Renaultsport Megane R230

Latest hot hatch aims to build on Renault’s motorsport success

  • Involving and grippy, generously equipped
  • Imprecise, long stopping distances

Meet the 230 F1 Team R26. Now, we can understand Renault’s desire to attract as much publicity as possible from its two consecutive Formula One constructors’ and drivers’ champ­ionships, but surely it could have come up with a snappier name for the latest road car to draw inspiration from its on-track exploits?

Anyway, the arrival of this machine boosts the Renaultsport Mégane range to three models: the stripped-out 225 Cup, the standard 225 and now the R230 (to give it a more manageable title). And while it’s a special edition, there’s more to it than a gaudy paintjob and a set of decals. That’s just as well considering the original hot Mégane was a real letdown – poorly controlled, loose and vague.

The latest Renaultsport variants (fitted with a stiffer front sub-frame, among other modifications) are much better, but the engineers in the sporting department obviously believe there’s still room for improvement. The R230 has a more powerful, but cleaner engine, new chassis and suspension settings, recalibrated steering, beefier brakes and a limited slip differential. It’s a far more comprehen­sive revamp than VW carried out on its Golf GTI Edition 30, and is part of the reason why the R230 secured a place in our four-car final.

The Mégane has never enjoyed the same passionate following as the hot Clio, but it’s still an individual choice – not least because of its eye-catching styling. That stands out even more here thanks to the Liquid Yellow colour. Last seen on the Clio V6, it’s a £1,200 option.

The boot is modest, with a 330-litre capacity, and there’s no spare wheel; as with the Honda, you have to make do with a can of sealant. Rear legroom is at a premium, too, but there is extra stowage under the floor and in the door armrests. Of course, practicality isn’t exactly crucial in a hot hatch – but the driving environment is.

Initial impressions are good as you take in the chunky Recaro seats and metal pedals. But you soon realise that, although the special chairs are figure-hugging, they offer no height adjustment, while the pedals are flimsy underfoot and build quality is relatively poor. What’s more, the cabin isn’t as attractive or well executed as the Clio’s.

But the R230 packs more punch than its little brother. Strong winds at the test track affected all our cars, yet the Renault still dispatched 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. Its turbo engine takes longer to get into its stride than the Ford or MINI’s, and the Mégane’s in-gear times were slower as a result. But there’s a wide powerband – and that means you don’t have to use the loose gearlever too often. The Brembo brakes disappointed, with long stopping distances and not enough bite.

Those criticisms stand out simply because the rest of the driving experience is so impressive. It’s not as edgy and aggressive as the Civic, but the Mégane flows along rough roads nearly as well as the Focus ST. And while the ride is still a bit lumpy in comparison, the stiffer suspension undoubtedly improves reactions and body control.

What has made the biggest impact on the R230, though, is the limited slip differential. Not only has this really boosted low-speed traction, but the slight torque steer gives you a better idea of what the front wheels are up to, and as a result the Renaultsport is more engaging to drive. The R230 is generously equipped considering its £19,570 price. But with the emphasis on its sporting ability, the options list is rather sparse.

Details

Price: £19,570Model tested: Renaultsport Mégane R230Chart position: 4WHY: Will it be third time lucky for the Renault? Previous fast Méganes have failed to shine.

Economy

While the R230’s turbo engine isn’t the most efficient in the class, an average return of 26.1mpg is reasonable, and the 60-litre tank means more than 340 miles per fill.

Residuals

The Renault has the weakest resale figures here. Predicted to retain a mere 41.8 per cent of its value, it would be worth £8,189 – over £1,000 less than the Focus.

Tax

It's not only more powerful than before, but the Renault’s engine is also cleaner, at 200g/km. Sitting in the 27 per cent bracket, it costs less to tax than the Civic or Focus.

Insurance

The Mégane also sits in group 17, and the Renault’s plastic front wings no doubt help to minimise repair costs. That said, the £19 advantage over the Civic is tiny.

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