The winner Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250 Cup List price £23,650 Target Price £21,826
For the second year in a row Renault has scored a hot hatch hat-trick and, as in 2010, it’s the Mégane 250 Cup that’s the cream of the crop.
If you’re planning to buy a hot hatch, you’ll want to be entertained first and foremost, and the Mégane will have you smiling before you’ve even opened the door. Its blacked-out nose, swollen wheelarches and cannon-sized central exhaust give it more than a hint of menace, yet it’s also sleek enough to ruffle the feathers of many a pretty-boy coupé.
Climb inside and it’s just as appealing. Renault has given the 250 Cup metal pedals and a bright yellow rev-counter as part of its sporty makeover, but it also feels like a classy customer, thanks to the plush materials and slick switchgear it inherits from the regular Mégane hatchback.
Hit the road and things get even better. Its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine produces a whopping 247bhp, so acceleration is seriously rapid. What’s more, unlike many rivals, the Mégane delivers its power smoothly and features a trick front suspension set-up that makes sure nothing is wasted. You can bury the throttle away from the mark and the front tyres simply dig in, firing the car to 62mph in 6.1sec.
Then there’s the way it handles. Tackle a favourite winding road and the Mégane 250 manages to feel dramatic yet totally composed because it positively bristles with feel, balance and precision.
Opt for the Cup version, with its stiffer springs and shock absorbers, and limited-slip differential, and it also grips and changes direction like a Scalextric car. Yes, the ride is firm, but it’s still far from punishing. In fact, one of the most amazing things about the car is that it’s so undemanding to drive, with relatively light controls and good refinement.
True, the Mégane Cup isn’t cheap at a little over £23,000. However, big discounts are available and you get plenty of equipment for your money, including air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, an iPod socket and rear parking sensors. The only thing we’d be tempted to add is the optional Recaro sports seats (£950), which look great and hold you in place better than an industrial adhesive as you hurtle around corners.