Renault and Alpine MEGA test
When I got the mail that Renault and Alpine was cooking up something special, I almost flew of my seat. The ENTIRE Renault performance lineup would be ours for a whole day. Some beautiful back roads, and eventually proper track testing, in order to make the fairest comparison there is.
I was, as you might have guessed, pinching my arm when I was reaching the Alpine center in Stockholm, Sweden. First one there, which meant that I could rummage through the cars that would be used throughout the day. Some other journalists came and it dawned upon me. Why didn’t I have a cameraman to capture the whole day? Logical answer would be because of Covid-19, but I digress. Yes I got some pictures and video on the track, which will be uploaded on the YouTube channel as a highlight reel. However, my decision was to try to put into words how each car performs and then compare them with each other, so this will be a long one. Sounds good? Let´s go!
As the time for departure was closing in, the cars were shuffled out from the Alpine center and positioned in a beautiful row, I could feel the energy rising within the group. Obligatory pictures and Instagram posts were taken, and then came the first problem of the day. Which car to choose? Logically, it would go in ascending order from Megane R.S., to A110S, as there would be stops along the way to switch cars. Too late. Other, more experienced journalists took the A110S and the “standard” R.S. Trophy, and I was left with the keys to the brand new, and newly launched, A110S. Although I have had my fair experience of hot-hatches and feisty American pony cars, it was a first time driving a mid-engine sports car, and the top spec at that. No worries. Being the only person in my car and with an infotainment system I hated after only a couple of frustrating minutes, I kept to the back of the pack.
First thing you notice is the stiffness of the car, second is how low you are sitting, and third is the steering. However, these three hit you in a very rapid succession. This car is something special. Even my tingling body knows it. Seeing these cars on the road certainly turned some heads, and even though it was rush hour, we made quick work going south. Forty five minutes of tight and twisty roads laid ahead of me. It was time to find out what an Alpine is made of.
With the Trophy-R ahead, and trying to respect our surroundings, it was the perfect way to pitch Renault’s two maddest models between each other. In the end, it was a rather dead heat. The Trophy-R never pulled away, but I never felt the A110S being fast enough to allow me to reduce the pace without losing distance from the R. Once at our first stop, which was a ferry, the other driver and I did some quick conclusions. The Trophy-R is hugely capable, but the extreme setup makes it difficult to gain confidence in with the front wheels pulling hard and the tires being rather sensitive to temperature. The manual shifter was also unnecessarily notchy. The A110S on the other hand, was the complete opposite. Yes it is stiff and because of its lightness, it can become quite light on the hilly roads we were driving on, but it so stable, forgiving, and lets you push without getting nervous and twitchy. Two different beasts, but with similar speed capabilities. Although it was clear that the Trophy-R had more to give, at least on these back country roads.
A quick ferry trip and some more pictures and it was time for the Megane R.S. Trophy. I had driven the Clio R.S. before, and even though it got spanked by the Fiesta ST, there was something there, and my expectations when sinking into the sports seat of the Megane were sky high. Grey paint might not be the most eye catching, but for some it is about understated performance. After some wrong turns, I ended up behind the follow car, a Kadjar, which obviously meant no greater speeds. Although, I got to experience the other side of the car. By adding the name Trophy, the cars chassis and suspension gets stiffer, among other things, and the power is increased to just about 300 hp. In essence, it is a more hardcore version of the regular Megane R.S. Knowing this, I was delighted to be able to cruise in comfort. It is harsher than a normal car, but it is by no means uncomfortable. Also, it seems that even though the Alpine uses the same 1.8 liter turbocharged engine, the Megane has a fruitier exhaust which delivers pops and bangs up there with the crazy Hyundai i30 N. Maybe because of the Akrapovic exhaust?
Coffee and sandwich break. Everyone was trading their opinions and trying to get in their two cents on the matter, but it was clear that people wanted to see how well their thoughts would translate to the track. Luckily, after some negotiation, I ended up in the Trophy-R.
Sitting in the car is a surreal experience. The car is still a Renault, and a Megane, meaning all of the regular dials and gauges. However, the similarities ends there. The seats are as hard and supportive as they can be, and certainly increase the sense off occasion. The manual transmission has almost no feel to it and, and as you might have read before, is very notchy and almost unpleasant to drive. All of this becomes all but a memory when you put the foot down, and everything starts to make sense. The car is meant to be driven like it was stolen, and I mean this literally. In many ways, the car is just too much for the Swedish country roads, or at least too much for me to comfortably push it hard. However, when you reach that sweet spot, it is a wonderful feeling that few cars can bring. Unfortunately, the last part of the trip before the track was some major highway driving, and oh boy was it uncomfortable. You might have to do this if you buy a Trophy-R, so it deserves to be mentioned.
Lunch presentation meant a deep walkthrough of the A110S and the Trophy-R, and by looking at how for the engineers have gone, it is starting to dawn on me what cars I was driving. The track chosen for this event is a rather overlooked one. Sviestad in Linköping, which is mainly built for bicycle racing. This meant some really interesting corners that would show any faults in the cars. First car up, the Megane R.S Trophy. Last out from the pits, and with a sighting lap, I was released.
I have to admit, the Megane R.S. Trophy is a great little car. Enough power and aggressive enough to make it fun on the track, and the front wheel drive makes it hugely approachable. The classic understeer tendencies makes it easy to gain confidence and to read, while the four wheel steering helps to rotate the car in corners without making the car weird to drive. The sheer front wheel drive pull when accelerating is also rather brutal, since the engine also produces around 300 hp. New mega hatches might have four wheel drive, but there is something special about front wheel drive and how Renault have set up this car. It is truly a blast to hoon around the track.
In the pits and car change. Even though I might be 23, the last couple of years have really taken a toll on my car sickness. About three laps is all I could manage, which coincidentally was about the amount of laps we were given for each car. Just enough to get a feel, but not too many to make us try too hard to set good lap times. Next car up was the A110S.
The A110S is as purpose built as it can be. Engine in the middle, light, low to the ground and very stiff. The S has gotten an increase in power to 292 hp, which is 40 hp more than the regular A110. All that power is gained up top, which means no noticeable increase in acceleration at lower revs, but at the track, where you go to redline at each gear, it is a completely different story. The S now pulls hard at every rpm, and the feel of reaching a peak in power, which is all too common in small, turbocharged engines, is non-existent. The springs are 50 per cent stiffer and the anti-roll bars are twice as stiff. The tires are wider by 10 mm both front and back, and the tire compound is stickier than before. How does this translate into real life? A very well-composed car. The upgrades have made it a touch more uncomfortable to drive on the road, which honestly is something you could live with for a car of this caliber, but on the track, the elevated capabilities of the car makes it less dramatic than the A110. It should be noted that this does not diminish the A110S raw speed and grip, but some of that French flare and flamboyancy is lost.
With the A110S fresh in my mind, it was time to drive the A110 pure. In the iconic blue paint and silver/chrome wheels, it is eye catching in a very classical sense. Sitting in the A110 is no different compared to the S, which I was expecting, but at the track, the 110 is a dream. The skinnier tires allow the car to rotate easier and forces you to respect the grip level in the front. The body roll and softer suspension not only give the car a smoother ride, but also increase the sense of speed and “flowiness” of the car. The last word is something I have thought about a lot. What I mean about that is the way it feels to drive. If you drive it, you will understand what I mean.
Last car, and the car everyone actually came here to test. The Trophy-R. After listening to each journalist getting out of the car with a smile on their face, but immediately saying that since it is so capable, it is tricky to get a hold on in just a few laps, I slowly rolled out from the pits. My plan was to gradually increase my speed for each lap to have time to adjust to the car. Unfortunately, some problems with the car key cut my test short, but for the lap that I got in, it left a huge impression. The speed at which you can approach corners is in comparison with the Trophy, on a different level. There is no flex in the chassis and the steering feels like being connected directly to your brain. One thing you also have to think of is the tire temperature and how that affects grip performance. It is as close as I have ever been to a race car.
After a whole day of driving these amazing machines that Renault has produced, what is my takeaway, and which car would I take home? Firstly, Renault should be really proud of the cars they are making. People still have a perception about French quality and design, but these cars are really something you have to experience before bashing. Having the balls to make the Alpine in this day and age is also something Renault needs to be credited for, even though the brands future might be a bit unsure as of now. Alpine is possibly going pure electric, which makes the A110 their only petrol powered car. Secondly, the car that I would choose is actually rather simple. Megane R.S. Trophy. Fast, fun, and the approachability versus driving enjoyment blows the other out of the water. Space for five if you want, comfortable if you need it to, and a real hoonigan when you are in the mood. The attractive price of 35 thousand euro forces me to also reconsider where it places compared to the stacked hot-hatch lineup. Unfortunately, I haven’t driven the Civic Type R or the Focus RS on the track, and it would be unfair to give the Megane the top spot because of this reason, but I am impressed, and it is definitely up there with the top of the segment as of now.