While they didn’t quite invent the concept, French carmaker Renault do take their hot-hatches rather seriously, so much so that it operates a separate division – called RenaultSport – to build them. That’s where the RS initials come into play in the RS 265 badge, with the numbers representing the hiked horsepower figure for the 2012 Megane RS, a model that first came out in 2009 as the RS 250.
But at the same time, the above facts do not make the Ford Focus ST the newer, outside contender either. It isn’t a set of wheels without its own lineage as the Blue Oval have produced a number of memorable fast small cars since the 1980s. What the two have in common in the present is that they are both after a clientele of moneyed geeks who love motorsports tech in their daily driver, and also the ability to take that car of choice to a track day meet every now and then.
Lift the bonnet on the Focus ST or the Megane RS 265 Cup and you’ll be greeted by a common formula: front-wheel drive, a slick six-speed manual shifter and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with a single turbocharger. As a result, the power outputs are not that dissimilar between the Focus and Megane, with the Renault topping the power and torque tables slightly by offering some 265 hp and 360 Nm compared with the Ford’s 246 hp and 340 Nm of urge.
To achieve this, Renault Sport have upped turbo pressure in the Megane to 2.5 bar, while the air intake design has been revised to take the higher pressure and higher running temperatures into account. Specific power is now at 132.5 hp/litre while goodies like the mechanical limited slip differential (LSD), Perfohub independent steering axis front suspension and RS Monitor (an onboard telemetry system that lets drivers track and adjust vehicle parameters) are carried over from the previous RS 250.
The Focus ST’s EcoBoost mill, meanwhile, delivers maximum power between 2,000 and 4,500 rpm – with a brief surge of 20 Nm coming on with kick down over-boost – while the Renault’s peak torque arrives at 3,000 rpm, although 80% of that is available from just 1,900 rpm! Both cars provide great tractability and immense mid-range driveability with no issue of turbo lag, making city driving absolutely effortless. Both contenders give you linear acceleration and bags of fun on clear highways, byways and occasionally, even speedways!
So it certainly looks like the Renault wins the battle of power and torque, at the expense of higher fuel consumption with official figures of 8.2l/100 km. But if you’re buying a hot hatch, fuel economy might not be your top priority, right? Sheer drivability should be your focus, but for reasons known only to Renault the “Sport” mode button is hidden on the side of the dash and not clearly marked! But once you find it though, you’ll unleash the full potency of a brilliantly flexible and responsive engine.
Give this Megane room to stretch its legs, and its talents shine through. Its turbo engine provides the thrust to showcase the chassis’ brilliance, and while the powerplant stages a strong performance in its own right, it ultimately plays a supporting role to the star that is the RS 265′s chassis. That is not to say the engine is somewhat mediocre or average; far from it. Scintillating in-gear acceleration is readily available from just past 2,500 rpm and the powerband remains strong, even past 5,500 rpm where peak power is produced.
The RenaultSport also does the 0-100 km/h about half-a-second quicker (6.0 seconds vs 6.5 seconds) than the ST. A sudden stab on the gas pedal in the Frenchie also guarantees a noticeable change in throttle response (making it perhaps a tad too touchy for close quarter city driving), the exhaust burbles on over-run, and the electronic stability control (ESC) threshold is instantly raised.
In-gear performance of both cars are particularly special, with the Focus feeling the strongest off idle, from 80-120 km/h and upwards. Seemingly out-gunned by the Renault, the Ford has certainly has more than enough grunt for a hot hatch. It also wins plenty of points because the car officially pegs a consumption figure of 7.4l/100 km. And a space at the top of the charts also belongs to the Focus ST which charges along with an addictive bassy growl that resonates rather nicely in the cabin, while provoking a lot of double takes street-side! Who needs the darn stereo when you have this ringing in your ears all morning, yeah?
But once away from city traffic, in relatively dry conditions, it is again the Renault that feels and looks the quickest with its 18-inch wheels in matte black that sport curved spokes and an RS logo, an update from the diamond-badged star-spoke wheels of the previous RS 250. In its element, the Renault displays the type of slingshot acceleration out of corners that can leave the driver grabbing at both superlatives and expletives! Don’t forget, this is, after all the sister to fastest front-wheel drive car that has ever lapped the Nurburgring – the Renault RS 265 Trophy. Now, having something from the same family that is far from being a slouch with it’s very similar performance can’t be too bad, yes?
Head for the twisties, and not many cars hold up to a well-driven Renault of this sort. The fast and accurate steering is alive with feedback and inspires confidence for point-and-shoot shenanigans, while the punchy engine offers a broad spread of power that makes overtaking a breeze. A snappy gearshift also makes the most of the engine’s performance, while responsive Brembo brakes bring the Megane to a halt quickly and consistently every time. Suppose the downside of this stunning performance is the fact that the unrelentingly stiff ride can become extremely tiring – but then this isn’t a car that’s designed for pounding up and down the school or grocery run… sorry wife, or kids!
Meanwhile in the ST, the unfortunate reality of the front-wheel drive performance car is clearly felt. Rev it up and feel a delicious rush of thrust turn into a bit of torque steer and other assorted FWD misbehaviour but regardless, the ST’s steering is also quick enough and very accurate. And while this Ford that is shod in 18-inch alloys and specially-developed 235/40 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric rubbers foregoes a mechanical limited-slip differential, it has another trick up its sleeve – an electronic torque vectoring system that minimises understeer. So in the dry it gets its power down well enough and high-speed driving is mostly refined, with the odd reminder that you are, after all, driving a 250 hp front-drive screamer.
Fortunately, there are also plenty of driving aids present in the Ford as well. First there’ s a variable ratio Sport Steering System, which reduces steering sensitivity when driving in a straight line and increases sensitivity when cornering. The car’s electronic stability programme (ESP) features three distinct modes – drivers have the option of keeping ESP on with a tuned version of the system found throughout the Focus range. Next, a reduced or wide-slip mode disables traction control and activates ESP only when absolutely necessary. Finally, ESP can be switched off altogether, if you’re into that sort of fun.
Other items include Torque Vectoring Control (TVC), which applies brake torque to the inner wheel through a corner to reduce understeer and Cornering Under Steer Control (CUSC), which applies torque to create yaw torque based on the vehicle’s understeer behaviour prior to ESP, both in power-on and power-off conditions.
But jock tech aside, future owners of either car will be living with them on a day-to-day basis, and not just keep them as garaged, track-day specials!
In this regard, the RS 265 Cup looks very civilised and ready for a night out on the town with a smoked headlamp look and daylight running lights. Inside, it’s a similarly classy theme with gloss black trim (AC vent surrounds, steering spoke, door grips, centre console), carbon-effect finish for the door cards and a shiny top for the gear knob.
Also, the edges of the fabric Recaro bucket seats are now in leather, making it more resistant to wear. The audio head unit is a newer item that integrates USB and AUX-in. Top marks for everything inside… the complains only come when you, or your passenger, try to get in and out of the car’s very low set pair of doors more than three times a day! Of course, there’s front, side, rear airbags to boot, just in case…
Meanwhile, in the Ford, with your bottom firmly fit in the Recaro sports seats, you’ll find the ST to be a rather snug place to be; in a good way. The seats do extremely well to hold you in place when you’re going around corners, they absorb the bumps from breaking your back, and keep you very connected with the drive.
Apart from a few ‘ST’ badges here and there and a sunroof above your head, it’s a very familiar environment to the current run-of-the-mill Focus; with its ergonomically confused but pretty dash cluster, tiny display screens for all your music and drive data, and the same nifty compartments and storage areas. The Recaro seats and sports steering wheel with ST badges help illustrate the fact that you’re not driving a regular Focus, but feel awesome and contribute greatly to what’s to happen soon after you’ve pushed ‘Start’. Other kit includes six airbags and a cap-less refuelling system.
So at the end of it all, which car should the moneyed motor geek go for then?
Perhaps the one who lives life to the fullest and appreciates no-holds-barred racing weekends will find the RM234,526.80 (OTR without insurance) price tag set by importers TC Euro Cars for the Renault RS 265 Cup a bargain still. And serious performance the Renault has, but trying to live with one may just prove to be a tad too hard on your wallet, not to mention your back! Perhaps one should think of it as that awfully hot trophy girlfriend you’d love to score, but probably shouldn’t for the sake of your continued well-being.
So, nevermind it comes in at a close second on the performance sweepstakes because certainly the Ford Focus ST’s versatile five-door layout, RM208,888 (OTR with insurance) price, a three-year/100,000 km warranty as well as Extended Service Plan (ESP) maintenance programme, good for three years or 60,000 km will be a difficult package to resist. After all, whoever’s heard of a weekend racer with access to corporate sponsorship money?
Ford Focus ST:
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power: 250 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 340 Nm @ 1,750 rpm
0-100 km/h: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 248 km/h
Fuel economy: 7.6 l/100 km (combined)
CO2 Emissions: 172 g/km
Weight: 1,362 kg
Renault Megane RS 265 Cup
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power: 265 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 360 Nm @ 3,000 rpm
0-100 km/h: 6.0 seconds
Top speed: 250 km/h
Fuel economy: 8.2l/100 km (combined)
CO2 Emissions: 190 g/km
Weight: 1,393 kg