The best performance Renaults

After years in the wilderness, the Renault Megane RS is back in the hot hatch game, which is great news for performance car fans. We’ve just returned from a drive in a new Volcanic Orange Megane RS 280 with the optional Cup chassis. As its name suggests, the hottest Megane develops 280hp, putting it well below the 300hp+ hot hatches we’ve grown accustomed to. Does this matter? Here, we deliver our verdict, which is followed by our favourite performance Renaults of all time.

Renault Megane RS 280

The best performance Renaults

First things first, the perceived lack of oomph is no issue. This turbocharged Megane is as powerful as the old 2.0-litre cars and, crucially, that 280hp is harnessed to great effect by the optional Cup chassis. For £1,500, Renault will equip your Volcanic Orange or Liquid Yellow (other less lurid colours are available) car with a limited-slip differential and stiffer springs and dampers. It’s a must-have option.

The Torsen diff means that you can get the power down early as you exit the corner, while the four-wheel steering means that you can carry more speed through the bend. There’s no denying that it can take a while to get used to, but it soon becomes part of the intoxicating driving experience. It’s just a shame that the steering lacks feedback and the six-speed manual gearbox isn’t the last word in satisfaction. Still, rather that than the EDC auto transmission, eh?

Renault Megane RS 280

The best performance Renaults

The Megane RS 280 Cup feels ‘on it’ at all times, which some will love, while others might prefer the more laid-back approach of the Golf GTI. Switching from Sport or Race mode to Comfort helps things a little, but the firm ride might jar with some people, especially passengers. For what it’s worth, we love the ride, even on the pockmarked roads of the Cotswolds.

Other points to squeeze into this mini review: the seats are excellent, especially with the optional Alcantara pack, the Brembo brakes are superb and the soundtrack is fabulous, especially for a four-cylinder unit. We also happen to think the Megane RS looks terrific, falling somewhere between the sombre-suited Golf GTI and the in-yer-face Honda Civic Type R. Overall, we’re big fans of the new Megane RS, but something tells us that Renault is holding something back for the Trophy model. In the meantime, enjoy some of our favourite hot Renaults.

Renault 8 Gordini

The Renault 8 Gordini might not have been the first ‘hot’ Renault – the 4CV 1063 and the Dauphine 1093 were its forebears – but the modern crop of fast Renaults owe a great debt to this rather anonymous saloon car. First came the 1108cc of 1964, which was followed by the more powerful 1255cc in 1966, known as the Gordini 1300. Thanks to its success on the world rally stage, the R8 ‘Gorde’ laid the foundations for future performance cars from La Régie.

Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini

The Renault 5 Alpine – known as the 5 Gordini in the UK – was one of the world’s first hot hatches, which, in France at least, beat the Golf GTI to market. Powered by a twin-choke Weber carburettor 1400cc engine, the 5 Gordini could sprint to 60mph in 10.7 seconds before reaching a top speed of 110mph. A go-faster turbocharged version arrived in 1982, which paved the way for one of the greatest hot hatches of the 80s…

Renault 5 GT Turbo

The best performance Renaults

“Gordon Bennett!” proclaimed the double page press ads, as Renault took a lump hammer to the hot hatch fight. The “125mph Renault 5 GT Turbo” subhead played to the car’s key strength: outright pace. At its launch, the 5 GT Turbo was 11mph faster than a Golf GTI and 5mph quicker than a Uno Turbo or Astra GTE. A 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds meant that, pound for pound, the £7,360 5 GT Turbo was the best value hot hatch you could buy.

Renault 5 Turbo/Turbo 2

But of course, the real hero was the homologation special Renault 5 Turbo. It was, if you like, Renault’s answer to the Lancia Stratos and it had very little in common with the regular 5 parked on your local high street. A host of unique parts made this mid-engined Group 4 rally car rather expensive to build, which led to the development of the Turbo 2, which was both cheaper to build and therefore less expensive to buy.

Renault 16 TX

The Renault 16 was a pioneer of the hatchback body, which makes the 16 TX a kind of hot hatch of the 1970s. It was based on the TS and featured a five-speed gearbox, four iodine headlights, a rear spoiler and Gordini alloy wheels. Not quick by today’s standards, but it allowed the driver to cover ground in supreme comfort: a hallmark of French cars of years gone by.

Renault 12 Gordini

The best performance Renaults

Once a familiar sight, the Renault 12 has all but disappeared from these shores. Launched in 1969, the 12 was built in a number of locations around the world and actually lived on until 2004 in the form of the Dacia 1300. In 1971, a Renault 12 Gordini set a new record between Cape Town and Algiers, covering 15,432km in just eight days. The Gordini, along with the TS, was a credible performance car of its day.

Renault 17 TS

The Renault 15 and 17 arrived in 1971 and were La Régie’s answer to the Ford Capri, launched two years earlier. Of the two, the 17 was designed to appeal to a younger audience, with the TS model the choice of the enthusiast. It used the engine from the 16 TX to give this Renault 12-based coupe genuine pace.

Renault 18 Turbo

For a car marketed as a new model, the Renault 18 was little more than a reskinned Renault 12. And in blistering 18 Turbo form, it used the same 1565cc engine found in the old Renault 16 TS, albeit with a little help from a turbocharger. The performance model was set apart from the rest of the range thanks to its distinctive alloy wheels and rubbing strip, which ran alongside the side of the car and into a boot lid spoiler. This was the first time Renault had fitted a turbocharger to a production car.

Renault Alpine GTA

The best performance Renaults

We had to wait an age for the first Alpine to be officially imported into the UK, but it was worth the wait. The GTA was the first Alpine to be launched under Renault ownership, although the two firms had a history dating back many years. Known as the Renault Alpine GTA elsewhere, in the UK it was sold as the Renault GTA, as Chrysler owned the rights to the Alpine name. First came the GTA Turbo in 1986, which was followed by the cheaper GTA V6 in 1988.

Renaultsport Clio V6

Every so often, the mad people of Renault Sport decide to smoke something a little stronger than a Gauloise and let their hair down a little. The results can be staggering, like sticking a 3.0-litre V6 engine where the rear seats and boot should be. Sadly, thanks to Brunel-levels of reengineering, the rear-engined Clio was 300kg heavier than the 172 Cup, which only served to blunt the performance of this potential supercar-slayer.

Renaultsport Clio V6 255

By tweaking the cylinder head and induction system, Renaultsport managed to squeeze an additional 25hp for the phase 2 model, creating the Clio V6 255. Sadly, the weight also increased, with the Clio V6 now tipping the scales at 1,400kg. It was also ‘blessed’ with the interior of a regular supermini, which isn’t great when you’re pitching a car against genuine sports cars. And yet, despite all of this, we can’t help but love the unhinged and ‘mad as a box of frogs’ Clio V6.

Renault 21 Turbo

The best performance Renaults

“The 21 Turbo is the best sporting saloon Renault has ever built,” proclaimed Autocar in 1988. High praise indeed for Renault’s Cossie killer. With 175hp on tap, the 21 Turbo could sprint to 60mph in just under eight seconds, before going on to reach a top speed of 137mph. And if you were struggling to harness all that power, the 21 Turbo Quadra added four-wheel drive to the mix.

Renaultsport Megane R26.R

Fans of the Renaultsport Megane take note, because we haven’t included all versions in this gallery. The fact is: there are simply too many. The R26.R is, perhaps, not only one of the best hot Renaults of all-time, but one of the best hot hatches the world has ever seen. Compromises? Sure, there were a few – no rear seats, polycarbonate side and rear windows, no climate control, to name but three – but the R26.R is as hardcore as it gets. A true modern classic.

Renaultsport Megane 230 F1 Team R26

But if you fancied a little soundproofing and the option to carry some rear seat passengers, the Renaultsport Megane 230 F1 Team R26 is arguably the next best thing. Ridiculously long name aside, the R26 was, until the arrival of the R26.R, the best hot Megane you could buy. A 230hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and a limited slip diff were just two of the highlights.

Renaultsport Twingo 133 Cup

The best performance Renaults

Good things come in small packages, as demonstrated by the Renaultsport Twingo 133 Cup, which is perhaps the closest thing a French carmaker has got to creating a modern-day Citroen AX GT. In standard form, the Renaultsport Twingo 133 was a riot, but the Cup shed 10kg of weight, doing away with the aircon in the process. Stick a can of deodorant in the glovebox.

Renaultsport Clio 172

By the time the Renaultsport Clio 172 arrived in 1999, Renault had cemented a reputation for delivering the very best hot hatches. Fortunately, the first of the hot Mk2 Clios was up for the challenge, showing the rest of the world how a hot hatch should behave. Power was sourced from a 2.0-litre 16v engine and buyers could opt for a more focused Cup trim level.

Renaultsport Clio 182 Cup

Five years after the launch of the Clio 172, Renault launched the 182, which offered more power and twin tailpipes. As before, the Cup was the choice of the purists, available to buy as a stripped-out version from the factory, or as an optional extra ‘pack’ to be applied to a more luxurious 182. While we like to think of ourselves as purists, we rather like the feeling of dry armpits, so we’d opt for a Cup with aircon, thank you.

Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy

The best performance Renaults

If the Clio V6 was unhinged and slightly compromised, there could be no such complaints concerning the Clio 182 Trophy. In short: this was the hot Mk2 Clio at its peak. Only 550 were ever built – 500 for the UK and 50 for Switzerland – each one with trick Sachs dampers and Turini alloy wheels. A future classic with genuine investment potential.

Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup

We have fond memories of driving a Renaultsport Clio 200 at a Renault media driving day, at which we became so besotted with the hot Clio we lost track of time and were late back to the car park. We were greeted by the sight of a fully laden car transporter and a definite look of “what time do you call this” on the faces of the waiting press team. Any regrets? Only that we wished we had carried on driving until the tank was dry.

Renaultsport Megane dCi 175

History isn’t exactly littered with diesel-powered hot hatches, but the Renaultsport Megane dCi 175 was Renault’s first attempt at a performance car that appealed to both head and heart. It was good, too, looking to all intents and purposes like a petrol version, with the lack of a rear spoiler the only visual clue to its identity. It was a full second quicker from 50 to 75mph than the Renaultsport 225 and could deliver 10mpg more on a combined cycle.

Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R

The best performance Renaults

We said we’d avoid listing all variants of the most hardcore Meganes, but we simply have to make room for the 275 Trophy-R. As the spiritual successor to the R26.R, the Trophy-R did away with all but the bare essentials and scored a Nürburgring lap record in the process.

Renault Sport Spider

It should have been brilliant, but somehow the Renault Sport Spider failed to hit the mark. It didn’t help that the Spider was launched around the same time as the cheaper Lotus Elise, and we all know what an impact that had on the sports car segment. On the plus side, the Spider was powered by the 2.0-litre engine from the Clio Williams and has rarity on its side: only 96 were officially imported.

Renault 19 16v

In its day, the Renault 19 16v – available in hatchback and Chamade saloon flavours – was considered to be one of the best performance cars. And yet today, it is almost forgotten, suffering a similar fate to that of the Peugeot 309 GTi. Sure, the interior is as flimsy as a tray in a chocolate box and something electrical will throw a hissy fit at some point, but your patience will be rewarded by this forgotten gem of the 1990s.

Renault 9/11 Turbo

The best performance Renaults

If you’ll struggle to find a Renault 19 16v, you’ll find it just as tough securing a 9 or 11 Turbo. The rather conservative looking Renault 9 was an unlikely source for a performance car, but in both cases these were genuine alternatives to the more famous 5 GT Turbo. Good luck finding one.

Renault Fuego Turbo

Beneath the slippery Fuego body you’d find the floorpan and drivetrain of the Renault 18, although quite why it took La Regie so long to fit a turbocharger is anybody’s guess. The Fuego Turbo arrived in 1983 and was blessed with a pair of oh-so-80s TURBO decals. At the time, the 120mph Fuego Turbo was – homologation and handbuilt specials aside – Renault’s fastest production car.

Renault 25 V6 Turbo

Not all performance cars are focused on B-road thrills and track day spills. In fact, nobody does fast and comfortable quite like the French, as demonstrated by the Renault 25 V6 Turbo. By adding a Garrett T3 turbocharger to the Douvrin V6 engine, the flagship 25 produced 182hp and 207lb ft of torque. The top speed was 140mph, with a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds. A bit of a discrete street sleeper, this one.

Renault Clio RSi

The best performance Renaults

The phase one Clio might have lacked the Renaultsport badge, but that doesn’t mean it was lacking in poke. The Clio RSi was the junior version of the 16v and Williams, but without the wide arches and bonnet scoop, and powered by an 8v engine. It was, if you like, the entry point to the world of hot Clios.

Renault Clio 16v

The Renault Clio 16v, on the other hand, felt like the real deal. Power was sourced from the 1.8-litre 16v engine from the brilliant Renault 19 16v and, even then, the Clio handled with aplomb. All the ingredients were there for a thoroughbred hot hatch…

Renault Clio Williams

It might have lacked the badge, but Renault Sport was involved in the development of the Clio Williams. This was the real deal, powered by a 2.0-litre 16v engine and built for homologation purposes. Much to the annoyance of those who had ordered the ‘limited edition’ original, Renault decided to build the heavier and therefore less desirable Williams 2 and 3.

Renault Megane Coupe 2.0 16v

The best performance Renaults

Weirdly, you might find it easier to find a Clio Williams than you would a Renault Megane Coupe 2.0 16v. The problem being, in this form the pretty and pert Megane Coupe is powered by the same 2.0-litre engine you’d find in the ‘Willy’ and the Sport Spider. So while there were literally thousands left a decade ago, today the number has shrunk to fewer than 100, as many have been sacrificed in the name of engine transplants.

Renault Safrane Biturbo

The Renault Safrane failed to reach the heights of its forebears – Renault 25 in particular – with a lack of power one cause for complaint. The Biturbo laughed in the face of such criticism, powered by an evolution of the 3.0-litre V6 engine found in the Alpine A610, along with all-wheel drive and a manual gearbox. Sadly, this 258hp French express never made it to these shores. A shame, as the likely catastrophic depreciation would have made it a used car bargain.

Renault Laguna Coupe Monaco GP

In the case of the Renault Laguna Coupe Monaco GP, we readily admit that it’s more hot in the styling department than it is from a performance perspective. From the rear it looks like an Aston Martin, but at the front you’ll find a 2.0-litre diesel engine, which removes any thought of this being a cut-price Bond car. But four-wheel steering, rarity and stunning looks earn it a place here.

Renault Clio Maxi

The best performance Renaults

We’ve deliberately kept motorsport specials to a minimum, but we’ll make an exception for one or two heroes of stage and track. Take the Renault Clio Maxi, which was an evolution of the Clio Williams Group A rally car. For one glorious season, the Clio Maxi, complete with sequential gearbox, was a rallying hero, before it made way for the even more bonkers Megane.

Renault Alpine A610

Like its predecessor, the GTA, the Alpine A610 was once again branded as a Renault in the UK and was, until the rebirth of the Alpine brand, the final car to wear the famous badge. It failed to sell in big numbers, despite Renault slashing £5,000 off the list price in 1993, but this 160mph sports car could sit comfortably alongside a Porsche 968 and 911.

Renault Espace F1

Not to be confused with the Renault Espace your parents drove to seaside every summer, the Espace F1 was more Formula 1 car than it was MPV. It was built to celebrate the Williams-Renault team’s third consecutive Constructors’ crown and the sixth title for Renault’s V10 engine. Aptly, then, it was powered by a 3.5-litre V10 engine producing 800hp. Top speed: 194mph.

Renaultsport Twizy F1

The best performance Renaults

We drove the Renaultsport Twizy F1 in 2013. Even now, three years later, we’re still picking the stones from our teeth. The Twizy F1 was given the full Renaultsport makeover, or as much as you could squeeze into an electric quadricycle. Which means a KERS unit derived from Renault Sport’s F1 experience, Michelin slicks and a motorsport steering wheel from a Formula Renault 3.5 race car. We kept up with a Megane 265, which tells you all you need to know about this tiny car’s potential.

Renault 20 Turbo 4×4 Paris-Dakar

In 1982, Claude and Bernard Marreau emerged victorious in the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally. Three years earlier they had raced in a Renault 4, but to win outright in ‘82 was testament to the brothers’ skill behind the wheel and the pace and reliability of the turbocharged four-wheel drive prototype.

Renault Dauphine 1093

The Renault Dauphine 1093 of 1962 was essentially a race car for the road: a rally-prepared version of the popular Dauphine family car. Larger headlights, vented wheels, two blue stripes on the body and a modified powertrain were just some of the highlights. Top speed: for its day, an impressive 87mph.

Renault Etoile Filante

The best performance Renaults

The oh-so-pretty Etoile Filante has held a land speed record since since 1956, and yet it has been all but forgotten. On the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Etoile Filante – powered by a 270hp gas turbine engine – reached an average of 306.9km/h over 1km and 308.85 over 5km, a record that still holds today.

Renault 4CV

The 4CV was Renault’s first major development after the Second World War and the rear-engined family car proved to be a commercial hit, with sales in excess of a million. It also enjoyed some sporting success, with none other than Jean Rédélé, the founder of Alpine, racing a 1063 model. This is Rédéle at the wheel of a modified 4CV while competing in the Monte Carlo Rally. Later, he would secure a class win in the Mille Miglia and overall victory in the Coupe des Alpes, the latter of which would inspire the name of his company. The rest, as they say, is history.

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