We’re in a golden age of the hot hatch. High performance for those who need a family car but want excitement.
In fact, I’d go further and say we’ve never had it so good.
The early hot hatches – like the original Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI – were brilliant cars but they weren’t as well made as today’s.
They got rusty, didn’t stand up to a crash as well, and didn’t have ABS or air bags.
I drove them all when they were new, but even through my rose-tinted specs they’re not as good as today’s versions – like the Ford Fiesta ST and the Renault Megane RS, the new version of which was launched last year.
It was available from launch with a normal chassis and the option of a more sporty and focused ‘Cup’ one – but now there’s the 300 Trophy we’re testing today, with the choice of double-clutch automatic gearbox or a traditional six-speed manual box.
Renault sent us a manual perhaps presuming my grey hair probably means I’m an old school manual gearbox man. Partly correct, but twin-clutch and conventional automatic gearboxes are now so smooth and effective my preference is slowly changing.
The Megane RS 300 Trophy uses the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that’s fitted to the Alpine A110 and also to the normal Megane RS.
The difference is that the A110’s engine produces 250bhp, the Megane RS’s 275bhp and the 300 Trophy’s (as its name implies) 296bhp.
Torque has been increased to 310lb ft from 295lb ft but only on the dual-clutch gearbox version of the car.
The Trophy’s sprinting time from 0-62mph is 5.7 secs and the top speed an impressive if unusable 162mph.
The car is fitted with the Cup chassis as standard. It’s an uncompromising set-up with stiffer springs, anti-roll bars and dampers.
Also included is a Torsen limited-slip differential (standard Megane RS has an electronic diff). Standard tyres are Bridgestone Potenza S001 but you can order stickier S007 versions.
This is a car, after all, that many people will want to drive on racing circuits at a track day.
The Trophy’s ride won’t fast-track you to the nearest osteopath, but it is firm and can jar over poor surfaces.
The Megane RS and this special Trophy version are fitted with a four-wheel steering system which Renault calls 4CONTROL.
At high speeds the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction up to one degree, but at slow speeds the rear wheels are pointed in a contrary direction to the front wheels up to 37mph.
The idea behind this trickery is to sharpen up the way that the car turns into corners. It works, too.
And it’s even more effective in ‘Race’ setting in which the speed at which the four-wheel steering works this way is lifted to a 62mph maximum. You feel the effect both coming in and out of corners.
The ‘Race’ mode also sharpens the throttle response and gives you the fruitiest exhaust note provided by the Trophy’s bespoke bi-modal exhaust system.
The Renault Megane RS 300 Trophy, to trot out its full name, costs £31,835.
That’s quite a bit cheaper than its closest rivals, the Honda Civic Type R at £33,525 and the new Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR at £35,305.
Our car’s actual price creeps up by £1,500 as it has the optional Recaro racing-style bucket seats. I suspect buyers planning a visit to Silverstone or Brands Hatch will want these.
On public roads, this hatch is as brisk as any exotic supercar.
Its stiff suspension crashes over the worst bumps and ridges but it is by no means so harsh that it makes the car unpleasant on a long trip.
The 300 Trophy is more than practical enough to be a day to day family car – but your loved ones might balk at the stiff ride.
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo, 296bhp
Fuel consumption: 34.5mpg
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