Quick Drive: Renaultsport Megane RS250 Cup
By James Wong
It’s a good thing I’ve had a few weeks since I drove the 250 Cup to really put it into perspective. Getting behind the wheel of many cars since then, the treasure of unforgettable memories of the Renault remain etched in the cerebral, with precious little being able to unseat it. Such is the breadth of talents of the car – it is probably one of the most drivable Renaultsport cars to date, and yet it also holds the distinction of being one of the very best.
Perhaps one of the defining aspects of the car is that it really means business. Unlike the leather-clad Recaros of some of its rivals, Renault went all out to offer a proper spine-clinging, body-hugging two-piece cloth Recaro that would definitely draw more than a few complaints from the parents. The luscious coupe profile also doesn’t look out of place with striking yellow or red colours, a good thing considering that the car really looks outstanding in those hues. The suspension also makes no apologies about its purpose, although even in a Cup chassis it is quite acceptable. You don’t really notice how harsh it is until the road gets pretty rough. Perhaps thanks in part to the Michelin PS3 tyres, the car is also amazingly quiet considering what its engine is capable of; idle is nearly undetectable and the engine is as smooth as the best inline-4s in the business. Perhaps quite atypically of French cars, the 250 really does feel very well engineered and polished inside and out, something that contributes to the wholesome appeal of the car. No quirky French bits here; it is a true Renaultsport in every way.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, you are immediately put in the mood for driving. The seat locks you in place so you feel secure despite any silly manoeuvres you may attempt. Move off in first and the clutch first takes you aback with its delicate bite; the sharp throttle also demands precision from the driver. You start to drive in a way that is a lot more careful, measured and exacting. That is no bad thing as it is quick to adapt to and once you do, there are many more accurate inputs you can make. Once you figured out the onboard track computer, it is quite addicting to set your best 0-100km/h timing as it resets every time you come to a complete stop. Way to go to promote responsible driving.
Warming up the car and potting around under 3,000rpm and you’re a bit underwhelmed with the power. It does not feel lethargic but it isn’t sparkling either – you certainly feel that the engine is capable of a lot more and it eggs you on to bring it to the limiter. Which, of course, you submit to and then you discover where the power really is. The engine is a gem, a true thriller which rewards a hard driver who allows the engine to stretch to its redline. There is a hollow, angry rush of air that indicates the spooling turbo, followed by a loud suction-like sound from the exhaust that crescendo into a climax. You want to hear more but then the rev limiter sounds, telling you ‘good job, now change up’ and you bang the slick short-shifter into the next gear, ready for another round of epiphany. Such is the engine’s mind-blowing top-end delivery that you will find yourself always wanting to get the engine up to that stratospheric limit, feeling rather dissatisfied if you left the engine to its own devices lower down the rev range. Good thing then that the gearbox really encourages you to shift – the knob is small and grasp is easy and firm. It certainly took the efforts of true car enthusiasts to manufacture the gearknob to such a wonderful design. The pedals are also aptly positioned, allowing an easy heel-and-toe even for a novice like me who still causes whiplash once in a while due to a bad blip.
So the drivetrain’s settled – it is absolutely brilliant. What is astounding is that the chassis is even better. Given a serpentine road, the stiff suspension gives confidence to put the car through its paces. On boost, the car will hardly slip mid-corner and the amount of grip you get from this front-driver is fabulous. You just want to push more and more, feeling more confidence with every turn. When faced with a hump, I was also told to go through it without braking. I wasn’t so sure that the damping of the 250 Cup was designed to take humps like these at about 40mph, but I did anyway. The front lip didn’t even scrape – the car was absolutely composed and went over the hump without any drama. The damping is so sophisticated that you feel it can take nearly anything you throw at it, and yet it is able to offer relatively flat cornering. In this test drive, due to the time constraints the car was only driven in the normal settings. There is the ‘Extreme’ mode which I hear brings the car to a whole new level. I can’t wait to try that at the next opportunity.
Parking the car back at the garage, one considers the Renault. It is built solidly; one really must marvel at how far French cars have come. The 250 Cup really feels like a complete package with no compromises unlike its French predecessors of old. The engine is great, the ride is speechlessly superb and yet, it can be used as a daily driver rather easily (with a lot of runs to the redline of course). Renault has built a winner here, the car that deservedly takes the crown away from the R32 as a true driver’s car. Thing is, are you willing to swallow the depreciation?