Golf GT TDI, SEAT Leon FR TDI, Toyota Auris D-4D T180... there are a few diesel hot hatches around nowadays...
Indeed, which is why the RenaultSport engineers built a concept fitted with the Nissan-Renault 175bhp 2.0-litre dCi engine - to convince management that they could join the party, too. Approval duly granted, they set about honing what's still a rarity; a diesel with the full-fat hot hatch treatment. VW, for example, has purposefully stopped short of releasing a GTI TDI. No, the 175 isn't quite as hardcore as the Megane 225 petrol, not least because Renault expects dCi drivers to cover more miles (and desire a lesser pummeling). It can also be distinguished by the lack of rear roof spoiler, deleted to boost fuel economy. But it's still a RenaultSport. And therefore, in places, rather special.
What makes this more than just a badged-up dCi GT, then?
The way the ultra-refined engine performs, for one. It's the only Megane diesel to have balancer shafts, and is extremely free-revving right to the 5200rpm redline. With more aggressive (and low-speed shunt-inducing) throttle response quickly priming the variable-geometry turbo, it feels no more laggy than the petrol turbo - and the lack of resonance and harshness means you'll rev the nuts off it on twisties, with abandon. This is a first in this sector, and helps exploit 265lb ft of torque. It's not a balls-out performer (8.3sec to 60mph, instead of the petrol's 6.5sec, shows where diesels' weaknesses are) but it's punchy and without effort. Making very swift progress is child's play.
I'd pay money to watch you deploy all that torque on a wet road
Well, here's another specialty - the ability to boot it and experience no torque steer. It's courtesy of RenaultSport's double-axis front suspension, which a company insider admits is expensive, but worth it when the results are so apparent. Springs and damper rates are unique, and the rear torsion beam is as stiff as that in the petrol Cup. It's all slowed by four-pot Brembos taller than an A4 letter. Rear springs are stiffer with the dCi Cup chassis option (which arrives later in the year), the dampers are unique and, significantly, the ESP can be fully disengaged. Meaning you can fully enjoy the engineers' torque-quelling work free from the electronic safety net.
Is it another RenaultSport success?
The standard model is slightly disappointing, in that it's almost there but not quite; the gains over the dCi GT are not comprehensive enough. The Cup, however, is very impressive. Turn-in is sharp and cohesive, roll constrained and grip ample. It flows between corners confidently and has an agility as crisp as the throttle step-on. Even the ride in the Cup, while more taut, remains acceptable. Like the engine, it hasn't quite the alacrity of the petrol - but be in no doubt, it's still remarkably fun.
Hate to be so dull, but is it economical?
At 43.5mpg, it's 10mpg better than the petrol, so yes; class rivals do eek out a few more mpg, and boast a similarly-clean particulate filter, but the Renault's extra smoothness is worth it. Good job it's less thirsty, mind, given a £500 premium over the 225; somehow, you expect parity, though company car drivers will save 3 percent in the UK's benefit-in-kind tax. Two trims are offered at launch - standard and leather/climate control-equipped Lux - with the Cup probably slotting between the two when it arrives. That car's worth it for its Anthracite-coloured alloys alone.
A full-on diesel hot hatch can work - when it's not quite as full-on as a petrol model. In making it quiet and smooth, and the torque easy to access, Renault's given us a car probably as fast as the 225 on twisty roads. And with suspension settings in Cup guise showing almost the level of focus, similarly involving, too. It's better for longer trips, in deference to the longer legs it's expected to show - but the satisfaction hasn't been tainted, just realigned. With this balance and a great diesel engine too, it justifies the RenaultSport moniker.