Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R is world's fastest front-drive car – and 50 are coming to Australia priced about $65,000.
French car maker Renault has reclaimed the title of the world's fastest front-wheel-drive hot hatch, with a car that can be bought off a showroom floor -- including Australia, priced about $65,000 when the first of 50 cars arrive in September -- but it doesn't have a radio, air-conditioning, or back seats.
The lightweight Renault Megane RS275 -- which is 101kg lighter than the standard car, at 1280kg -- slashed 14 seconds off the company's previous Nurburgring lap record set in 2011 (with an RS265 that had back seats, a radio and air-conditioning) with a blistering time of 7 minutes and 54.36 seconds.
This makes the Renault equal to the Nissan GT-R's time from 2008 -- and just two seconds slower than a Lamborghini Gallardo tested the same year, and two seconds faster than a Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale tested in 2004.
The Renault is also five seconds quicker than the previous generation Corvette Z06, driven by the chief chassis tuner of the Corvette, Dave Hill. Most importantly, however, the Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R is four seconds faster than the Seat Cupra which posted a time of 7 minutes and 58 seconds in March this year on the same Michelin Pilot Sport II tyres worn by the Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R.
When Renault reset its record, conditions were far from perfect on the cool 5 degrees Celsius morning between 7am and 8am on the 15th May, 2014: as the video shows there were patchy sections of damp track. Renault had planned to complete three laps in its allocated hour of track time but, after one warm-up lap, it set the fastest time on the first "hot" lap and pulled into the pits immediately afterwards.
"We may have gone a little quicker given the (track) conditions but, to be honest, it was a pretty clean lap," said Laurent Hurgon, the RenaultSport driver who reclaimed the 2014 record after setting the 2011 time. "We can always go quicker, but also you can be worse. We were happy to bank this time," Hurgon told media at the unveiling of the new Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R at the Nurburgring today.
When asked how much slower the car would have been if the back seats were installed, Hurgon estimated "about one to two seconds".
Renault went on a radical weight-saving campaign to set this record. The back seat weighs 20kg, the regular battery was replaced with a lithium-ion item (saving 16kg), the four 19-inch Speedline wheels save a combined total of 5kg, the polycarbonate front seats saved 22kg, lightweight brake discs saved 3kg, the removal of noise deadening material saved 18kg and ditching the radio and air-conditioning saved 10kg.
The coil springs in the front suspension were replaced by coils made of "composite fiberglass and epoxy" to save 1kg each. The company claims they are as strong if not stronger than steel springs. It's believed to be an industry first in a production car although Audi and BMW are poised to follow.
The exhaust is made from Titanium, also to save weight, and the front discs are slightly larger than before (up from 340mm in diameter to 350mm).
A metal support brace between the rear wheel arches which stiffens the body also acts as a bracket to lean spare tyres against in the boot. Cleverly, three spare wheels and tyres can be neatly stowed side by side, for those who want to do track days. Presumably the fourth goes on the floor where the back seat used to be.
Only 250 Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R hot hatches will be made available worldwide but Australia is getting 50 (30 white and 20 black), the second-biggest foreign allocation after Japan, and ahead of Germany, the UK and Italy.
The price of the Megane RS275 Trophy-R is yet to be confirmed but Renault says it will be close to $65,000. Although European models lack air-conditioning and a radio, all cars coming to Australia will be equipped with the comfort and convenience features. Customers can delete them, however, as a factory order.
Options include racing seatbelt harnesses (only for use on race track), lightweight two-piece front brake discs, and spare tyre covers (also for weekend warriors).
Although much of the attention has focused on the rivalry between Renault and Seat (Volkswagen's Spanish "challenger" brand, big in Europe but no longer sold in Australia), the French car maker says it had been developing the Trophy-R for two years.
"It was no event for us," said Regis Fricotte, referring to the Seat lap time of 7:58 in March. "The fact that they did it, we had no change to our plans."
The world's most perilous race track is used by car makers as a test bed and has become the industry benchmark for performance. Located about 175km north-west of Frankfurt, the Nurburgring is known for its 74 corners over 21km of narrow mountain road.
Renault defended its decision to build a "stripped down" car for its lap record, rather than a vehicle loaded with such luxuries as air-conditioning and a radio. "We wanted to build a radical car to do the best we possibly could," said RenaultSport technical manager Thierry Landreau.
Renault says it also has no plans to better this record during the remainder of the model life of the current generation Megane RS, which is due to be replaced by an all-new model in two years.
Meanwhile, lovers of manual transmissions may be alarmed to learn Renault is considering ditching the stick-shift and switching to an automated dual clutch transmission for the next generation Megane RS, as it has done with the Clio RS.
"It is too early to say whether or not (the next generation Megane RS) will have a manual transmission, we are just starting a new project," said Landreau. When asked what his personal gearbox preference was, Landreau responded: "DCT of course."
Landreau said automated dual-clutch transmissions were heavier but were "the way of the future". "DCT is the trend now for sporty cars," he said. "It adds maybe 25 to 30kg to the car but you get quicker gear-changes and it broadens the appeal of the vehicle."
However, Renault may have broadened too much the appeal of the smaller Clio RS. Sales are up by about 20 per cent compared with the last model because of the automatic gearbox -- but the company says it is aware of feedback from hardcore enthusiast buyers who say the new model is too "soft".
"We know we can improve things on Clio 4 (RS)," said Fricotte. "We think we will have something to make them happy. We know that (enthusiast) customers are important to us and we have heard their feedback through the media, on the forums and directly (when) they contact us. We will change some things that need to be improved," he said, referring to the gearbox shift quality and suspension settings.
However, any changes will likely coincide with a mid-life update for the Clio RS which is at least two years away. "It is not a question of urgency," said Fricotte, who said the issues raised didn't warrant changes to be fast-tracked. "When we launched Clio 3 some enthusiasts said it wasn't as good as Clio 2. And then when the Clio 3 update came, everyone said it's better," said Fricotte.Watch the complete lap as the Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R sets a new record at the Nurburgring.