In a roundabout sort of way, the car's personalised registration plate said it all.
The plate read RENO, which was intended to be a play on the fact the car was a Renault.
But it could also have been a reference to the famous Reno Air races in the USA's Nevada desert, because this car is a
RENAULT MEGANE RS265
POWER PLANT: 1998cc 16-valve DOHC turbocharged petrol engine, 195 kW at 5000 rpm, 360 Nm at 3000 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front- wheel drive. Six-speed close ratio manual transmission. Cup chassis with independent steering axis front suspension. Full range of active safety features including a sports tuned stability programme with ability to change level of assistance.
HOW BIG: Length 4299mm, width 2037mm, height 1435mm, wheelbase 2636mm.
HOW MUCH: As tested, $59,900.
WHAT'S GOOD: Sensational performance, aggressive looks.
WHAT'S NOT: Yellow seatbelts? Yeah, right.
OUR VERDICT: Good heavens this car can go. No need to say much more...
Just as Reno aficionados love to take World War 2 vintage fighters and modify them so they can fly as fast as possible, so Renault has taken its Megane and given it the works so it can be driven as fast as possible.
Actually the story goes that the Megane RS265 was developed to meet French Police requirements for a rapid intervention vehicle. It's capable of doing that all right, because its 195 kilowatts of power (that's 265 horsepower - hence the badging) is sufficient to get the car to the open-road speed limit in just six seconds.
Put this hatch into first gear and give it the works, and you really do end up feeling you're hanging on for dear life as the front-driven car's wheels scrabble for traction. Get to the higher speeds and the feeling continues, even though this car is in fact one of best-handing front-drive performance cars you'll see.
Proof of that is in the fact that, a few months ago, the RS265 recorded the fastest lap time for a production front-wheel drive production car at Germany's notorious Nurburgring.
Quite often, cars such as this Renault are quite difficult to drive at the lower speeds, because their ride can be hard and they can be difficult to keep in check - almost like a dog straining on a leash.
But this one's not bad at all. The ride is firm thanks to the fact the vehicle is fitted with Renault's 'Cup' chassis and sports suspension, but frankly I've driven cars with rides that are a lot harder.
Get out on the open road, though, and it soon becomes obvious that this is the motoring environment that the Renault most enjoys - hence the reason for the very form-fitting front seats.
First thing the driver needs to do is select a Sport mode from any one of five selectable throttle response settings. Then it is a matter of putting the close-ratio six-speed manual into first and giving the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine the message.
Under high-performance load, the Renault's engine is noisy. Once the revs get up over about 3000 rpm, there's a beautifully raucous note that combines with the sheer pace of the RS265 to make you end up saying words such as "bloody hell!" as you tear down the road.
Fellow motoring scribes have said that it doesn't really matter how fast you go, because this car has fantastic roadholding, and its limited-slip differential plays a major role in helping you get out of corners really quickly.
But I've got to admit, I chickened out before I got that fast, figuring that the much safer thing to do would be to get on a racetrack somewhere if I wanted to truly punt the Renault along.
Suffice to say, however, that this is one high-performance French hatchback.
The renault Megane RS265 is an imposing-looking vehicle with big front and rear flanks sitting over the top of black-effect alloy wheels. Pricing for the RS starts at $53,900, and our test vehicle featured an optional Trophy pack which added 19-inch alloys, keyless entry, Recaro seats, yellow seat belts, and a tyre-pressure monitoring system, all of which added another $6000 to the retail price.
The car didn't need any of that. The exterior and interior looks are sporty enough as it is, and quite frankly the yellow inserts in the Recaro seats and particularly the yellow seatbelts look a bit silly, even though yellow is the official Renault motorsport colour.
But that's just visual stuff. Underneath it all is a real sportscar - a very fast and fine- handling performance hatch that is right up there when compared against the likes of the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen Golf GTi. Wonderful.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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