‘Our’ Renault Megane RS300 Trophy is a car that gets about. It’s had a series of custodians over our few months with it, and at this point, a good chunk of the CT team has had a go. Even with wildly differing tastes in cars, however, one piece of feedback is universal: everyone hates the ride. And there’s nothing that can be done about the Trophy’s gravest of misgivings.
Differentiating itself from pretty much every other hot hatch out there, the Megane Renault Sport doesn’t have adaptive dampers. You have to decide how firm you want it on the configurator, picking either the standard Sport option or the harder Cup chassis.
The Cup option has long been the ‘no brainer’. For years it’s been bundled with a limited-slip differential - among other extra bits and pieces - and you want that LSD, don’t you? The Trophy is now the ‘no brainer of the no brainer’, with various RS280 options - Cup pack included - fitted as standard. Stick them on the 280, and you’d end up spending more despite having less power and a less responsive turbocharger.
This means astute hot Megane buyers will only be choosing between two versions of the car - the 280 with the Sport chassis, or the Trophy. But, given our gripes about the brutally firm, always busy ride of the Trophy, is the Sport really the solution, given its ‘missing’ limited-slip differential?
276bhp is a lot of power to shove through the front wheels of a car via an open-diff, but in the RS Sport, it isn’t - as I’d initially feared - a recipe for disaster. Granted, the first time I drove it was on a wet track, where straight-line acceleration led to massive amounts of wheelspin, and committed cornering to understeer.
But during my comparison laps in the Trophy, it didn’t really fare any better. In fact, the front-end felt more wayward, with the steering wheel threatening to be wrenched from your hands as it yawed violently. The extra response and power from the 296bhp 1.8-litre inline-four wasn’t immediately obvious, either.
With our sodden Great Britain drying out a few days later, differences started to emerge. Where the Trophy gives that LSD-equipped, FWD hot hatch feeling of infinite traction, the Sport reaches the end of its tether much sooner.
But here’s the thing: getting to that point takes some doing. There’s a lot of capability in the chassis, and even though you switch from bespoke Bridgestone Potenza 007s to off-the-shelf Continental Sport Contact 6s, the grip deficit isn’t massive. I’d prefer to have the LSD, but its omission here isn’t the blow you might expect.
And yes, the ride. Praise be, there’s considerably more compliance in the Sport’s damping, without it being soft enough to give an excess of body roll. This is how you do a proper ride and handling balance. It’s helped too by the combination of 18-inch wheels and fatter sidewalls - the Bridgestones, on the other hand, look like they’ve been painted on to the edges of the Trophy’s 19s.
It’s not just about comfort. Take the RS Sport on a typically British (i.e. completely annihilated) British B-road, and it’ll flow beautifully with the broken, undulating tarmac. The Trophy, on the other hand, will thump its way over such a highway while feeling nervous and flighty. And exciting, admittedly, but you soon tire of the way the Trophy and the RS280 Cup handle themselves in this kind of environment.
You still get ‘4Control’ rear-wheel steering in the Sport, which I’m still not a fan of. With the calmer front end, what the rear is up to becomes much more predictable, but there’s still something unnatural about the way it shifts around the back of the car during hard cornering. A drive in the 4Control-less Trophy R in the same week as our RS Sport test merely reinforced my view that it’s just not worth having.
The RS Sport is easily the fast Mégane I’d have, and the one I recommend. But the C-segment hot hatch of choice? That it isn’t; it’s a good few places down the pecking order. A VW Golf GTI 7.5 is a better all-round prospect (it’ll be the same for the GTI 8, we’ve no doubt), a Honda Civic Type R is more exciting, and the Hyundai i30 N is a nice mix of both.
The Mégane is lacking a USP. It’s also marked down for its humdrum cabin and naff infotainment system, which we had mobile connectivity issues with.
It’s a shame to see Renault Sport slip off the pace like this when for so long the sub-brand has been the one to beat in terms of driver appeal. And particularly because the right ingredients are there - an RS Sport with an LSD and a 4Control delete would be an intriguing beast.
For now, though, we can only dream. The full potential of the latest RS Megane is possible but unrealised, away from the hyper-expensive, super-limited Trophy-R. But for now, the Sport is the closest thing.