What is it?
Theoretically, this is a chance for Renault to exploit its intimate (but perhaps not always widely appreciated) relationship with the dominant Formula 1 team of this decade.
Practically, the Red Bull Racing RB8, a right mouthful of a limited edition model, is an equipment-ladled version of every motoring scribe’s favourite hot hatch – the Megane 265 Cup.
Considering the manufacturer’s status as engine supplier to the Austrian (but Milton Keynes-based) constructor, some might find it a little disappointing that nothing has occurred under the bonnet. But we’ve never found ourselves wanting more from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine since Renault unlocked 261bhp in the standard car.
The same could be said of the Cup chassis, which, aside from the addition of stickier Potenza RE050A tyres, also remains determinedly unfettled. The differences then are chiefly cosmetic, then, and easy to spot. The car gets a special Twilight Blue colour scheme (derived from the F1 cars) and a light coating of Red Bull graphics on the flanks and rear.
There’s more branding inside, although being on the kickplates, mats and headrests (on nicer seat upholstery), it’s considerately restricted to places where you don’t have to stare at it for long. Renault would prefer your eyeballs to focus instead on the updated R-Link infotainment system that is included as standard and features v2.0 of the Renaultsport Monitor software.
What’s it like?
Still phenomenal. Much of the RB8 package is obviously a matter of taste, but, truthfully, Renault could garnish the Mégane in Care Bear livery and not put a noticeable dent in our affections. No one, with the possible exception of Ford’s TeamRS, better remixes a hatchback for hotness.
Here, the steering, roll stiffness, brakes and grip – usefully embellished with Bridgestone’s help – are all ripped straight from a track day fanatic’s wish list. All combine to help the Mégane up onto its familiar pedestal, and do so without ever feeling hindered by the comparative suppleness or everyday manageability engineered into both the chassis and powertrain.
Forking out more for the RB8 is likely to mean you prize the Mégane’s hardcore assets over the soft, but it is this supreme balance that makes a journey up the motorway almost as enjoyable as time spent on a circuit, and is the reason why the car continues to feel like a steal – even with Red Bull’s premium attached to the list price.
It helps that the minor differentiations work. Stickers we can take or leave, but the mean shade of blue, subtle ‘platinum’ detailing and gloss-black 19-inch rims befit the Mégane’s lean styling. It would also take an inner child significantly more mature than ours not to be at least a little bit amused by the tweaked onboard Monitor, which displays real-time acceleration, G-force, power, traction, and GPS timing data.
Should I buy one?
At face value, the RB8 isn’t an immediate must-have. At £28,245, the car is over £2500 more than the Cup version that has just as much power and charm, and no wannabe decals plastered to its rump. However, delving into the detail shows the Red Bull Racing model holding most of the trim level trump cards.
To add the bigger wheels, better paint, fancy Monitor computations, TomTom sat nav and prettier upholstery would require some hefty ticking on a Cup car template – and you still wouldn’t come away with the better tyres. You also wouldn’t get the exclusivity (and the resale benefit) of knowing that there are just 29 other RB8s knocking around the UK.
Until a tricked-up run-out edition of the Mégane emerges from Dieppe, this is the version – and indeed the C segment hot hatch – to buy.
Renaultsport Mégane Red Bull Racing RB8
Price £28,245; 0-62mph 6.0sec; Top speed 158mph; Economy 37.7mpg; CO2 174g/km; Kerb weight 1379kg; Engine 4cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 261bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 266lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual
What is it?