For as long as FWD cars have been popular, enthusiasts have constantly bashed them for being an inherently inferior platform with lousy handling characteristics. Personally, I’ve never understood the rivalry – FWD and RWD both have their place, and technology can make any chassis handle well. If you don’t believe me, just look at the rear-engine, rear wheel drive Porsche 911. It has been downplayed by many as just a high-tech Beetle, but decades of sales and racing successes have proven otherwise. Is it the front-engine, front wheel drive platform’s turn to shed its backwards image? Yes, and that’s exactly what the Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy has done.
At first glance, the Megane RS may not seem like anything special. It is built off the foundations of a fairly common European family car. Thus, not only does it look plain, it is also a FWD hatchback. Great…sounds like another teenage riceboy special. Except this car does get some truly special pieces of kit as standard equipment. The “Trophy” badge alone was good for a ~15HP bump in power (to 261HP) over the standard model of that year. It also adds standard Recaro seats, bigger wheels with grippier tires, LED’s, and free entry to RenaultSport track days. Not many family cars can boast that they come with free track days, so obviously Renault means business.
Those track days will help the owners to get a grip on their cars, as the limits on this thing are quite high. While it may be hard to believe, the raunchy little hatchback is actually a track-proven machine. The basic chassis has gone racing before, participating in the Belgian Touring Car Series and the 24 Hours of Dubai. The knowledge from those races was baked into the street car, resulting in amazing results. Around the famed Nurburgring, the RS 265 lays down an 8:08, which is only 4 seconds slower than the much more expensive, more dynamically balanced Porsche Cayman.
Even among similarly-priced peers, the RS 265 holds its own. Fifth Gear pitted it against a Nissan 370Z, which has 63 more horsepower AND 70 pounds less weight. Yet, under the hands of a skilled rally driver on a wet racetrack, the Renault managed to lay down a quicker lap time! Mind you, it wasn’t just a slightly quicker time – it was a full two seconds faster, leaving no doubts on which was the winner. Even more embarrassing for the Nissan, Tiff Needell also gave the Renault the win for the Fun to Drive category. It was a clean sweep, as far as we’re concerned.
That’s why the Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy is such a magnificent vehicle. Despite a poor first impression from me – what with its Nurburgring tuned suspension, the silly yellow color on a family hatch body, and a 261HP turbo 4 feeding the front wheels – it manages to beat all the cards that are stacked against it. Except for the card that says PRICE on it. You see, the RS 265 is priced at £27,820. While that’s not so bad compared to the £29,975 370Z or the £39,207 Cayman, it is quite pricey for a powerful family car. After all, the 2.0T in the Hyundai Sonata has more power, and how much could those suspension components and big wheels really cost? Nonetheless, this is a brilliant piece of kit that will likely be forever immortalized as the fastest FWD production car to lap the Nurburgring (as of 2011).