Even for a practised but middling driver, such as me, on public roads, the 250 is a joyous thing. Photo Gallery
Paul Pottinger road tests and reviews the Megane RS 250 Cup Trophee.
This is not so much the best hot hatch for anything like the money as something that stands the hot hatch category on its head, shakes out its pockets and shoots through with its keys. Everything comparable is over priced or too polite.
A hot hatch is traditionally a top line but still relatively affordable model, one that is essentially a tooled up version of a humbler shopping trolley. And yes, the stunning RS 250 is derived from Renault's modest Megane (a car with much to be modest about).
It has, however, as much commonality with its parts donor as a sub-machine gun with a musket.
If performance were the sole measure, we'd be moving on straight away, attaining 100km/h all of 6.1 seconds after we'd started (about the time taken to recite in full the model's name). Pace, as we'll see, is not even half the story.
In tangible and tactile terms, the Cup edition gets sports seats, leather steering wheel and matching gearknob, carbon-fibre-effect dash, onboard telemetry via the Renault Sport Monitor and a Power Start feature that controls wheelspin under flat-out acceleration.
The (even) more track-focused Cup Trophee gets rear seat space eating Recaro thrones, tyre pressure monitoring, folding mirror, smart card key with neat its hands-free entry and engine start functions, Bluetooth, iPOD audio streaming, dual zone climate control, RS Monitor Display and entirely necessary rear parking sensors.
There's also optional 19s with smoky alloys. Go on. You know you want to.
Multi-stage electronic stability program allows increasing degrees of freedom, though as is true of the whole construct, you really want a racetrack to play with it. Engaging its Sport setting in turn allows access to the torque regulator's Sport and Extreme mode via the stalk mounted "mouse".
No gimmick these. All are genuinely distinctive and useful, though you're almost always going to choose Linear in urban running and Sport whenever circumstances permit impactful acceleration.
For all the plethora of info charted through the centre console - G-Forces, lap times, gear shift alert warnings - it's the 250's tried and true tech that most manifests itself. That's a mechanical limited slip differential up front - as opposed to an electronic approximation (a la Golf GTI) - and a rear torsion bar. The suspension is bespoke, lowered and tautened.
Observe, as if you could avoid seeing them, the immense, bright red Brembo four-piston brake callipers gripping huge 340mm ventilated disc rotors on the front wheels and solid 290mm jobs at the back.
There's seatbelt warning lights for all five seats (though how you can hardly be unaware of the bright yellow straps), tyre pressure monitoring, bi-Xenon directional headlamps, auto headlamp activation, auto windscreen-wiper activation, cruise control, speed limiter, ESP with understeer control and emergency brake assist. The spare's a 17-incher.
As the danger of going over the top loomed, Renault's designers applied the Brembos hard, leaving the 250 teetering on the brink of the overly stylised. Make of it what you will it is distinctive and, in a dark metallic as opposed to signature yellow, faintly menacing - all flared wheel arches, sharp creases and day time running lights that, somehow, appear reptilian.
Opening the door is to appreciate the most obvious connection to the (much) lesser Megane, though the impression is rapidly overwhelmed by the racing accents: Recaros, yellow rev counter, a highly adjustable full grain leather steering wheel and aluminium pedals (and footrest - merci for that small mercy).
When the 250 ceases to affect you, you're either hopelessly blasé or in need of rehab. It's an adult dose.
Blast off from standing. There's minor but discernable hesitation, then an avalanche of torque and some amiable jiggling through the wheel. It doesn't come on as fluidly as we've come to expect from the direct injected turbo fours like the Golfs GTI and R; more in the manner of a jab to the solar plexus.
Raw acceleration numbers are bested by others listed here, but in the French car the process feels more, shall we say, outré? That would be meaningless if it wasn't carried so utterly ably when the road ceases to be straight.
This is where the 250 departs from the pack, holding the chosen line with amazing tenacity and an equally eye-widening absence of body roll or understeer. I'm reduced to the cliché that it corners as though on rails. If you remain convinced a front wheel drive hottie cannot be gratifying, here's one you must try.
Can this be electric steering? There's another preconception with which we can dispense; this is completely linear, amply informative.
Even for a practised but middling driver, such as me, on public roads, the 250 is a joyous thing, an almost unrecognisably enhanced shopping device perhaps, but one surely capable in more assured hands than mine (and on a race track) of undoing high end performance machines for which made sums are demanded.
Yet in urban surrounds, Frenchie is almost urbane, acceptably firm but not skittish. With torque delivery dialled down you can negotiate car parks just as adeptly as a quiet B-road cutting. Not perfect perhaps, but, pound for pound, perilously close.
The hot hatch to have; a joyous giant slayer
Renault Megane RS 250 Cup Trophee
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol 4-cylinder; 184kW/340Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual: FWD
Audi S3 ($69,000); BMW 135i ($74,700); Ford Focus RS ($59,900); Mazda3 MPS ($38,435); Subaru Impreza WRX STi (from $59,990); Volkswagen Golf R (from $48,490)