First impressions: can’t beat ’em sometimes. Like when you look inside the Megane Trophy-R and see the race seats with their adjustable aluminium runners and wild red harnesses.
But look again, and second impressions start to kick in. This is a pretty bare-bones little gadget, especially at the advertised price of all but $62,000.
It’s all about appeasing the gods of power-to-weight, so there’s no sat-nav, no reversing camera, no ashtray, no climate control (in fact, no air-con at all) and not even a radio for crying out loud. But don’t fret, the radio and air-con are delete options, so you can have them in your R just for asking.
On the other hand, you do get a suede tiller and cruise control, but you’ll soon discover that the shifter obscures the starter button and the other switchgear is all over the shop like a madman’s breakfast.
But to hell with that; here is a car that will match anything for race pace at its own price-point – and most of anything else at any price. The 201kW are delivered in modern turbocharged form, with precious little lag, huge mid-range and with a noise that sounds like a Hoover on ’roids.
The real magic of the Trophy-R, however, is the clever electronic front diff which gives the thing power-down that most cars – even rear-drivers – will never match. You can get into the power so much earlier than you thought possible that it takes a few laps to actually recalibrate your brain and work out what this little frawg can do.
And it’s not just power-down – there’s a stunning amount of corner grip and, therefore, corner speed to be had. So chasing the Megane down a twisty road is not going to be easy, even in some big-dollar fast cars.
And the rest of the deal makes it all feel like a racecar, too. Not all our judges liked the gearshift, but I loved it. It reminds me of those old-school, exposed-mechanism shifters that you used to see in some racers, and it even replicates the metallic-clang sound of that same tech. The brakes are sharp and never give up, and the steering is pin-sharp accurate, talkative and alive in your hands.
The Trophy is fitted with conventional retractable seatbelts, but I reckon I’d use the harnesses every time, just for the sense of occasion they bring to the deal. And that’s a large part of the magic of this car: every drive is going to be an occasion. It’s too sharp, too fast and too much fun to be any other way.
Engine: 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo Power: 201kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 360Nm @ 3000rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Brakes: 340mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 290mm solid discs, single-piston calipers
Suspension: struts, A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Wheels: 19 x 8.25-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 235/35 ZR19 (f/r) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
0-100km/h: 5.80sec (9th)
0-400m: 13.90sec @ 170.02km/h (9th)
Lap Time: 1:38.3sec (6th)
Dylan Campbell: 5th
“That feeling that you just want to keep doing laps – that’s this car. It’s something special”
David Morley: 3RD
“To be frank, didn’t like the Megane RS much at first. But this one I love”
Scott Newman: 4th
“Is this the best front-driver ever? If it’s not, it’s right up there. Compromised, but worth it”
Tim Robson: 8th
“Predictable, lively, flattering and easy to punt with rewards there for the taking”
Warren Luff: 5th
“For the ultimate front-drive hot hatch, nothing comes close. Even put big rear-drive V8s to shame”