power as the RS250, but you'll want all 265 horses to make the most of its dynamic ability. There's a decent spread of turbocharged oomph, forceful from low-revs and linear to the limiter. The turbo spools up smoothly, too, so power doesn't drop off a cliff and it's more flexible uphill in high gears than I expected.
Issues are niggles, not deal-breakers: it would be more potent with scope to rev the engine a little higher and although the exhaust has been tweaked, the sound could be more exciting. It's at its best revving up and down through tight twisties, when you get a bit of over-run. Find it, and everything's sweet. On a racetrack, the brakes would probably be the limiting factor.
The RS265 deserves to be every bit as popular as the model it’s replacing.
Renault Megane RS265
Price: from $42,640
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: 12 months/10,000km
Safety rating: not tested
Spare: space saver
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4cylinder; 195kW/360Nm.
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body: 2-door coupe
Thirst: 8.2L/100km, 190g/km CO2