Renaultsport Megane Cup

The stripped-out Cup version of the Renaultsport Megane is great fun to drive

Fast, fun and very accomplished, the Mégane is still great in our eyes. But the Cup chassis is a little too firm to be a great day-to-day choice, and it doesn’t have the track-inspired edge to beat the MINI GP for out-and-out thrills. In isolation, it’s brilliant fun, yet in this test it’s shaded by a car that delivers an even more involving and entertaining driving experience.

Renault has faced some tough times of late, but fortunately for car fans it hasn’t been tempted to dilute its hot hatch models. There’s an all-new Renaultsport Clio coming soon, and its big brother, the Megane, is still a class benchmark, especially when fitted with the driver-focused Cup chassis.

So if you’re looking for a car to take on the fastest MINI ever made, this is it. Especially the entry-level Cup model, which forgoes luxuries and, more importantly, gets a stiffer suspension set-up and a proper mechanical limited-slip differential.

This version is also a substantial £3,545 cheaper than the MINI, at £25,245. However, while it has less kit than the standard car, the Megane Cup is still no lightweight. For instance, unlike in the MINI, you still get a rear seat and a fully enclosed boot.

As a result, it trails its rival when it comes to special kit and racy looks. Still, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the Renault’s appearance. The rakish body is complemented by grille treatment that takes its inspiration from a Formula One front wing, while flared wheelarch extensions and a large centre exhaust finish the look.

Inside, there’s obviously a lot more space and you can squeeze three adults in the back. As in the MINI, the Recaro driver’s seat is supportive and comfortable, while material quality is reasonable throughout the cabin and the yellow seatbelts add a fun flourish.

Still, the most crucial battleground in this test is the driving experience – and the Renault doesn’t disappoint. Turn into a corner and the steering response is instant and very positive, while on the road the grip on offer is virtually unbreakable. At the track, traction isn’t quite as good as the MINI’s, but despite its weight and larger size, body control is very impressive.

Trouble is, the Megane isn’t as adjustable on the limit – and doesn’t feel as nimble or alive – as the MINI, which features hi-tech suspension and a more focused set-up. And while the Renault’s ride isn’t as unforgiving, it’s simply too firm for comfortable day-to-day use. On the plus side, the straight-line performance is superb – the 2.0-litre turbo engine produces 360Nm of torque at just 3,000rpm, so in-gear punch is as strong as the lighter MINI’s.

The engine and exhaust note aren’t quite as hard-edged as the GP’s, but the Renault still sounds great. A snappy gearshift and strong brakes wrap up an excellent dynamic package, while the standard kit tally includes cruise control, LED daytime running lights and rear parking sensors.

Even better, despite slightly higher 174g/km emissions, the Cup is a cheaper company car, on account of its lower price, and Renault’s 4+ aftersales package delivers free servicing for four years – even the MINI’s tlc pre-paid servicing deal can’t match that. Yet it’s the Cup’s talent as a driver’s car that will decide whether it wins this most focused road test.

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