Contemporary cars do things in a predictable, almost perfunctory manner. Which is not a bad thing. As automotive fiends we love to bang on about performance, charisma and soul. Yet when we drill down to the nuts and bolts of things, all we want from a car is for it to start every morning and ferry us around comfortably, quietly, frugally and affordably.
The standard these days is very high — and with the exception of certain products from the Chinese, perhaps — there is no such thing as a bad car. And as manufacturers start ramping up their use of modular platforms (Volkswagen is a good example), we buyers are effectively purchasing the same products, albeit in different dresses. Take the new Audi Q7, for example. What a bastion of refinement, capability and style. And it is underpinned by the very same foundation that will do duty in the next A4 and even the forthcoming Bentley Bentayga. For enthusiasts, this generic approach might be disappointing.
It is a bit like one of those underwhelming North Indian restaurants in Fordsburg offering slight variations of the same curry. So the Renault Sport Mégane RS 275 Trophy — this is the official name, anoraks will point out — was something of a refresher for the palate. There is a certain charm about its rawness. I know: the Mégane is a truly old piece of kit, launched in the same year Julius Malema was elected ANC Youth League president. And in regular guises it is not competitive in its segment, dominated by the thoroughly accomplished Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
But goodness! In this, the limited-edition Trophy guise, it offers an experience that its hot hatchback peers can only aspire to. It is a true encapsulation of all the sensations we love from the genre. First, there is the driving position. Unlike the Renault Sport Mégane RS Lux derivative with its overly wide chairs, the Trophy has racy Recaro seats. That means you sit snugly inside the car rather than atop it.
Then you have the booming back box, courtesy of the maestros at Akrapovic. Taking care of effective power-to-tarmac application is a mechanical limited-slip differential. Compared with that lacklustre Lux, power has been boosted from 195kW to 201kW while peak torque is rated at 360Nm. Sounds delicious, and the culmination of these additions is moreish indeed. Insert the dated-looking key card into its slot on the fascia, hit the start button and savour the promising, bass-filled idle tone. Serious straight-line kick awaits those who are not afraid to use that right foot. According to Renault, if you get it right, you can achieve a 0-100km/h time of six second flat. Hang on. The venerable Volkswagen Golf R will sprint to that speed a full second quicker when equipped with the well-sorted dual-clutch transmission. But getting to those three digits is a great deal more entertaining in the Mégane. Shoot off from first, slam it into second and the needle bounces on the red line of the tachometer — it sounds like those little popping seeds children play with during Diwali. Between shifts it clears its throat as a bronchitis patient would, before shoving you back onto a seemingly endless wave of grunt.
Any car has a point on the speedometer where progress seems to taper off. Yet the Trophy pulls with incredible resolve, making the prospect of hitting the highest number on the speedometer seem dangerously easy. Renault indicates a top speed of 255km/h. Check on YouTube and you will find an alarming number of videos showing the needle run all the way to 275km/h. We assume these were filmed from the safety of the dyno.
And the way it tucks into corners is remarkable too — this is easily one of the finest front-driving performance machines you can get. Blast it into a sharp corner with too much power and the Trophy stays faithful to your intended direction: no understeer or waywardness, just tons of grip. It is a real track weapon, but living with one could get tiring. The Trophy is one of those cars without an off switch: it always implores you to play. Which is probably why you will end up opting for that modern, more refined jack of all trades from Volkswagen, the Golf GTI. When the editor of IgnitionLive print asked what I thought of the Trophy, my response was that it was “too much fun” — and this is probably not something you would readily say of the Teutonic counterpart. Would I buy one? New, probably not, bearing in mind aspects like depreciation. But as a pre-owned buy? Let’s just say the Trophy is good enough to make me forget my last experience as a Renault owner…
Engine: 1998cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 201kW at 5 500rpm
Torque: 360Nm between 3 000rpm and 5 000r pm
0-100km/h: 6.0 seconds
Top speed: 255km/h
Fuel consumption: 7.5l/ 100km
Price: R449 900