You can see the looks of long-awaited design efficacy in the eyes of Renault personnel as they unveil their hottest of hot hatches, writes Iain Robertson, as if all their Christmases had come at once in a golden hued Gallic charger (other colours are available).
There is no avoiding the fact that December is an odd month in which to launch a new car, especially one as attention-grabbing as Renault’s latest hot-rod. Of course, there is always a hope that New Year sales will be vibrant as a result, especially as first deliveries of the new R.S. model will not take place until February 2019. As a means of driving trade, a ‘halo vehicle’ is seldom a bad idea.
RenaultSport’s new Megane R.S.300 Trophy is on sale immediately. It is the most powerful Renault Sport production car ever and heralds in heaps of advanced technology and a bold new look. Prior to dealer discounting (a factor sure to occur in a company car market as subdued as ours is at present), the R.S.300 is priced from £31,810 (six-speed manual; £33,510 for the twin-clutch automated-manual, with paddle-shift). It is a high price to pay for a compact hatchback but its highly focussed tuning enhancements need to be considered.
The R.S.280 was launched in May 2018 and remains on the price list (£27,810 and £29,195 respectively) as a ‘softer’ option but it carries over the stability-enhancing four-wheel-steer system and bump-stop shock absorbers to the new model. The power of its 1.8-litre turbo-petrol engine is boosted to 300bhp, while torque is posted at a heady 309lbs ft. Handling prowess is enhanced with 25% stiffer dampers, 30% firmer springs and 10% less resilient anti-roll bars, while a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential enhances traction, the car driving the front axles, riding on 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels.
The performance profile of the R.S.300 can be driver adjusted by pressing the ‘Multi-Sense’ button, giving access to five different modes, ranging from Comfort and Normal to Sport and Race, with a ‘Perso’ personalised set-up. It also alters the tone of the exhaust system. The ride quality in its least sporty setting is best described as firmly supportive, although dialling-in ‘Race’ removes any compliance and turns the Megane into a go-kart. Hit the ‘loud’ pedal and the exhaust reacts accordingly, even though in ‘Comfort’ mode, it is fairly refined. It becomes simply more raucous with subsequent settings, significantly more so than the lesser R.S.280 models.
Renault Mégane R.S.300 Trophy is fitted with 245/35 Bridgestone Potenza S001 tyres, which are renowned for offering exceptional dry-road grip. An optional 2kg lighter alloy wheel and even grippier Bridgestone Potenza S007 tyres will be available soon after launch. Armed with even more direct steering, increased cornering grip and greater durability for sports driving, this is a Renault that can play at weekends, as well as work during the week and its tyres are intended for that chameleon role…although, if tempted, you might be better to take a spare set with you, to replace the scrubbed and tread-mashed originals!
Known as ‘Liquid Yellow’, the car pictured can also be ordered in the full range of vibrant RenaultSport colours, with a particularly classy blue, red, or white in the palette. The car can also be fitted with optional, bolstered Recaro seats, which are clad in Alcantara faux suede. Narrow in the bottom, they are better suited to jockeys and racing drivers, as normal company car users will discover pinch-marks and bruises, after a spirited drive, in places they never believed possible. However, looking the part is backed-up with an R.S.-developed app that coordinates telemetry and data acquisition, displaying details on the car’s touch-screen such as acceleration, braking, steering wheel angle, operation of the 4WS system, temperatures, pressures and lots more. It can even overlay telemetry data to create augmented reality videos and works through both android and iPhone systems. If you want to play at Renault F1 driving, this is almost as good as the real thing.
I make no bones about stating that this car is just not for me. It is simply too harsh, even for occasional use, on our pitted and pockmarked British roads. While quick reacting, the steering feels strangely disconnected, especially when the car is bounding along country lanes in a manner that can only be described as fevered and frenetic. If you do not mind losing a few dental fillings, compressing your spinal cord and, if you are taller than six feet, denting your cranium on the headlining, I am sure that you will adore every frantic moment.
As the punchiest Renault of them all, you can expect a decent spread of performance figures, ranging from a top speed of 162mph, covering the 0-60mph acceleration benchmark in 5.7s, emitting a fairly hefty 183g/km CO2 (£830 first year road tax; £140 annually thereafter) and a modest 35.3mpg, all of which numbers could be improved, although much of which is explained by the car’s monstrous kerbweight of around 1.9-tonnes. It ain’t no lightweight and could benefit from serious weight reduction! However, the R.S.300 Megane is a fantastic looking machine that will turn heads, thanks to its radical, F1-inspired front spoiler and graphics, like few other hot hatchbacks can.
Renault knows its onions in a warmed-up manufacturing career that commenced with Gordini and Alpine, bringing in Williams (the F1 team; which caused a few problems for collectors), before culminating in its own version of RS, which uses full-stops to avoid a legal clash with Ford. The latest R.S.300 is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea but it will enjoy a ‘sold-out’ status very quickly, especially among Renault aficionados, regardless of the hefty price tag!
Of all the new cars that I have tested in 2018, to round-off the year with a Renault was an unexpected and immensely sporting endeavour. Alarming in its severity, or strength of purpose, the R.S.300 will help menopausal men to address the burning embers of their hot hatch lives to perfection. Is it a business car? Only if you want it to be.