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Tested: Renault's Megane Cup

2010-12-19 09:03

CUP RUNNETH OVER: Gone is the F1 team nomenclature of its R26 predecessor. This hot Megane is a Cup (winner), plain and simple.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Model Megane Cup
Engine 2l turbo
Power 184kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque 340Nm @ 3 000r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 6.1 sec
Top Speed 250km/h
Tyres 235/35 R19
Service Plan five-year/100 000km
Warranty five-year/150 000km
Price R399 900
Rivals Audi S3, Ford Focus RS, BMW 135i

Lance Branquinho

Renault’s Megane, France’s Golf alternative, has always been a rather curious car.

It's never quite managed to happen upon the same premium formula as its German competitor yet along the way there have been some very fine cars sporting the Megane nameplate.

The original Megane coupe, which retailed in SA in the late 1990's, was at that time one of the most stylish cars you could buy. Then came Renault’s second-generation Megane with its radical (and polarising) Bauhaus architectural design details, launched back in 2002. Back then few casual observers could have predicted it would deliver one of the greatest hot hatches of all time as part of its product life cycle.

The car in question was, of course, the rather bespoke and hand-built R26 assembled in Renault’s motorsport facility near Dieppe. Conceived and marketed to (properly) celebrate Fernando Alonso’s F1 Drivers' World championships with Renault, the R26, despite not being the fastest or most sophisticated car in its class, was simply the most accomplished three-door front-wheel drive hot hatch available at the time.

Time waits for no man (or machine), though, and there is now a third-generation Megane, garnished with two hot hatch versions – the RS Sport and Cup.

Unfortunately, Ford’s Focus RS, with its sophisticated Quaife differential and appropriately boosted in-line five-cylinder engine, has statistically supplanted the Megane RS by being the most powerful front-wheel drive hatchback in history. The question is whether the French car, in its headline Cup trim, is still a hot hatch cause célèbre for all the right reasons?


Stylish was an adjective not readily bestowed upon the Cup’s R26 predecessor.

The new car, which retains the R26’s three-door only configuration, harks back to the original Megane coupe for design inspiration and is all the better for it. Take in the shape and it is very much more coupe than hatch in terms or proportion and styling fluidity. Gone are the boy-racer side graphics and multispoke anthracite wheels of the R26, replaced by subtle badging and delicately styled 19" alloys.

Distinguishing the Cup from its less dynamically focused siblings are a more generous front air-intake (framed by a characteristic RS gloss finish) framed by outer-edge LEDs and extended wheel arches fleshing out the series Megane proportions. Around the rear a centre-mounted exhaust and air-flow management friendly diffuser/lip-spoiler combination to round-off the RS styling package.

Gauged in its totality, the Megane Cup’s design represents exactly what a French car should always be – slightly odd, yet distinctive. I think, measured against its competitors, it really is the only hot hatch (bar perhaps Audi’s rather aged S3) you could park in the driveway at an embassy dinner party and not have the valet take it around the back to hide.

DRIVING ENVIROMENT: Ergonomics not the best and the presence of a girdle operated parking brake take up valuable stowage for miscellaneous items in the centre console. Driving position is beyond perfect though, which is all that counts, really …

Access the cabin through one of its oversized coupe-profile doors (which don't hinge-set open at intermediate apertures when parked on a gradient) and the interior is very much standard Megane fare.

The Cup’s performance billing adds manually adjustable Recaro bucket seats, some yellow centre-rim stitching on the steering wheel, a Renaultsport instrument stack (with an off-yellow tachometer) and, well, that’s about it.

Comfort and convenience equipment levels are fair (aircon, daytime running lights, keyless entry and a credible level of device/phone convergence), yet the Cup stays true to its frustrated racer sub-text by foregoing the Sport’s TomTom Carminat satnav for a digital lap timer function. Nice.

After years of driving French cars I still find their ergonomics (especially Renault’s fixed-position steering column satellite control pad) to be unfathomable. Beyond the frustration of trying to select an audio source with a satellite control interface which is hidden from your field of vision behind the steering wheel, the Cup’s greatest ergonomic faux pas is its three-quarter rearview visibility, of which there is very little.

Due to its coupe shell and those oversized doors (without which rear passenger access would be impossible) the Cup’s C pillar is rather substantial. Therefore, no matter what you do in terms of adjusting its exernal or internal mirrors, spotting a trailing Land Cruiser 200 in your blind spot is nearly impossible.

These trifling ergonomic foibles are perhaps made up for by the Recaro bucket seats. Settling into the (very) accommodating driving seat, which adjusts down to a proper dynamic driving position for people 1.8m and taller (unlike Ford’s Focus RS), the Cup’s purpose becomes very much evident – this is a car for driving, not connecting iTunes.


Renault is the undisputed premium hot-hatch brand. No single manufacturer has more hot-hatch classics (in various sizes and guises) to its credit. The company’s Dieppe-based Renaultsport centre assembles the Cup and as such it is very much a hand-built, low-volume product.

The car coaxes a substantial 184kW and 340Nm from its two-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine, 15kW and 30Nm more than the previous R26. It weighs 1387kg (less than Ford’s RS) so unsurprisingly outruns it in a 1000m sprint at 25.7sec  against 26.2.

There is only one transmission on offer – a six-speed manual – and traction security around the front axle is managed by a simple mechanical limited-slip differenti instead an ABS-modulated open-differential - the latter the vogue method of quelling understeer in powerful front-drive cars.  


Renaultsport’s products have always majored on dynamic harmony. Powertrain, brakes and suspension are all impeccably engineered to work in concord, rendering the most engaging driving experience imaginable.

SHOW STOPPERS: Despite the two-litre turbo engine’s lack of acoustic drama it does endow the Megane RS with an indecent turn of speed. Managing the momentum safety margin are these Brembo brakes which are more than up to the task …

The Megane Cup stays true to this tradition. Wheel oscillation is managed by customised shock-absorbers and its coil springs are 35% stiffer up front and 38% at the rear. Its brake rotors are massive grooved discs, 340mm front and 280mm rear - as large as anything in the class - clamped by red Brembo callipers.  

Beyond the trick shocks, toughened suspension components and near competition-spec brakes is an aspect of the Cup’s specification that appears wholly out of place – its rear suspension. While all its competitors have independent rear suspension (mostly of the multi-link variety) the Cup, amazingly, makes do with an old-fashioned, easy to assemble and cheap to fit torsion beam - very much entry-level tech.

Is this single, cost-effective, engineering oversight the undoing of what could possibly be the best Renaultsport hot hatch yet? Well, not quite. Somehow the technical staff at Dieppe have managed to do the unthinkable and make an overpowered front-drive hot hatch with beam rear suspension handle with aplomb.
Hunkered down low behind the helm – those Recaro bucket seats are hinged 20mm lower than before, the driving position near perfect – the Cup, at low speed, initially exhibits typical Renaultsport foibles. The clutch has a late take-up and nasty little kick-action, which makes driving in traffic a chore and multipoint manoeuvres in a crowded car park automotive purgatory.


Heading out of a congested urban driving environment the Cup immediately feels more at ease.

The ride is firm, as one would expect with its 20mm suspension drop and track-biased shocks, and the electrically geared steering has virtually no feel. Renaultsport’s engineers have, allegedly, altered the steering system’s algorithms to generate optimal counterweight and sharpness, and to this end they have succeeded.

GRAPHICS GONE: No more F1 team graphics and unhappy rear cubist glasshouse styling of the R26; instead, the graceful lines of the new Cup…

A point on the steering: almost no modern cars with an electric steering can have tangible road surface/front-wheel interface feedback – this, unfortunately, is a given. If there is some weight to the steering and it is quick enough then, at least at speed, you can still position the car with confidence – and confidence is something the Cup inspires.

Initially I found the Cup's two-litre turbo lacked verve at low speed. Running a twin-scroll (instead of variable vane) turbocharger, the Cup's forced induction may ultimately be good at extracting power but it's laggy in terms of delivery.

On more than one occasion I was caught in third gear, instead of second, and found the forced-induction four had almost no response to throttle input. That said, once the 3000rpm peak torque threshold is breached, thrust is delivered in abundance. To most enthusiasts this classic rubber-band turbo trait (though undersirable to most modern engineers) will be part of the Cup's driving appeal.

In my experience it was certainly grin-inducing enough to make me forget about the low-speed sloth.

Along with turbo lag, the Megane Cup disappointingly lacks acoustic drama across almost its entire operating range too.

I’ve never been keen on the Renaultsport transmissions and the Cup’s six-speed is hardly a joy to navigate across the H-gate from left-to-right or back again. Despite this, the near-perfect driving position and chassis balance quickly wins one over.

As urgent as the 184kW turbo makes the Cup feel in a straight line (and it is very quick, not much slower than the more powerful, and heavier, Focus RS in fact), you can decelerate time and time again with the utmost confidence thanks to those huge Brembo brakes before the remaining momentum is converted with nonchalance to any directional change you please.

The Cup rides on 19" rims (as opposed to the RS Sport’s 18") shod with Continental CSC5 rubber and consequently grip is virtually unbreakable. Even more impressive is how seamlessly the mechanical limited-slip differential operates, geared to avoid affecting low-speed agility and parking convenience, whilst still ensuring the Cup delivers full-throttle performance with no trace of torque steer. The steering wheel does tug and writhe a little at times but this is easily absorbed by small steering corrections.

The Cup’s balance of dynamic harmony is outstanding. Granted, the steering is numb (if you graduated to hot-hatch consciousness with a Mk.2 GTi, you’d call its steering feedback dead, no quibble) but there is enough counter-weight when you change direction at speed to prevent ill-judged and  overzealous input.  

As a result, the Cup can be driven alarmingly close to its limit neatly and with a satisfying level of driver engagement, little drama and nearly no fear of consequence. The Cup’s planted rear-wheel posture, even when severely provoked when abruptly backing-off the power mid-corner, goes against everything you’ve ever learned about the superiority of multi-link rear suspension over torsion beam.


Vastly more attractive than its processor, the Megane Cup has kept the R26’s best dynamic virtues and cloaked them in a distinct coupe-like profile that still has a remnant of hatchback practicality. If you don't buy into the practicality argument (and all hot hatches must retain their utility coefficient or be classed "coupes"), I managed to get two large-framed mountain bikes in the back for an early weekend morning ride, so...

Although some of the R26’s bugbears remain (the uninspiring gearshift and the all-or-nothing clutch/throttle interplay) the Cup’s managed to amplify the Renaultsport’s headline offering’s driver appeal to a level I did not think possible.

In terms of sheer drama, the Focus RS remains the ultimate hot hatch, yet you cannot buy one in South African any more as the allocation has been sold. In terms of real-world driveability and point-to-point pace, the Cup is as quick as the RS and its overall driving appeal is greatly enhanced by a vastly superior driving position – especially if you're tall.

It may sound like sacrilege but this latest line of Renault’s hot hatch heritage is probably a superior drive to Ford’s Focus RS, an amazing achievement for a car without independent rear-suspension. The Renault Megane Cup is fresh proof that they put something very special in the coffee and croissants at Renaultsport’s Dieppe factory.

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