Love handles: car vs kart with Renault Megane RS 300 Trophy
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Renault Sport Megane RS300 Trophy
- Incredible handling and brakes
- Fastest FWD we've tested
- RS mode exploits EDC gearbox
- French logic with controls
- Ride quality is rather firm
- Priced on the high side of GR Yaris
"Handles like a go-kart" is the age-old performance motoring cliché. Generally assimilated to a hot hatch that’s fast, nimble and darty, it’s a well-worn marketing idiom that tends to roll our eyes like a Robert Downey Jr meme.
Does a car really handle like a go kart? We set out to find – and largely dispel - that with arguably one of the hottest hatches of all time, the 2021 Renault Megane RS Trophy 300.
With a 1.8 turbo four-cylinder, front-wheel drive and tricky electronics that power to the ground like a champ, its reputation as one of the all-time greats was reinforced just two years ago as a top ten finalist for the 2019 AA DRIVEN NZ Car of the Year.
Now back in updated 300 guise, from the chequered motifs dotted inside and out, to the Race mode electronics setting that snap, crackles and pops from the exhaust, the Megane is a track-ready, track-loving track star. So, there is no better place to drive it than the track!
But to prove – or disprove - the karting cliché, we took it to a rather small track: Hampton Downs go-kart track, where it would face off against both a stopwatch and one of Hampton Downs’ 270cc Honda four-stroke hire karts that you, me and anyone can drive and race.
The track setting was the common rental kart track, the shorter 530m Sprint circuit where any time under 30 seconds is good, with some tight sections combining with a climb and fall into a fast chicane and sweeper onto the start/finish straight.
Our kart was straight off the line of ready to race hire karts.
Substantially less average was our ring-in kart driver, British karting champ, driving instructor and part-time DRIVEN team member, Tiffany Chittenden, with appropriate rental suit and helmet.
In the yellow corner was the Renault Megane RS300, factory standard, switched to Race setting with climate control/AC still running – comfort matters.
With our video intro and cover photos sorted, Tiff suits up and climbs aboard the Hampton Downs kart and sets off with the track to herself, accompanied by a big screen showing her lap time with each pass. Straight onto the pace, her first flyer is a 29.6, and she takes another four laps to set a 28.8sec lap. Then it was a matter of Tiff shaving tenths, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 and then, on her 15th lap, a best of 28.46 seconds, also the quickest time of the week (by 0.8 secs) and even her own personal (hire kart) best.
“You have to keep the speed flowing,” explains Tiff. “No sliding - use the brakes and steering as little as possible to keep the minimum speed as high as possible. With low power, smoothness is everything – you’re trying not to kill speed. And even jump a little… which maybe helps a little in the mind.
“With a race kart, you need to use the brakes more to slow it down and you have a lot more power to play with, but keeping up corner speed is key.”
With the target time set, the Renault Megane fired up and a simple press of RS mode puts everything into full aggression, opening up the exhaust with a more purposeful growl.
Throttle response is sharp, and with a lap to familiarize, it’s remarkable how large the Megane feels on a go kart track: turns are so tight, there’s quick appreciation we’re in the dual-clutch EDC model, as the manual would mandate downshifting to first gear.
On the first flying lap, the big four-piston Brembos are called in to capably scrub off the peak speed of 95km/h down to 36km/h where the corner feels impossibly tighter than it looks. The kart is 11km/h slower down the straight, but impressively carries more corner speed, no lower than 51km/h, thanks to its smaller size and slick tyres.
The Megane grunts out of the corner, powering down on its 19-inch rubber – exiting turn two for the climb up the hill, the Megane is 15km/h slower at the apex, an at this point, is a large 1.3 seconds behind, but charges up to be almost 30km/h faster after the 50m burst and draw all that time back under brakes.
Down the hill, the story continues: the course is tight enough through the chicane to reign in the Megane’s power advantage and – incredibly – through the last corner, the times are identical. It’s also here where the Megane’s chassis shines: four wheel steering – in unison over 60km/h, and opposing under it, endows the Megane with supreme cornering ability and agility, and with up to three degrees of rear steering through the 53km/h corner (both both car and kart), just as intuition feels understeer, the chassis pivots at the apex and points it towards the exit, begging more more power. It may be 1450kg, but it feels like 1000 as it squirms a little and fires out of the corner, to charge ahead and beat the kart by the slim margin of less than half-a-second: 38.0sec, and all of it from the 40m burst of acceleration to the finish line.
The final corner also reveals the highest lateral G-forces: 1.18g for the Renault, against a high 1.27g for the slicked up kart.
The myth to bust was if a car like the awesome Renault Megane RS300 handles like a go-kart. And the true answer is no: they’re different animals with different attribute; similarly fun, but equally challenging in their own way. Impressively the kart is quick through these tight corners, but in this match-up, it’s the car that takes the win: it’s sharp, reactive and so much fun, and has A/C and Apple CarPlay to boot - plus a boot.
Now, can we please put that karting cliché to bed, and let me get back in the Megane.
RENAULT MEGANE RS TROPHY 300 EDC
ENGINE: 1.8 turbo four-cylinder
GEARBOX: Six-speed dual clutch EDC
0-100KM/H: 5.5 secs (tested)