Renault Megane Renaultsport 265 review (2012 onwards)
What: Renaultsport Mégane 265
Where: Seville, Spain
Date: March 2012
Price: £24,825 (Cup), £26,025 (full fat)
Key rivals:Ford Focus RS, Mazda3 MPS, SEAT Leon Cupra, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Volkswagen Golf GTI
Summary: 2012 version of the awesome Renaultsport Megane gets an upgrade to 265hp and a noisier exhaust. Still awesome. Only now with more power. Awesome.
We like: more power, more noise, same great chassis, same great poise
We don't like: we still can't get excited about the Mégane's interior, budget at least an extra £1,300 for the Recaro seats.
Renaultsport has never really played count the horses.
While some hot hatch rivals chase increasingly ludicrous power outputs in remarkable defiance of the limits of front-wheel drive, Renault's in-house sporting division has always remained focused on delivering sheer handling brilliance.
But you can't ignore competitor progress forever, and so for 2012 the Renaultsport Mégane 250 becomes the Renaultsport Mégane 265 - with those triple digits representing the oomph available from its 2.0-litre turbo four.
This means the standard car now has as much go as the limited edition 265 Trophy, introduced last year. Albeit not quite all of the time.
Focused on delivering handling brilliance
Instead, Renaultsport has incorporated the upgrade into the Sport mode, in an effort to get just a few more goose bumps out of a button press that already increases the throttle response and slackens the stability control threshold.
We've tried the Cup version on track and the standard version on road - here's why the Renaultsport Mégane is still the measure by which all other family-friendly hot hatchbacks must be judged.
Even if Renault does insist on calling the Mégane three-door a coupé...
Although the majority of the power gains that take the Mégane's turbocharged petrol engine from 250hp to 265hp are the result of detailed electronic tweakery, that hasn't stopped Renaultsport making changes to the exhaust.
You might think, so what. But as a result the new car not only goes better it sounds better, too. Always a rather harsh, flat-noted thing before, it's now got a bit of snarl and crackle about it, even popping and banging in the background when you lift off.
This adds extra drama to an experience that sometimes proves so efficiently devastating on-road you forget just how quick and capable this car really is. And the increased roar as it lunges for the redline makes it easier to judge the upshift in time for the warning beep.
Beep? Yep, this car can hit the rev-limiter so fast and so smoothly it actually beeps to warn you that it's coming.
This seems strangely Japanese - the Mazda RX-8 does the same thing - but is actually really useful on track, when you're focused on maximising the sprint between corners, and don't want to be distracted by looking at the instruments.
You forget how quick this car really is
In the less frenetic environment of a quiet country road, you can drive the Mégane more on the swell of mid-range turbo torque - all 265lb ft of it - and still make massively fast progress.
The snappy six-speed manual gearbox helps you keep the revs up - it is possible to catch this engine off boost if you're lazy - while dry weather traction is assured.
Regardless of spec, 0-62mph takes 6.0 seconds, and top speed is 158mph.
Ride and handling
While it's definitely great to have that additional power and character under the bonnet, the Renaultsport Mégane's main attraction remains the exceptional chassis.
If you're going to be driving mostly on the road there's no shame in opting for the additional compliance available from the standard car. The slightly softer suspension settings and the extra toys will make your life more comfortable - and it's still a hoot.
That said, although the Cup chassis comes with stiffer springs and dampers, and a thicker anti-roll bar - usually bad news for ride comfort - previous experience tells us it's far from rock hard and unyielding over lumpy urban surfaces and speed bumps.
And while basic Cup cars do without creature comforts like climate control and electric seat adjustment, they do get a mechanical limited slip differential. Which enables the front wheels to make the most of any and all available grip.
Yet this is mere specification wrangling. What makes every Renaultsport Mégane so special is the way it completely avoids dictating how it wants to be driven. Stick it on a track, and the results are up to you.
It will let you take enormous liberties
Chuck it around with abandon, hustle hard for position, or go smooth and precise for ever faster lap times - the Mégane is always on your side, and always makes you feel completely involved.
But it's the way it will let you take enormous liberties without biting back that makes it so fantastically entertaining. The handling and adhesion levels are communicated with such transparency, it's as if the car stands back, shrugs its shoulders and says, is that all you've got?
Brilliant, brilliant stuff.
Renault has made a few cosmetic changes for 2012. New for the outside is the "F1-style front blade" - which is basically a line through the bumper that echoes the shape of a Formula One car's front wing - LED daytime running lights and new black headlight masks.
A new "Red Design" pack highlights the blade in, er, red and adds matching graphics to the sides and rear. Worth mentioning because this £350 option goes well with the new red interior detailing. However, a Renaultsport yellow theme remains available - along with the fabulous £1,300 Recaro sports seats.
But even with updated piano black trim finishing and carbon-effect door panels, the Mégane's interior remains more functional than flashy. But this has ever been the way with the very best hot hatches.
Economy and safety
Fuel economy is unlikely to be a primary concern in the purchase of this kind of car. But even so, the claimed 34.4mpg combined and 190g/km CO2 emissions are a good effort for a machine with this level of performance.
The economy can drop into the late teens
Just don't be surprised to see the economy drop into the late teens if you really give it some stick. It's a similar story with other hot hatchbacks - whatever you read in the on-paper statistics.
Safety kit comprises the exceptionally well-judged stability control system - which includes understeer control - and six airbags. Not to mention the car's in-built athleticism, which ought to help you stay out of all but the most serious trouble.
The MSN Cars verdict
If you're looking for a cushy interior and fuss-free speed, the Renaultsport Mégane 265 isn't really for you. Rather, this car is aimed firmly at the enthusiast, the kind of person whose primary concern is pushing on hard and feeling completely involved.
Some rivals - notably Volkswagen, with the Golf GTI - may offer you a more rounded product. Others - notably Vauxhall, with the forthcoming Astra VXR - will offer you more power.
But Renaultsport puts you, the driver, at the very centre of the experience in a way that leaves the competition feeling cold. And with prices that start under £25,000 it's still something of a comparative bargain as well.
Need to know:
Engines, petrol: 2.0 turbo
Engines, diesel: n/a
Power, hp: 265
Torque lb ft: 265
0-62mph secs: 6.0
Top speed mph: 158
Mpg combined: 34.4
CO2g/km / Tax %: 190 / 28