France’s blue-chip hot-hatch brand tests appetites for a £70k front-driver

Find Renault Megane RS Trophy-R (2019-2021) deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

This week’s road test subject would be a tough sell to someone with little or no interest in hot hatchbacks, track driving or the pantheon of great performance cars we enthusiasts spend so long thinking about. Luckily for Renault, few people who fit that description are dedicated readers of this magazine.

The Mégane RS Trophy-R is, strictly speaking, a premium version of Renault’s existing hot Mégane that comes in one colour and with one transmission option; that has been studiously ‘de-contented’ of its back seats, foglights and four-wheel steering system; that hasn’t been endowed with an exclusive engine of astronomical outputs; and for which, in our test car’s case, Renault is charging more than £70,000. Golly gumdrops, indeed.

Carbonfibre wheels pictured are effectively a £12k option. If you see gold brake calipers and carbonfibre brakes as well, you’re looking at the ultra-rare £72k Nürburgring Record-spec car.

To be fair to Renault, just one Nürburgring Record-specification example of the car has changed hands in the UK for that price (the only other being the press demonstrator you see here), with the balance of the 32 examples of this mega-Mégane available from a slightly less scandalous £51,140. Even so, for either price you can believe Renault Sport meant it when it claimed to have gone to every length of which it could conceive to add track pace and purpose to the Mégane RS’s armoury.

It has done that along three particular lines of focus: by taking weight out of the car, by greatly altering and improving its aerodynamic design, and by radically transforming its axles and surrounding suspension design. We’ll get into all three dimensions in detail shortly.

Back to top

For now, though, the prospect of carbonfibre wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes, a full-sized carbon diffuser and 10-way adjustable Ohlins coilovers on a not-so-humble hot hatchback ought to be enough to hold the attention.

But could they ever be enough to make spending what is close to Porsche Cayman GT4 money on a French hatchback with torsion beam rear suspension seem like a defensible decision? Read on to find out how you might rehearse the argument.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Megane RS


Renault Megane RS Trophy-R 2019 road test review - hero side

Just as was the case with its predecessor, the third-generation Trophy-R offers no gain in engine power or torque output compared with the regular Trophy model that sits immediately below it in the current hot Mégane hierarchy.

Renault Sport’s 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor (which also appears in the Alpine A110) has been carried over unchanged, and develops the same 296bhp and 295lb ft. The reason for this is simply that the six-speed manual gearbox that marshals this poke to the front wheels, in conjunction with a Torsen limited-slip differential, is already at the limit for how much torque it can handle.

Bigger carbonfibre diffuser generates double the downforce of its counterpart on a Mégane Trophy – not least because it gets a smooth supply of air as a result of underbody panelling

Renault’s dual-clutch automatic can, and does, take more (310lb ft in the standard Trophy), but the Trophy-R is only available with a manual ’box. A stick-shift set-up is lighter, though; and it’s the strict – not to mention extensive – weight-saving focus of this car that is a key aspect of what makes the Trophy-R special. The rear seats have been stripped out (-25.3kg); a lightweight Akrapovic titanium exhaust has been fitted (-7kg); there’s a new carbon-composite bonnet and carbonfibre rear diffuser (-8kg and -2.3kg respectively); thinner rear glass has been installed (-1kg); and there’s now no rear wiper either (-3kg).

The list goes on, of course, but the most eye-catching change is that Renault Sport has done away with the 4Control four-wheel steering that so polarises opinion on the standard models. This change alone amounts to 32kg being removed, and is a key contributor to Trophy-R’s total weight saving of 130kg over the regular Trophy. Renault claims a minimum unladen kerb weight of 1306kg – although, with a full tank of fuel, our car weighed in at even less: 1280kg.

Dieppe has also gone to work on the chassis and suspension. At a basic level, it’s still a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear configuration, but adjustable Ohlins ‘Dual-Flow Valve’ dampers have been fitted, as have lightweight springs. The negative camber of the front wheels has been increased by 1.05deg to allow for a greater tyre contact patch under cornering, and the tyres themselves are now Bridgestone Potenza S007s of a special compound as standard.

That new carbonfibre diffuser and a completely panelled underbody help the Trophy-R develop genuine downforce, while larger 355mm brake discs and 42mm Brembo calipers have also been fitted for improved stopping power.

Our Nürburgring Record edition test car takes things further still. A set of 19in carbonfibre rims are included (you still get the regular set of forged 19s as well, to be carried where the back seats used to be) while a set of gold-calipered Brembo carbon-ceramic front brakes are also fitted. These are not only larger of disc diameter (390mm) but contribute to a further weight saving of 1kg per corner.


Renault Megane RS Trophy-R 2019 road test review - cabin

Peer in through the slimmed-down rear windows and you’ll immediately notice the absence of a rear bench.

As with its forebears, the Trophy-R is a strict two-seater; any room it did have for back-seat passengers has been converted into a dedicated storage space for those optional carbonfibre wheels. These are held in place by a Sabelt safety net secured by ratchet straps, which are in turn fastened to a bright-red strut brace that, in tandem with the net, acts as a divider between the cabin and boot.

Don’t drop anything heavy on the boot floor. The plastic is so thin and lightweight, some testers were concerned it might disintegrate if exposed to strong sunlight.

Up front, it’s more like business as usual. The general architecture of the forward half of the Trophy-R’s cabin is exactly the same as the standard Mégane RS, which is to say that a lot of rather dull-looking hard and soft-touch plastics cover the vast majority of the car’s interior surfaces. Contrasting red stitching, silver trim highlights and lookalike carbonfibre detailing inject a hint of colour and performance panache into the Trophy-R’s cabin, but it doesn’t quite nail the souped-up aesthetic in the same way the interior of a Honda Civic Type R absolutely does.

Renault Sport’s fastidious weight-saving regime even extends as far as the infotainment system. Instead of Renault’s flagship 8.7in portrait-oriented R-Link touchscreen, the Trophy-R makes do with the smaller 7in unit because, believe it or not, it shaves a further 250g off the hot hatch’s kerb weight.

The screen itself is easy enough to read, and the operating system is perfectly intuitive, but the sophistication of the software and the quality of the graphics do leave a little to be desired. Mapping information is decidedly basic, and there is at times a noticeable hesitation between input and delay.

Still, the presence of dedicated touch-sensitive shortcut buttons along the bottom side of the screen does make jumping between menus quicker and easier, but they can get in the way if you’re not careful. More than one of our testers said they’d accidentally brushed their fingers against them while using the screen on the move, as they’re positioned right where you tend to anchor your hand.

Lightweight fixed-back Sabelt bucket seats are upholstered in Alcantara, as is the lid for the centre console storage compartment and the steering wheel. A six-point harness is an optional extra, although our test car made do with the standard three-point inertia reel belts.

While it’s less of a concern in a track-focused car such as this, boot space is still respectable at 355 litres, providing more than enough room for two large suitcases – or, perhaps more likely, a couple of trolley jacks, a paddock tent, some tyre warmers and a hot-water urn.


Renault Megane RS Trophy-R 2019 road test review - engine

The Trophy-R is a car that, by design, was unlikely to justify its price tag on straight-line pace alone. The car’s outright accelerative potency is enough to compare healthily with the very quickest front-drivers on the market, but it stops some way short of blowing them into the weeds in the way you might expect for the money. Meanwhile, one or two qualitative issues ensure that, though you may be a long way from disappointed by it, you’ll be no more blown away by the way this engine goes about its business than by what it actually does.

On a dry day at the track, our test car’s fastest 0-60mph standing start dipped just below 5.5sec, with a final two-way average of 5.6sec. That’s a tenth quicker than the current, all-conquering Honda Civic Type R managed in 2017, and quicker still than the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S the year before that. But it’s hardly seminal, landmark stuff.

Having taken over two seconds off the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S’s time, the Trophy-R becomes the fastest front-driver around MIRA’s handling circuit by some margin.

The engine’s static rev limiter restricts how much torque can be put through the clutch from rest, while Renault’s electronic launch control worked only very sporadically on our test car – and didn’t yield spectacular results when it did. On warmed tyres, with one occupant less in the car and assuming it could be persuaded to give the driver complete dominion over throttle and clutch control, though, this does feel like a car that could go pretty close to breaching the five-second front-driven barrier.

But look into the numbers more closely and you’ll see signs that the 1.8-litre turbo four-pot may be a little unworthy of the Trophy-R. On 30-70mph through-the-gears performance, the car’s no longer the better of the aforementioned Honda. On the 0-100mph dash, it’s marginally slower than both the Civic and the Golf. It also remains slower than both by the time 130mph comes up, suggesting Renault’s aerodynamic overhaul wasn’t quite as clever as it might have been.

While you’re driving, meanwhile, it’s the sense of overlooked attention to the tactile and transient details of this powertrain’s performance that you’re more likely to notice: the passable if slightly obdurate elastic shift quality – and the power delivery characteristics of an engine that seems a touch unresponsive after big throttle applications, a little boosty and non-linear though the mid range and a little breathless at revs.

Taking so much weight out of this car can only have made it quicker, while that titanium exhaust has also made it angrier and more menacing to listen to. Even so, our conclusion must be that an engine which is clearly strong enough but still fails to count as a selling point in any current Mégane RS has waded out right to the limit of credibility in this one.


Renault Megane RS Trophy-R 2019 road test review - on the road

We had occasion to test the Mégane Trophy-R with a couple of user-configured states of tune dialled into its 10-way adjustable Ohlins suspension. Our on-track handling tests were conducted with it on a lower ride height and with Renault’s recommended compression and rebound settings, while most of our road impressions came courtesy of the car’s prescribed road settings.

Configured for the road, the car delivers incremental but very worthwhile improvements over a Mégane Trophy for suppleness and high-speed stability over bumps – which might well be the last thing you expect from it. Hardcore though the car may be, the budget that Renault has evidently poured into its suspension pays off handsomely by way of impressive dynamic versatility.

Flexible suspension can be tuned to your preferred style, though you’ll need access to a hydraulic lift and to pay close attention to Renault’s suspension configuration menu

Though it runs more than two degrees of negative camber at the front wheels, the car resists bump steer and tramlining quite well, remaining stable at high speeds even when dealing with uneven surfaces. While its damping is firm and its suspension apparently quite short on travel, it works with greater dexterity than in a regular Mégane RS.

Drive the car on circuit, again optimally configured for it, and it’s even flatter-feeling in its cornering manners – really crisp and stable when turning in quickly, with plenty of confidence-fostering steering feel and none of the vagueness or unpredictability that four-wheel steering gives its sibling models.

It has very big reserves of outright lateral grip and particularly high mid-corner stability too, which allows you to carry ever-greater apex speeds. Handling adjustability seems to have been sacrificed slightly in pursuit of that high-speed plantedness, though, and so if you’re looking for instant, accessible fun from your hot hatchback or particular playfulness at the limit, the Trophy-R stands the chance of leaving you just a little bit frustrated at times.

At other times, however, this is the kind of car to render you breathless and not a little astonished that a front-driven hatchback can be driven so hard – and it’ll keep coming back lap after lap.

The Trophy-R’s Bridgestone tyres plainly aren’t as liquorish-soft or track-intended as others on the performance market. They work reasonably well on the road; their grip level doesn’t seem as dependent on outright temperature as that of, say, a Pirelli Trofeo R; and they even work quite well in the wet (deep standing water notwithstanding).

All up, they seem a very intelligent compromise for a hot hatchback – and, on dry Tarmac, they allow the Trophy-R a grip level that is at once high and long-lasting, rather than one that seems to begin deteriorating after five hard circuits.

The car is hugely stable and precise on corner entry and very predictable on exit, making it easy to drive fast. It works its Torsen front slippy diff harder under acceleration than other Mégane RSs have hitherto, getting more benefit from it and enjoying lots of traction. Brake pedal feel is excellent, and stopping power very resistant to fade.


While stripping the Trophy-R’s interior of any meaningful sound-deadening does turn the cabin into something of an echo chamber, the effect isn’t quite as pronounced as you might expect. Of course, bigger impacts still feel somewhat amplified so that your ears are, at times, almost as prone to assault as the base of your spine, but the Renault isn’t necessarily worse than its competition in this respect. At a sustained 30mph, our sound gear measured cabin volume at 66dB – the same reading we extracted from a Civic Type R in 2017. In fact, it was only at 70mph where the Trophy-R was louder and then only marginally, with our microphone showing 73dB versus the Honda’s 72dB.

As for driving position, the Renault is fine without being outstanding, but still significantly behind the supremely cohesive Civic. You have to sit slightly bent-legged at the pedals to be within comfortable reaching distance of the gearlever, while the pedals feel a touch too highly set for comfort and aren’t ideally spaced laterally either. Heel-and-toe shifts are doable, but they come far more naturally in the Honda. And while our testers agreed the Sabelt bucket seats offer good lateral support, some felt the angle of the fixed backrest was a bit too recumbent to be ideal.


Renault Megane RS Trophy-R 2019 road test review - hero front

Geared up with those carbonfibre wheels and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, the Trophy-R’s list price skyrockets from an already lofty £51,140 to £72,140. And regardless of how extensive the changes to its chassis might be, that’s still a phenomenal amount for a front-driven hot hatchback – even one with a production car Nürburgring lap record under its belt.

Still, at least that titanic amount of money will net you a low-volume, limited-run special. Just 500 Trophy-Rs will be made, with 32 examples being allocated to Britain. Those yet to be sold are expected to all be spoken for in the next month or two, with the car’s production run effectively ending in late November or early December.

The £12,000 carbonfibre wheels are excessively expensive but, if you’ve got upwards of £50,000 to spend on a track-bred hot hatch, you might as well go the whole hog. Get the Sabelt wheel net, too.

All Nürburgring Record models have been sold. That’s because only 30 examples of those £9000 carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes were produced worldwide – and just two came to the UK.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Megane RS


Renault Megane RS Trophy-R 2019 road test review - static

The third-generation Renault Mégane RS has reached an early zenith with the new Trophy-R – if that is, in fact, what it represents. We should remember, after all, that the R26R emerged only a year before its parent model was replaced, and the original Trophy-R was another end-of-run production. So there’s clearly time before the end of the Mégane IV’s factory life cycle for Renault Sport to dial up the performance volume of this extra-hot, track-ready front-driver even further, as ridiculous as it sounds.

If it does, there is no doubt that the lion’s share of its attention should go to the car’s powertrain. That both engine and gearbox play only serviceable parts of the Trophy-R’s dynamic appeal sells this car conspicuously short – and in exchange for more than £50,000, any hot hatchback owner has a right to expect nothing less than the truly special.

Better on road, stellar on track, but still not Renault Sport’s finest

But for an understandable lack of on-the-limit fun factor, though, you could reasonably expect no better of the Trophy-R’s chassis and suspension, which makes for exceptional handling agility and dynamic composure on both road and track – and for a track-day package that bristles with hugely appealing performance purpose and credibility.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Megane RS

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.