So as promised, today I’m going to tell you about my little jaunt to Leicestershire to try out Renault’s range of hot hatches, the progeny of the company’s Renaultsport division. Renault had arranged this driving day to show off a number of special editions, most notably the Clio RS Silverstone edition and the Mégane RS 265 Trophy, to journalists. The latter car recently won an accolade that has been oft-quoted in the motoring press, but it bears repeating here. Ready? It is the fastest ever front-wheel drive production car to lap the Nürburgring. Well, the roads around Lutterworth would have to do for little old me.
However, before I waded into battle with the Mégane, I thought that I should ease myself in with the Clio Silverstone. I’d wanted to drive a Clio RS of any kind for a long time. I was very close to buying one instead of my Mk V Golf GTI after reading review upon review which waxed lyrical about the car’s virtues. What ultimately stopped me getting the Clio was the car’s dimensions, which I deemed a little too small for my purposes, and the less than fantastic fuel consumption. But I was still aching to give it a go, and it was…..awesome! Anthropomorphic comparisons are over-used in car journalism, but to equate the car to an excited terrier is pretty spot on. The Clio’s 200 bhp 2.0l engine is naturally aspirated, so there’s no turbo-lag to contend with as there is on my Golf, and unlike the Mégane, the car doesn’t feature anything as sophisticated as a limited slip differential. Instead you simply harry it into the bends and hang on. Plough into the corner with too much speed and you can brake and make corrections mid-turn without being pitched off the road and into nearby foliage. Stick the power on before the apex, and it will try its very hardest to hold onto the road for you and pull through the corner. It is forgiving – a Catholic priest of a terrier, if you will. What that means is that an unskilled driver, such as my good self, can drive with said lack of skill and still go quite fast. The brakes are fantastic, and the Recaro seats are beautifully supportive. Which is a good thing, because the ride on the Cup chassis that the Silverstone employs is pretty crashy – it feels like the car has been set up precisely to lap Silverstone, rather than tackle the little B-roads I found around Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. I love the Clio because it is such an honest little car. It always feels like it’s on your side, like it’s your mate, egging you on to go faster and try harder. And that’s pretty much exactly what you want out of your hot hatch.
Then it was onto the Mégane. If you think that I’m being unduly reverential towards the Mégane, you should try sidling up to one. It’s quite a sinister looking thing, overt in its claims to being a serious sporting contender. Observe the red brake callipers. Observe the black Renaultsport grill and vents, and the striking yellow paint job. The car is considered in the same category as the Golf GTI, and yet getting into one of those never really quickens your pulse. Here it does. In the driver’s seat, you’re placed low down, far lower than in the Clio, which feels like a van in comparison. The cabin is ominously dark too, the light blocked out by the sloping C-pillars which reduce rear ¾ visibility to…..well, nothing. No matter though. Belt up the horrible yellow seat belts, reminiscent of an 80s city boy’s braces, start the engine and we’re off. You can feel the difference between the Clio and the Mégane straight away. The Mégane has the same 2.0l engine as the Clio, but Renault have fitted a shrieking turbo charger and extracted an extra 65hp out of it. So that’s 265bhp in a front-wheel drive car. That’s a lot of horsies to be running through the same wheels that steer – I can see why Renault put in that diff…..
Remember how I drove the Clio, throwing it at corners with reckless abandon? Do that in the Mégane and you’ll be eating privet hedge for a month. With the extra horsepower and the diff in the Mégane, you have to drive the car properly – it’s a far more sophisticated affair compared to the Clio, and it really does reward the ‘slow in, fast out’ approach. Fail to drive like that and the diff won’t hook up, leaving you torque-steering all the way to Loughborough! But once you understand this and get into a rhythm with the car, you realise that it really is an excellent tool for going fast. You start going through corners like a champion, and on the straight bits it eats up the road, the turbo barking elatedly at you all the way. To understand how fast the car is in the hands of proper drivers, a Porsche Cayman S went round the Nürburgring in the hands of the great Walter Röhrl in 8.04. The Mégane did it in 8.07. Think about that for a minute and you realise that that really is some feat. The Mégane is a fabulous car, one that would excite you day in and day out on Britain’s back roads. It’s not as compliant or as playful as the Clio, but any serious driver would find it far more rewarding.
I drove other cars that day, including Renault’s new electric van, which was a hoot, but the Clio and the Mégane really stood out. They certainly stood out more than the Clio Gordini diesel I drove, which should be ashamed of itself for its blatant sullying of the Gordini name. All in all, ‘twas a fine day out for an aspiring motoring journalist, and I feel duty-bound to thank the good people at Renault who looked after me that day – even though they won’t read this…..