I must be the only person in the civilised world not to have seen one of the Harry Potter films. I haven’t even read any of the books.
Until now, this has never caused me any real problems. In fact, it’s only dinner parties where my lack of Potter knowledge has caused any real concern. As the subject invariably comes around to the latest ‘soopa-doopa’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Half-Pint movie, I’m forced to either miss 20 minutes of riveting conversation or nod my head gormlessly in a manner that would do John Redwood proud at a Welsh National Assembly meeting.
From what I gather, Harry Potter is a student wizard who spends most of his time learning how to do wizard things at the Hogwarts school of wizardry things. When he’s not picking up hints from Paul Daniels and David Copperfield, he likes to fly around the countryside in a Ford Anglia with his two friends, Ron and Hermione. Oh, and Robbie Coltrane features somewhere, but I’m not sure if he’s a goodie or a baddie. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if he was a goodie or a baddie in the James Bond films.
But anyway, back to Potter. Were it not for the fact that at some point in the future, my two small children will discover Harry Potter, I think I could spend my remaining days on this planet without needing to know anything more about him. Or it.
But then I spent a day in the company of some Renaultsport cars and everything changed. Surely witchcraft and wizardry must be responsible for the Renaultsport Twingo, Clio and Mégane? Rather than being a fictional place of education, perhaps Hogwarts does exist? How else would people learn how to take a trio of humdrum, utilitarian hatchbacks and magically transform them into three of the finest B-road toys I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving? The engineers at Renaultsport aren’t so much magicians as miracle workers.
I’ve waited a long time to spend some quality time with the Renaultsport range. I had a brief foray with a Twingo earlier in the year and a few laps of a track in a Mégane, but nothing to base a conclusive review upon. So when I was invited to a ‘roadshow’ at the majestic Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire, I didn’t need much persuasion.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the teachers at Hogwarts didn’t drive around in Renaultsport cars. Don’t let that flying Ford Anglia deceive you. After a hard day of wizardry, the teachers like nothing more than to climb into their hot Renaults to let off steam on the B3081.
The evidence is there, even down to the range hierarchy. For the new students, there’s the primary school Twingo. The perfect introduction to Renaultsport – a small, buzzy city car with a 1.6 litre normally aspirated engine. For the more mature, there’s the secondary school Clio. More grown up than the Twingo, yet still retaining the character and spirit of the little car. Finally, once graduated, students are free to explore the Mégane. The all singing, all dancing 2.0 litre turbocharged hatchback.
Common sense would suggest starting with the Twingo and working up to the Mégane. But this is PetrolBlog, so logic went out of the window and I started with the Mégane.
I was driving the range topping Renaultsport Mégane 265 Trophy, which at £27,820 plus options is the most expensive way to live the Renaultsport dream. It’s essentially a Mégane Cup (£24,020) with premium tyres, an engine remap and a host of additional equipment.
This means you’ll get 265hp (15bhp more than the standard car), the 10mm lowered Cup chassis, the Cup’s limited slip differential, Brembo brakes, 19″ Steev gloss black Speedline alloy wheels, Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres, fully adjustable Recaro seats, metallic paint as standard, Renaultsport Monitor and LED driving lights.
Only 50 Trophy Méganes will be available in the UK, so you’ll need to be quick.
Visually, the Mégane is just about perfect. It’s so obviously a Mégane, but at the same time looks so different from the standard car. The Trophy’s black 19″ Speedline alloys certainly help, as does the lowered ride height and centre mounted exhaust, but the overall effect is a purposeful yet discreet look. To my eyes, it looks best in Liquid Yellow rather than the test car’s Diamond Black, but as these are the only colours available, if you don’t like them, I’m afraid you’re stuck with the standard 250 or 250 Cup.
Inside, my first impression of the Mégane was one of disappointment. It’s a sea of grey plastic, not helped by a nasty looking radio/CD player and a horrid start/stop button. The numbered plaque on the centre console also looks like an afterthought, but then, to be fair, it is just that!
But the mood is lifted by a pair of glorious Recaro racing seats, wonderfully ‘Marmite’ yellow seat belts (which I love by the way) and a yellow rev counter. The things that stand out the most are the things that matter most to the driver. If only they had gone as far as producing a yellow start/stop button, you could argue that Renaultsport had just about pitched the interior detailing perfectly. If this was Hogwarts, I’d probably have to give the interior detailing a 9 out of 10 for effort!
Such details become irrelevant once out on the road. On roads that I have had no prior knowledge of, I soon became quite at home in the Mégane. It inspires so much confidence that you’re soon throwing it around corners. It helps when you know that the Mégane Trophy is the fastest front-wheel drive car ever to lap the Nürburgring. The lap time of 8 minutes 7.9 seconds shaved nine seconds off the previous lap record – held by the stripped out and slightly bonkers Mégane R26.R. Not bad for what is essentially the standard Mégane Cup with an extra 15bhp and some Bridgestone rubber.
Of course, a scorching lap of the ‘ring doesn’t necessarily translate into a car that’s suited to the British B-roads. At least it wouldn’t, had the Renaultsport magicians not been involved in the car’s development. The first word I wrote in my notebook after spending an hour behind the wheel of the Mégane Trophy was ‘sublime’. Then under the heading of ‘sublime’ I listed the steering, the brakes, the noise, the pace and the seats. Driving the Mégane Trophy is all encompassing. An immersive experience in which you feel part of the machine. It oozes soul and character, two things that can be lacking in even the most accomplished of drivers’ cars. I point to the SEAT Leon Cupra R as a reference point. A very good car with similar pace. But whilst the Leon left me cold, the Mégane Trophy left me wanting more. As I wrote as a footnote in my notebook, the Renaultsport Mégane 265 Trophy is the only car I’ve driven this year that I’d be happy to spend my own money on. It’s brilliant.
It’s not perfect. The steering could do with some more feel, there’s a hint of torque steer and the ride is a little on the firm side. But notice the use of the words ‘some’, ‘hint’ and ‘little’. I’m nitpicking here – the Mégane Trophy is one of the most accomplished drivers’ cars I’ve ever driven.
Whether you should choose it over the 250 Cup is a matter of opinion. The £3,800 premium represents tremendous value to me, but if you can do without the numbered plaque and additional toys, you might just want to consider a set of the excellent Bridgestone Potenzas and an ECU upgrade. Either way, the Renaultsport Mégane is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. A modern classic? You bet.
The Mégane’s certainly a tough act to follow, which didn’t bode well for the Renaultsport Clio 200 Silverstone GP. As with the Trophy, the Clio Silverstone GP is limited to just 50 cars in the UK and the price of £19,995 is over £3,500 more than the standard Clio Cup. For this, you get most of the options boxes ticked, plus special Mercury Silver paint, 17″ black Speedline alloys, Silverstone badging and a numbered plaque.
Like its big brother, the Renaultsport version of the Clio does little to disguise the humble origins on which it is based and yet it looks every inch the pocket road racer. The overall look is helped by the wide arches, lowered Cup suspension, wide track, black gloss rear diffuser with twin exhausts and black gloss front bumper. I used to think that Honda, specifically with their Type-R cars, were the past masters at creating visually arresting drivers’ cars from standard cars. But today, I think the baton needs to be passed on to the French. C’est Magnifique!
Also in keeping with the Mégane is the Clio’s disappointing interior. By the time you’ve found out where to put the key card, you’ve just about explored every inch of the dashboard, which once again is a sea of grey plastic, lifted by a pair of superb Recaro seats, a yellow rev counter and a yellow stitched leather steering wheel. But press the start/stop button and engage first gear and none of this matters.
At least it wouldn’t if the gear knob wasn’t so horrid. What’s wrong with a good old fashioned round knob – the kind you’d find in the Ford Puma or a Honda Type-R? Is it a coincidence that the special edition Clio ‘Raider’ comes with a wonderfully tactile round Renaultsport knob? I think not.
Talking of which, I also got to drive the £21,695 Clio Raider. Clearly a hark back to the 80s hero, the Renault 5 GT Turbo Raider, the Clio has a lot to live up to. The 5 Raider is somewhat of an icon and naming a Clio after it is a risky business. Things don’t exactly get off to a great start when you consider that the Clio isn’t available in ‘Raider blue’ and instead is available only in Stealth Grey or Diavolo Red matt paint.
But you do get a set of unique 18″ Interlagos alloys shod in 215/40 Brigestone Potenza RE050A rubber. Yes, the same brilliant tyres that you’ll find on the Mégane Trophy can also be found on the Clio Raider.
And there must be wizards at work at Bridgestone too, as the tyres just give the Raider the edge over the Silverstone. It’s splitting hairs really, as both Clios are such wonderful cars to drive, but even with the increased wheel size, the Raider just seems more fun to drive at the limit.
The Clio is more deliciously retro than the Mégane. In the Mégane, the turbocharger gives a more relaxed, a more refined driving experience, whilst the Clio relies on a 200hp normally aspirated 2.0 litre engine to provide its thrills. In a sector dominated by blown competitors, it’s a refreshing experience to drive a hot Clio. You need to cherish every moment with cars such as these as even the Clio’s normally aspirated days are numbered.
Both Clios are based on the already excellent Clio Cup and yet, even with the added equipment, they don’t feel overburdened with weight or excess. They are just terrific fun, regardless of the road or circumstances. It’s probably no coincidence that each time I drove a Clio I was late back. The Raider meant I was the last to have lunch and by the time I’d finished playing with the Silverstone (for the second time!), the good people of Renault were already loading the car transport. Oops. Still, it’s a sign of a great car when you simply don’t want to bring it back. Remember when, as a child, your Mum would call you in from the garden before bedtime? Your response of “just one more go, Mum“or “five more minutes, Mum” meant you were having too much fun. It’s the same in the Clio. You’ll constantly be late for work, late for meetings or late home if you buy one. It’s just the way it is.
To some, a normally aspirated engine that produces ‘just’ 200hp will be a turn off. But whilst the Clio may lack the headline grabbing horsepower figures of its turbocharged rivals, the engine always feels part of the overall package. It’s lively throughout the rev range, right up to the 7,500rpm redline. Yes, you need to wring its neck to get the best from it, but surely that’s the point of a hot hatch?
Besides, the engine is only part of the equation. The Renaultsport Clio’s real strength lies in its superb chassis. It’s really hard to find fault with it, presenting as it does, a wonderfully involving drive. There’s more steering feel than you’ll find in the Mégane and a turn-in that’s as sharp as you’ll find on any modern road car. It is able to handle sudden changes in direction with ease and there’s virtually no body roll. Yes, the ride is hard, but certainly not to the point that you couldn’t live with the Clio everyday.
Given the choice between the two and given the £1,700 price difference between the pair, I’d go for the Raider. It has to be the Bridgestones that make the difference, but the Raider somehow feels just that little bit more involving than the Silverstone. That said, the small touch of the Raider gear knob helps to bring the best out of the Clio’s 6-speed gearbox. But justifying the Raider’s £5,000 premium over the standard Clio Cup is a little trickier. If you can do without the numbered plaque and added toys, you might just want to think about giving your local tyre fitters a call. I found the Potenza RE050As available for £183 a corner. For a smidgen more than £700 for the set, you might just grab yourself the best upgrade for the Clio Cup.
So that’s the Mégane and the Clio driven. What about the baby of the bunch, the Renaultsport Twingo?
Well it might be half the price and have half the power of the Mégane, but that doesn’t mean it’s half the fun. From the moment you first set eyes on the Renaultsport Twingo 133 Silverstone GP, it puts a smile on your face. Cheeky is an overused term to describe a city car’s styling, but in the case of the Twingo, it’s perfectly apt. It has a bug-like face and a classic ‘wheel at each corner’ side profile. With the Mercury Silver paint, 17″ black gloss alloy wheels and Deep Black roof, mirrors and rear spoiler, it looks every inch the pocket rocket. It looks quite unlike anything else on the road and with less than 1,000 Renaultsport Twingos on British roads, you’re unlikely to see another one. What’s more, the Silverstone GP edition is limited to just 50, so it will arguably be the most collectable of the bunch.
The Twingo continues to raise a smile on the inside too. Once you’ve looked past what I believe is a hideously oversized and quite ugly steering wheel, your eyes are drawn to the brilliant rev counter that sits perched directly in front of the driver. Nice. Trivial things such as the fuel gauge, speed, mileage and clock are located in the middle of the dash.
Unlike the Clio and the Mégane, the Twingo doesn’t have Recaro seats, but it does have orange seat belts! It also makes do with a 5-speed gearbox and a key to start the ignition. How very un-Renaultsport like!
The seats are a disappointment and lack the support of the Recaros found in the other cars. Having said that, they somehow help you to feel more a part of the car in the Twingo than you do in the Clio or Mégane. Weirdly, the Twingo also feels the most spacious inside of the trio. It’s a paradoxical, illogical feeling, but I put it down to the amount of glass in proportion to the size of the car.
Like last year’s PetrolBlog hero, the Suzuki Swift Sport, the Renaultsport Twingo just begs to be driven hard. A 1.6 litre normally aspirated engine that produces 133hp may not seem like a lot, but its the way it uses the power that matters. The Silverstone’s stainless steel exhaust helps to give it a low frequency burble at idle and low revs, rising to a magnificent rorty soundtrack once you’re near the 7,000rpm redline. To get the best from the motor you’ll need to be above 4,000rpm, making it extremely enjoyable to tackle a twisty B-road without letting the revs drop.
It’s an infectious car to drive. Look beyond the overly bumpy ride and you’ll discover a car that’s completely devoid of body roll, with steering that’s direct and sharp. The steering is predictably light on feel and the ride is bump when the going gets rough, but it’s a small price to pay for what is an intoxicating little car. I spent half of the time driving the Twingo with the windows open as the soundtrack is better than anything you’ll find on the radio. There’s a subtle, yet brilliant burble from the exhaust on the overrun, plus the engine and exhaust note helps to complete the pocket rocket feeling.
I defy anyone to arrive back without a smile on their farce following a B-road drive in a Renaultsport Twingo. It’s just so much fun and pound for pound it’s hard to think of a better way of spending £14,995 on a hot hatch. I even like the way the Twingo and indeed the Clio, spit and tick when cooling down. It’s a like a post-race ritual, rather like your heartbeat returning to a normal state following a great drive.
And that’s what Renautsport cars are all about – a great drive. It’s almost impossible for me to pick the best car from the range. Each time I’ve been asked to pick my favourite, I’ve given a different answer. The Twingo is every bit the Sorcerer’s Apprentice of the range. A brilliant introduction to Renaultsport that has the ability to shame a number of bigger, more powerful cars. Then there’s the Clio – for so long the darling of the hot hatch fraternity. It’s more refined than ever and has certainly evolved over the years, but it hasn’t lost any of its appeal. It’s a drivers’ car – pure and simple.
Which leaves the Mégane – the fastest road-going Renault ever made. As an overall package, it’s probably the best car here. It’s a delightful car to drive, combining the practicality and convenience of a hatchback with the pace and handling to tame a supercar. It’s genuinely hard to find fault with it.
So the only conclusion I can draw is that Renaultsport can lay claim to being the most relevant and accessible performance badge currently on sale in the UK. Renaultsport isn’t a superfluous marketing-led logo to stick on the back of a mildly warmed up hatchback, it’s a formidable brand with real heritage and a strong focus on delivering the ultimate driving thrills. Those who mourn the disappearance of the Type-R badge from the UK should take heart from the Renaultsport range.
Whether it’s all down to engineering or witchcraft is anyone’s guess. But all I know is that driving a Renaultsport car is a magical experience.
But I still don’t fancy watching a Harry Potter film. Sorry Dumbledore.
Engine: 2.0 litre, turbocharged
Power: 265hp @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 280Nm @ 3,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.0 secs
Max. speed: 158mph
Combined MPG: 34.4mpg
Engine: 2.0 litre, normally aspirated
Power: 200hp @ 7,100rpm
Torque: 215Nm @ 5,400rpm
0-62mph: 6.9 secs
Max. speed: 141mph
Combined MPG: 34.5mpg
Engine: 2.0 litre, normally aspirated
Power: 200hp @ 7,100rpm
Torque: 215Nm @ 5,400rpm
0-62mph: 6.9 secs
Max. speed: 141mph
Combined MPG: 34.5mpg
Engine: 1.6 litre, normally aspirated
Power: 133hp @ 6,750rpm
Torque: 160Nm @ 4,400rpm
0-62mph: 8.7 secs
Max. speed: 125mph
Combined MPG: 42.2mpg