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, its the Mgane 250 Cup thats the cream of the crop.
If youre planning to buy a hot hatch, youll want to be entertained first and foremost, and the Mgane will have you smiling before youve even opened the door. Its blacked-out nose, swollen wheelarches and cannon-sized central exhaust give it more than a hint of menace, yet its also sleek enough to ruffle the feathers of many a pretty-boy coup.
Climb inside and its 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 Mgane hatchback.
Hit the road and things get even better. Its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine produces a whopping 247bhp, so acceleration is seriously rapid. Whats more, unlike many rivals, the Mgane 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 theres the way it handles. Tackle a favourite winding road and the Mgane 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 its still far from punishing. In fact, one of the most amazing things about the car is that its so undemanding to drive, with relatively light controls and good refinement.
True, the Mgane Cup isnt 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 wed 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.