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Renault Megane RS250 2011 review

The spy scandal at Renault shows it's capable of some classic Inspector Clouseau behaviour. Three former executives are now destined for huge compensation payouts after being falsely accused of flogging secrets to the Chinese. They were fired on the word of a paid informant.

But Renault had been the victim of a scam. It's all going to get very messy and has tarnished the do-no-wrong reputation of chief executive Carlos Ghosn, who has sacrificed his bonus and issued a humiliating apology. Hindsight is easy, but I could have told them they were revving up the wrong engine. I offered to spill the beans on the Renault RS250 down at Emperor's Garden and didn't come away with so much as a dim sim.

The RS250 is a feisty hatchback along the lines of the Volkswagen Golf GTI but a little bit pricier and French. Things get better from there. It's about the same weight but extracts more power from its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With another 29kW, it's quicker to 100km/h by what is, in hatchback terms, a chasm: 0.8 seconds.

At a shade over 6 seconds to the limit, the RS250 is right at the pointy end of hatchback performance. Apart from outright oomph, it has a limited slip differential to help traction and that bane of powerful front-wheel drive cars, torque steer, is largely absent.

DESIGN

Like the GTI, the RS250 is based on a bread-and-butter hatchback, in this case the Megane. The trick with these cars is to make them look hot and drive well without destroying the hatchback's inherently practical formula.

The RS250 looks great, much better than the standard car, although there are some compromises from the two-door layout. The doors themselves are long, the rear is occasional-fit for full-size adults and the hatchback loading lip is high and narrow.

The Trophee variant driven here gets 19-inch wheels and snug Recaro seats up front with a squab that lacks tilt adjustment. It took a while to find the right position. Ahead are dials, set at a difficult angle to read. I wouldn't want to rely on them to keep me legal.

INTERIOR

Materials are a mix of soft-textured plastic on top of the dash and hard, featureless plastics elsewhere. There are some vestiges of the left to right-hand drive conversion, including a start button and handbrake that are closer to the passenger than the driver.

There's also that perennial French specialty, the multi-function wand. In its familiar place at 4 o'clock behind the wheel, it now has nine controls that allow audio and other functions to be accessed without taking your hands off the wheel. Unless you want to turn cruise control on. Then you'll spend ages looking for a switch located - absurdly - behind the gear shifter.

DRIVING

As soon as the turbo is on boost - and it doesn't need many revs - the low-down torque is there to make around-town driving less of a constant gear change. That said, it's still possible to stall it because below a certain point nothing happens and the clutch take-up is a bit high. I wasn't a huge fan of the gearshift action either, but that's being picky.

The brake and throttle are nicely positioned and the steering wheel is a beauty. The car steers sweetly and with four-piston Brembos at the front, pulls up with authority. Best of all, I liked the car's overall composure, which is first rate and would not disgrace something much more expensive.

It's set up with some firmness, as you would expect, and plenty of discipline so it retains contact with the tarmac over bumps. Despite this, there's enough initial cushioning to make it comfortable. This translates into tidy and accomplished dynamics, which make it quick then quicker along a windy road until you reach the - fairly distant - point where it wants to run wide.

Quirks aside, the main drawback of the RS250 was a bit too much tyre noise from skinny 35 ratio tyres. On their own they can be a bit loud. Combined with the noise of the turbocharged engine, which occasionally sounds good but mostly sounds industrial, the cabin ambience alternates between a thrum and a drone.

VERDICT

If I had younger ears and was after something small and feisty, the RS250 would be on a short list next to the Golf GTI.

Read more about prestige motoring at The Australian.

Pricing Guides

$9,988
Based on 22 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$2,999
Highest Price
$17,490

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Dynamique 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $8,990 – 8,999 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Dynamique Pricing and Specs
Dynamique 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $8,990 – 8,999 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Dynamique Pricing and Specs
Dynamique 1.5DCi 1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $6,820 – 9,680 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Dynamique 1.5DCi Pricing and Specs
Privilege 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $2,999 – 9,995 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Privilege Pricing and Specs