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What makes a Renault Sport Mégane? It’s one of those cars that has all the critics raving and half the punters wondering what they’re banging on about. It’s a valid query.
To be fair, we couldn’t tell you why an obscure European short film might scoop an oscar out from under the feet of Christopher Nolan’s latest billion-dollar masterpiece, but such is the nature of the critics choice.
Take a Meg out for a spirited jaunt a virgin to the offerings of its rivals and you’ll definitely come back with a smile on your face. However, it’s when you take it out with rival drives fresh in your mind that the finely-measured nature of a good fast Mégane gets under your skin. Every input and commensurate response of the car forms the distinct impression in your mind that this thing wasn’t hashed out by engineers under the command of businessmen and a deadline by which to bring a profit-puller to market. Instead, an enthusiast, like you or us, with the simple goal of making himself something that’s as good to drive as possible.
It’s somehow always shone even in the face of some of the finest entries the segment has ever seen. So what makes the Renault Sport Mégane such a tonic and so daunting a dynasty for the new one to live up to?
Excellent base underpinning
Look at any critically acclaimed conventional car that gets the sporty treatment and you’ll soon realise it’s not all arches, stiff suspension, a rorty engine and an R badge. The basis has to have inherent excellence to dice with the very best. As such Clios and Méganes of old all sport a playful chassis character that roars into life given a sprinkling of Renault Sport magic. Its enjoyability is what makes you want to defeat the ridiculously grippy Trofeo R tyres that came on a Trophy R. Its capability is why you can.
A pucker parts bin draft
The right gear can range from a nicely calibrated limited-slip diff to thousands of pounds worth of adjustable Öhlins dampers. The former made 2006’s 230 “R26” the massive improvement that it was, the latter gave the already superb 275 the body control and feel previously the preserve of Porsches with build-number plaques. Renault Sport knew how to move things along in the most satisfying but not necessarily most conventional sense. We're hoping for more of the same with the new one's 4CONTROL rear steer system.
A hardcore singularity of purpose
This applies to all of them on varying levels. While the R26 and 250 aren’t the be-all track weapon versions, they have that feeling of purpose coursing through them. The wicked Öhlins dampers and Trofeo R tyres of the aforementioned Trophy R and the plexiglass windows, carbon bonnet and R888 tyres of the R26R only serve as a payoff for the intent that you can feel ready-baked in the “cooking” Renault Sport versions. Nothing takes good old-fashioned mechanical grip and driver feel to the level that these do. What’s the point of “genuine aero” and a spine-crushing ride if it’s all going to ground through Contisports?
The "X" factor
We know, what a cliche. Yawn! Somehow, though, it all ties together into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a feeling normally the preserve of the most precisely honed sports and supercars but fast Megs – especially later-life kitted out versions – always seemed to cultivate that special skunkworks feeling. It’s like they’d somehow escaped from one of Andreas Preuninger’s Nürburgring development garages.
Does the new one have that same enthusiast-developed feeling? You’ll have to read our first drive to find out. We get the impression it has a slightly more in-house dulled-down feeling to it but the core value of fun remains.
Yes Type Rs have always shifted better and had livelier engines, yes Golf GTIs have always been the more sensible all-around package and yes the Focus RS has always been the headline grabber. Even in the face of all that excellence the Meg somehow gets under your skin and you can't really get it across to someone without them experiencing it for themselves.
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