Drives: fat cars are still boats
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: compensating a fat car with horsepower is like giving an alcoholic cocaine to sober him up.
MEGANE 265 CUP AND SUBARU BRZ: FAST VS FUN
So you're in the fortunate position to lavish £25,000 on a new car. It has to be a bit special, too; not just your usual high-spec diesel. Something to get the pulse racing, in other words. Something worthy of a PHer.
Question is, do you pick a car that's fast, or one that's fun? Or to be more precise, because fast by definition means fun, which type of fun to choose? Edge of your seat thrills from a car that's poised and precise? Or a laugh riot kind of car that's only too keen to let its hair down?
We've chosen to represent the latter here with the Subaru BRZ, a giggle of a car if ever there was one. And to represent the former, our trusty Megane 265 Cup long termer - about as sharp as a hot hatch gets. But standing twixt Subaru and Renault dealerships, with a hypothetical £25,000 burning a hole in your pocket, which way would you turn?
Jumping into the BRZ first you need to look past a slightly confused mass of curves and angles, not to mention plastics that'd feel more at home in a Hyundai Accent circa 1997. But it all feels solid. And the driving position is inherently sporty, placing your backside low down and your legs stretched out.
There's a gratifying little snarl to the engine, aided by the pipe that feeds sound into the cabin from the intake manifold. OK, so it's not entirely natural, but crucially, the noise doesn't come at you from the stereo speakers. The gearchange is a highlight, too; it feels as though excessive damping has deliberately been avoided, and the result is a shift that feels direct and mechanical, clunking satisfyingly into each ratio. The elephant in the room, of course, is power. Does the BRZ lack it? No. Could it take more? Almost certainly. But it does feel as though there's - just - enough, and that works better than you might think because it spurs you on to rev it more, to drive it harder.
Off the line
That said, it goes without saying that it simply doesn't stand a chance against the Megane in a drag race. The Renault's engine is a corker. Power comes brutally and near-instantly, in any gear, accompanied by an ethereal whoosh from the turbo. Occasionally, if you're lucky, it'll even reward you with a subtle pop as you lift off for a gearchange. Fast? Oh yeah, it's that - and devastatingly so.
But while the Megane thrashes the BRZ in raw performance terms, in other areas it's less convincing. Take the interior, for example. It's here the Megane really shows it's been adapted for purpose from a hatchback, unlike the BRZ. True, there's the joyous geekery of the Renaultsport Monitor to play with. But on the whole, it doesn't quite have the fundamental rightness of the Subaru. It's partly the fault of the driving position, which even after aeons of fumbling, still leaves you feeling too far from the wheel or too close to the pedals, and never quite gets you low enough in the car. What's more, straight after the meatier controls of the BRZ, the Megane's steering and pedals feel comparatively light and spongy; its gearchange, too, feels rangier and less taut. In short, it just doesn't feel quite as special or as well-sorted.
That changes once you hit some corners, though. It's not that the BRZ doesn't feel well set up; it's just clearly not been designed with ultimate pace in mind. It's still quick in the dry, though, with a chunky, stable feeling that inspires confidence, and plenty of grip to boot. It's still a stretch away from being able to keep up, though, as it simply doesn't have the power to drive it out of corners in quite the same way.
Playing for laughs
In the wet, however, there's no comparison. The Megane blats off down the road, immersing you in the experience, ducking and diving into the next corner and strong-arming its way out with such consummate ease that a stolen glance at the speedo results in widened eyes. Meanwhile, the BRZ's still somewhere two corners back, slithering around and trying to go sideways instead of forwards. "Nope, that ain't happening," it says, as you feed in the throttle. "But look - I can do big skids instead!" It isn't as quick as the Megane, then - but it doesn't half make you grin.
So which is the victor here? Fast, or fun? Well, let's face it: the conclusion to this test was never going to be 100 per cent definitive because it depends on so many subjective variables. If you want nerve-tingling power, astonishing grip, and an all-out adrenaline rush - not to mention, bragging rights - you'll buy the Renault and live with its deficiencies.
If you want slithery fun, easily-accessible thrills, and a car that makes you feel you're in something special every minute you're driving it, you'll ignore the lack of power and buy the BRZ. In other words, you'll pick your favourite. And because it doesn't take itself too seriously, because it feels more special for more of the time, and because it makes you laugh more readily than the Renault makes you gasp, on this occasion fun wins.