Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy-R, £36,430
WHEN THE BBC announced that I was to be suspended from my job on Top Gear, I thought it would be a good idea to maintain a low profile for a few days. Which in one big respect was a bit tricky because the car I had on test that week was the Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy-R. And it’s about as under-the-radar as a Day-Glo B-52 bomber.
To make matters worse, my own Mercedes chose the very day of the announcement to explode. And I do mean “explode”. After start-up it sounded as if four of the cylinders were full of plastic explosive and the other four were so full of nitroglycerine they weren’t working at all.
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I therefore decided to use my bicycle. But the chain came off. And before I could get it back on, about two and a half million photographers and news crews had descended on my London flat.
I thought about asking AA Gill, my colleague and friend from this newspaper’s larder, to come and pick me up, but he is the worst driver in the world. And I didn’t think he’d be able to manage the job of driving through a photographic scrum without making everything worse. So. It was the Renault, complete with its white body, black roof, red wheels and copious writing down the side.
Let me walk you through the headlines of this vehicle. It starts out in life as a Renault Mégane, a car much favoured by the sort of person that is not interested in cars — I’m surprised Adrian doesn’t have one. But then it is altered, completely.
In Mad mode this car will get from 0 to 62mph in 5.8 seconds, and then it will keep on accelerating until you’re doing the speed of sound
It comes with a turbocharged 2-litre engine, but you choose how much power you would like it to develop. Set the on-board computer to Normal mode and you get 247bhp, which in a three-door hatchback such as this is what engineers call “a lot”. However, if you put the computer in Sport or Race mode, you get 271bhp, which causes engineers to say, “Don’t be silly.”
In Mad mode this car will get from 0 to 62mph in 5.8 seconds, and then it will keep on accelerating until you’re doing the speed of sound. An earlier hot Mégane — the R26.R — was so fast that in 2008 it set a new lap record for front-wheel-drive cars at the Nürburgring. And to give a sense of just how much more impressive the new model is, it smashed that lap record by a whopping 23 seconds.
Some of that is down to the almost completely bald tyres, which come with a warning notice in big, bold type telling you not to expect any grip at all if it even looks like rain and that if it is wet, you should keep the traction control on or you will skid off the road and die. Die, d’you hear?
Then you have the adjustable dampers from Ohlins, PerfoHub double-axis front suspension, Akrapovic titanium exhaust and, inside, almost nothing at all. The rear seats have been replaced with air, the sat nav is gone, the air-conditioning is gone, even the rear wiper is gone. Anything that weighs anything at all has been ditched. So it’s rather bizarre to find a choice of seatbelts. You can get the optional full race harness but you’ll still have the normal inertia-reel system too.
It should be said you can get all the stuff that’s been taken out put back. But since this adds a lot to the already steep £36,000-plus asking price and defeats the object, I wouldn’t bother.
You get the drift anyway. It’s not what you want for a low-profile week when you are trying to stay out of the spotlight. And yet . . . as it turned out, it was exactly what I wanted because, ooh, some of those paparazzi are persistent. They work in teams, using scooters and cars so that you can run — but you can’t hide. Especially if you’re in a white car with red wheels and lots of writing on the sides.
As they seem to have no qualms about telling you all what I do and where I go, I hope they won’t mind if I explain what they do. Jump red lights. Carve up buses. Do more than 100mph on the Westway. (Yes, you did.) And treat cyclists like insects. The paparazzi are like Terminators. They absolutely will not stop.
I like to hear the gravel pitter-pattering on the floor and the wheels bouncing around
I don’t want to use the D-word but I can quite understand how that drunken idiot at the wheel of the Mercedes in Paris ended up slamming into the tunnel support. Because when you are being hounded, it’s easy to lose concentration.
I thought about abandoning the car and using the Tube instead, and I thought about asking for a bit of help from the police. But, hey, in my old job I got a lot of practice at driving while doing other things, so it wasn’t much of a challenge to shake them off. This is because the bike guys are a bit thick. They hang back, hoping you haven’t spotted them. So a left and then another quick left usually results in them whizzing past the end of the road in which you’ve just parked.
But there was a woman in a Volkswagen Golf who was very impressive: smooth and tenacious. If a job vacancy does crop up on Top Gear, she’d be ideal.
She was in a Golf diesel and I was in a 271bhp Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy-R and for about half an hour it was simply impossible to get free.
And at this point some of you will be starting to wonder: what is the point of buying a fast car? Because, yes, at the Nürburgring I could have left her far behind, but I was in Marylebone and, unlike her, I had to obey the rules of the road. And if you do that, a Golf diesel has exactly the same performance as a stripped-out, hunkered-down road racer.
This is undoubtedly true. But it’s missing the point, because, ooh, that Renault is fun. It’s firm, yes, but unlike all the other firm cars I’ve driven, it’s not stupid. There’s a compliance to the shock absorbers that means you don’t have to grit your teeth and squint every time you go over a pothole.
And it’s noisy too, and not in a throaty, grrrrr sort of way either. It’s noisy because there’s no soundproofing. Which means you get a real sense that you are inside a machine. And if you love cars, as I do, because they are machines, that is very satisfying. I like to hear the gravel pitter-pattering on the floor and the wheels bouncing around.
The only thing I’m not sure about was the little green light that came on telling me when to change up. I’m in a racing car, for heaven’s sake, being chased by Divina Galica. I’m not on a bloody economy run. Oh, and it beeps a lot. For no reason.
Mostly, though, I loved this car more than Divina loved her Golf, because she was driving for a reason. It was her job. And her job, she thinks, matters (it doesn’t). Whereas I was driving for the sheer sport of shaking her off. I was only going out to buy my son’s birthday present. Why would I care if she snapped me doing that?
And, yes, reader, I won. I went down a back alley that was blocked by a lorry. Many builders were standing around, and when I apprised them of the situation, they agreed to move it. Then, before Golf lady could follow, they put it back in the middle of the road. Cheers, lads.
Clarkson’s verdict ★★★★☆
Pray the paparazzi never get their paws on this
Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy-R specifications
- Price: £36,430
- Engine: 1998cc, 4 cylinders
- Power: 271bhp @ 5500rpm
- Torque: 265lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Performance: 0-62mph in 5.8sec
- Top speed: 158mph
- Fuel: 37.7mpg (combined)
- CO2: 174g/km
- Road tax band: H (£290 for first year; £205 thereafter)
- Release date: On sale now
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