As a brand, Renault hasn’t been the most popular choice when it comes to picking a mass market car. This is no fault of Renault’s as the brand has been on the back burner for some time; they have only recently begun breaking back into the more common passenger car segments. But one thing that Renault has maintained since the mid-2000s is its dominance in the hot hatch market, courtesy of their Renault Sport sub brand.
Renault Sport has earned a rather fearsome reputation for itself with the products it has developed over the last few decades. The Clio R.S. was extremely popular in Europe through its many iterations, and the Megane R.S. models were the quickest front wheel drive cars around the Nurburgring until only recently. While there are many hot hatch options available to the performance car enthusiast, one mention of the Megane R.S. usually makes the others seem a little tame in comparison. Packing a 2.0-litre turbocharged motor with a good 265 horses and a 6-speed manual gearbox, it is the most purist oriented option on the market.
For years the Megane was only offered in Cup spec, outfitted with quite nearly all of the Renault Sport components available for the car. The Cup suspension setup was stiffer (than the standard models only available overseas), and a limited slip differential really helped to put the power down when hauling out of corners. Even the slim (and surprisingly comfortable) bucket seats came as standard. The most current version of the Cup model also comes with the R.S. Monitor 2.0, a technological evolution of the first generation with a full colour display.
More recently, Renault started offering a Sport variant as well. On paper it has the same performance specifications, although it has none of the goodies that the Cup had as standard. Why then would anybody even consider a Sport over a Cup? We’ve boiled it down to a few key points.
The Megane R.S. 265 Sport manages to sneak in at just under RM 200,000 (on the road, without insurance), which is roughly RM 30,000 cheaper than the better equipped Cup model. For some, this kind of price gap makes all the difference between a “go for it” and a “hell no”, and the money saved could go towards the purchase of daily driver (or a nice drift toy like a Toyota KE70). But even if you chose to pocket the savings, you could then opt to spend it on some upgrades to bridge the gap between the Sport and Cup.
The Inherent Handling Ability
Just because the Sport doesn’t come with the stiffer Cup suspension, it doesn’t necessarily mean the car lacks the handling prowess that Renault Sport models are known for. It still has an excellent set of springs and dampers that provide enough body control for cornering confidence. Back off the throttle and the car still rotates in a neat and predictable manner, just as a hot hatch should. The front geometry of the Sport still comes with that cleverly designed knuckle to eliminate all but the slightest torque steer- something most other hot hatches deal with through electronic compensation in the steering system.
This is the strongest argument for the Sport. It may not be as tricked out as the more expensive Cup, but it is worth remembering that a good number of R.S. 265 owners who track their vehicles will still look towards aftermarket performance parts in order to sharpen up their cars. If you’re smart with how you spend the money, you can surpass the specifications of the Cup. A single SparcoClubsport seat offers excellent support and will run you a little under RM 2,000 depending on the season. If you can’t afford the five digit pricetag of a set of Ohlins, there are a number of local suspension outfits that can get the job done; Radical Dynamic Solutions in Shah Alam can offer an excellent bespoke setup, calling on their experience in track racing and rally. Even the limited slip differential, arguably a front-wheel drive car’s most effective upgrade, can be purchased aftermarket from suppliers like Quaife or GKN.
The powertrain in the Sport variant is exactly the same as the Cup. This means that once you put the stability control in Sport (or, for a good time, turn it off completely), you have access to all 265 horses and the much fatter torque band that distinguished the 250 from the 265. The R.S. Monitor in the Sport is the older monochrome variant, but it still comes with the throttle map adjustment feature which allows you to adjust the sensitivity and response of the throttle pedal- an invaluable tool when fighting your way through some damp twists and turns.
The Learning Experience
One of the hardest things to express to a budding performance car driver is the need to learn and understand a car properly. This is why we’re advocates of starting on a simpler, less powerful car and working your way up to something properly quick. But even if you choose to skip ahead to the fast stuff, the Sport offers the unique experiences of wrangling the car without a limited slip differential and dealing with slightly slower weight transfer. In the former case, this will help to hone your throttle control and teach you to be patient with applying power as you approach the exit of a corner. In the latter case, it will teach you to maximize weight transfer through steering and braking techniques. Mastering these techniques will help you get the most out of your potential future upgrades as well.
The Sheer Fun of it
The Megane R.S. 265 Sport is still an amazing amount of fun when you take it out on a twisty back road. It handles each corner with enthusiasm, turning in with precision and offering adjustability mid corner through the throttle. Sure- if you’re indiscriminate with the accelerator and punch it a little too early it will spin up an inside wheel without hesitation. But these moments are few and far between, and only with the most aggressive track driving will you truly feel the need for a limited slip differential. The electronic safety systems are entirely defeatable, meaning that whatever happens to the car is a direct result of your actions. Even the noise- the sheer induction noise of the turbocharger, punctuated with pops and crackle on the overrun- these are things that are missing (or not nearly as visceral) in other hot hatchbacks.
There will be those who complain about its shortcomings, and there will be those who will work to overcome them- whether it’s through bettering themselves as a driver, or through intensive modification. If you’re the kind of person that prefers a car that has everything you need from the moment you leave the showroom, then the Cup model is the better choice. But if you find joy in building a car and progressing with it, then the Sport model will be a much more rewarding experience.