By Jethro Noble
Photography by Jake Thomas
RENAULT MEGANE 225 & 230 BUYING GUIDE
A solid performer on the track, yet comfortable and practical on the road, and if you buy well, surprising reliability...Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it. Find out how to purchase the right Renaultsport Megane 225.
Take yourself back to the 90s, you’re well into your shell suits, your trackie bottoms are tucked right into long white socks, Friends is on telly later and you’ve just got yourself into Staines’ fastest car, the legendary Renault 5 GT Turbo (although you won’t be aware of the dynamic and sporting capabilities of this car until the Ali G TV show launches in a couple of years). Admittedly, I was born in 2003 so I have no idea if these things actually happened, but that’s what music tells me the 90s was like. These were jovial times, so it’s only right that you’d like to relive them.
Straight to the charity shop you go, aiming your sights right at the most garishly coloured ill-fitting outerwear available, with bonus points for excessive flammability. While there, you pick up a copy of Experience by The Prodigy on tape, ready to bury it into your new Technics stereo. Everything is going swimmingly, right up until you realise you only have one parking space outside your home, work is a 25-mile dual carriageway commute, you need space in the back for a dog and the child’s seats actually need to stay affixed in the rear during an emergency stop. Your R5 Turbo dreams are starting to look far-fetched.
Fear not, however. Plenty of modern counterparts from the Dieppe diamond will provide you with all the turbocharged Tricolore thrills you could want, without the sacrifices. As I’m sure you know by now, plenty of brilliant driver’s cars have come from the now discontinued RenaultSport range. Clios, Meganes and even the unassuming little Twingo have been fettled in the past, producing some proper thrills capable of rivalling cars at many times the price. The one we’re going to talk about today is the Megane 225 (the one with the big bum), some of the things it does extremely well, and a few things to look out for if you’re in the market for one.
Now, for the second generation Megane, Renaultsport had their way with four key different versions: the diesel 175 (don’t bother), the daily-able 225 for someone on a bit of a budget, the well-received R26 and the full-whack, no prisoners taken, carbon fibre bonnet and roll cage equipped R26.R. There were loads of different special editions and limited run options, but those are the four key stablemates. With the 225, as with many others, there were a number of different trim levels you could go with including the RenaultSport Cup chassis, an option that became synonymous with the brand. Because the aftermarket support for Dieppe’s finest is so enormous nowadays, there is a debate on whether you need the cup chassis, but we’ll get to that later.
GEARBOX & TRANSMISSION
As with a lot of Renaults, the Megane 225 has a gearbox that nobody really writes home about. It requires a considerate and accurate shift to avoid missing a gear, and won’t last all that long if abused. If it feels like you’re stirring porridge, one of the fragile linkages could be on the way out. It certainly isn’t a Honda gearbox, but take the time to gel with it and you will be rewarded as it is a ‘box with a relatively short throw, so can be worked through the ratios quite swiftly.
It wouldn't be a complete buying guide about a French performance car without a chapter on potential electrical gremlins. The positive (excuse the pun) news when it comes to the Phase II Megane is there is only a handful of issues to be aware of. First up are the window regulators, which can leave you with an open window when you least need it. A replacement is a cheap but frustrating fix. Both the driver's and passenger's sides are prone to failure.
The next port of call is the ignition coils and pack, which can cause a misfire, especially on a tuned car. The crankshaft sensor is also a fragile item to keep an eye on. Luckily, both of these items are a relatively cheap DIY fix.
One aspect that could have you chasing your tail is the notoriously sensitive keyless entry system. Renault was an early adopter of the technology and the majority of the keyless go works flawlessly, but occasionally, it can cause your blood to boil, locking you out of the car or worse, refusing to start. The usual suspect is a spent battery, a fix that costs less than a cup of coffee. Sometimes however the door handle sensors might not appreciate being covered in dirt, or heaven forbid, rainwater. The only solution here is to enter the car using the traditional key, which of course, sets off the alarm. It might not be a bad idea therefore, to carry a spare battery in your wallet or purse.
BRAKES, WHEELS, TYRES & SUSPENSION
As 225s are an extremely popular track day choice, there is a vast amount of aftermarket support for wheels, brakes and tyres to suit your every need. The wheels are a relatively common size and spec so it’s easy to get a quality aftermarket set. Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.2s are a popular choice, but if it was up to me I'd go for a Speedline Turini as I believe this is the best wheel for a RenaultSport. Were you to be a fan of the standard wheels and in need of a replacement, a full set can be had on eBay for under £300.
As far as brakes are concerned, the standard setup is fine for all but the fastest track use. Even if you’re a track day regular, a well-heeled set of pads like Ferodo’s DS1.11 paired with quality discs like Brembo’s popular High Carbon discs will do the job, especially so if you flush out any old fluid for fresh high-temperature spec juice and braided lines.
For road use, the standard setup will again do you just fine, decent pads and discs are still beneficial but it’s best to not go down the track-oriented route as this is only likely to end up without sufficient heat generated for them to work properly on the public highway. EBC Greenstuff pads are a solid choice for spirited road driving as well as entry-level track driving. I have some on my own Clio 182, and they provide bite even from cold and I’m yet to have them fade.
In terms of suspension, there are two key areas to pay particular attention to. First is the condition of the famous torque steer quelling swivel hubs. Renault never made a song and dance about them - in fact, Ford later stole the limelight by copying the technology and famously dubbing it Revo-Knuckle on the Mk II Focus RS - but it was revolutionary stuff and a key factor in the Megane's benchmark handling. The trouble is, they are not cheap to replace at £400+ a side fitted, and they potentially need to be done every six years or so. The second factor to be on the lookout for is worn bushes and mounts, otherwise the suspension is pretty robust.
Afterwards, it comes down to whether or not you’re happy with the factory setup, which if you need the daily comfort you may well be. But if not and you wanted to upgrade, there are again a massive array of options so it really comes down to what you prioritise - handling, comfort or budget, it’s hard to have all three.
The cheapest setup would be to get some lowering springs on Cup dampers, and if you’re on a tighter budget then this is going to be favourable to opting for cheap coilovers. If you don't want to go down the lowering springs route, a half-decent set of coilovers and a proper alignment will improve the handling and control of the car. BC Racing’s BR coilover kit is popular with Megane owners and will set you back £800 and upwards brand new. You could go all-out and spend more than the car is worth on AST’s 3-way adjustable 5300 series kit, but you don’t really need to spend that to get a quality setup.
Tyres are a fairly easy 225/45/18 too, so there is once again a world of choice. It’s likely that most of the Meganes on the market will have wheels shod with half-decent rubber already as it’s a type of car that really rewards going with something that compliments the chassis. It’s a telltale sign if the car you are looking at has four decent tyres on it - shows it has at least had the simple things cared for.
TO CUP, OR NOT TO CUP?
Remember what I said about there being a barrage of different chassis options and countless editions? In typical Renault fashion, it’s an absolute minefield of slight differences which are argued about the world over on forum pages 15 years later.
After the sticky press regarding the wayward and slightly ‘boaty’ handling of the 225, Renault hastily introduced the Trophy, a limited run of 160 cars all painted Nimbus Grey. The Trophy featured 25 per cent stiffer front springs and 45 per cent stiffer rears, with re-tuned damping to suit. The electric power steering also received attention, while larger Brembo brakes were fitted up front, alongside wider yet lighter 18" alloy wheels wrapped in Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber.
The Trophy was well received, motivating Renault to improve the handling of the original 225 with the Cup, which was then followed with the ‘Cup Chassis Pack’ on the standard 225 as customers demanded a model with improved handling without sacrificing interior quality. The Cup went even further than the Trophy, using the same increased spring rates over the standard car at the front, but dialled the rears up by a massive 77 per cent. Naturally, the rear dampers were again tweaked to suit.
The Cup also featured the same alloys as the Trophy, whilst adding drilled front & rear brake discs and a new master cylinder with an increased diameter. The Cup pack cost a very reasonable £500. On top of the Cup option, some owners also ticked the "Lux" pack, which didn't increase interior lighting. But it did offer trinkets such as heated leather seats, an uprated sound system, keyless go, metallic paint and a panoramic sunroof.
In the Megane 225, it can be hard to decipher whether or not the car you’ve bought is of Cup chassis origin, as they’re mostly over 15 years old, it’s very dependent on car age, and the cup bits can be swapped and changed. The most trusted way of knowing whether it’s a standard car or a genuine Cup is via traction and stability controls. A standard car will sneakily re-activate the ESP above 30 mph, no matter how many times you prod the button. In a Cup, if you turn off the ESP, it stays off.
In terms of what the package came with from the factory, it depends on what year and phase you own. As an example, red callipers were introduced after 2006 (56 plate) on Cup chassis cars and not before. Anthracite wheels were included, but these are easily swapped out and refurbished in a different colour so it is hard to determine originality.
If you really want a Cup chassis car, then you may have to wait longer for the right one or pay a bit extra for the name, but it will hold value slightly better. If you just want a relatively cheap, fast and capable car for commuting and a bit of spirited driving on the side, then a standard one will be just fine, and you can modify it over time to handle and ride better than a Cup chassis car anyway.
After the Trophy and Cup came the tongue-twisting 225 F1 Team Special Edition of May 2006, issued in commemoration of Renault's domination of Formula One. The F1 was mostly a styling exercise, however it did offer a lot more kit than the £900 hike in list price set you back. The roll call included the optional Recaro Trendline bucket seats with blue Alcantara inserts, ungraded hi-fi and Cup chassis.
The F1 also saw the rear dampers revised once again (also added to the regular Cup spec in late 2006) and ushered in the minor facelift which included a new front grill and rear tail lamps. 149 examples were sold in the UK, the majority painted in the eye-catching Ultra Blue, with a handful specified in metallic Black Gold.
Just as confusing, later that year (December) came the Megane 230 F1 Team R26 celebrating yet another successful F1 season. Whilst it essentially included the same extra kit as the 225 F1, the R26 went a little further on the hardware side, offering a modest boost in power to 230 bhp thanks to a sports exhaust. But the really big news was the introduction of the game-changing Torsen limit-slip differential and switch to Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tyres. The R26 was very well received by the motoring press, leading to a total number of 1,272 UK cars registered.
Less well-received was the diesel-powered RS DCi 175, also of 2006. It looked identical to the 225, but it didn't quite go like one, sacrificing two seconds in the sprint to 60 mph (8.3s) and 10 mph in top speed (137 mph). The DCi also didn't quite have the elan in the turns of the 225, despite a cloned chassis. This was thanks to the additional weight penalty of the diesel lump - the kerb weight of the 175 was up by a massive 135 kg.
Finally, the ultimate driving cherry on top of the Renaultsport sundae was the R26.R of 2009. A landmark hot hatch, the R26.R is a hyper-focused driving machine featuring perspex windows, an interior devoid of luxuries and a roll-cage where you'd expect to find rear seats. The kerb weight was cut by 125 kg and guess what, the springs and dampers were revised once again. With its Toyo 888 rubber, the R26.R zipped around the ring in an astonishing 8m 17s, a front-wheel drive record. But the R26.R is so much more than a track warrior, as you can read in our review here.
Value-wise, the Megane 225 is a bit all over the shop at the moment. There has been a hot hatch boom over the last few years and we’ve seen the prices of certain cars skyrocket. An exceptional Clio 182 Trophy sold on Collecting Cars for almost £50,000 earlier in the year, but a decent example with a few owners is about 20 per cent of that price. It is possible to pick up a baggy example of a 225 for as low as £2k. You’d have to leave some budget to make it near as perfect, but for the money, it would be a very entertaining daily driver that you don’t have to worry too much about.
The middle of the market is ripe though. Between £3k and £6k can get you into a fairly low mileage example, modified or not and avoid worrying too much about something going wrong. After a quick sweep of the web, £2,995 gets you into a standard 225 with 12 months MOT and comprehensive service history. The previously mentioned sticking points like the gear linkage bush and the big belt change have both been taken care of in the last month as well. It has 150,000 miles on it which may seem a lot, but when the history is there to back this up and it has been taken care of this isn’t an issue.
At the spiky end of what’s available, you could pick up a stunning example 225 for £10k, and if you aren’t afraid of going really mad, there is currently an R26.R for sale. It has just over 10k miles, is in almost new condition and looks stunning in deep black with that polished carbon bonnet and orangey-red fluoro wheels. It is £48,000 though.
"Me and my partner Carly share a ‘standard-ish’, Megane 225 sport, first registered one day after my birthday in April 2005. She’s black, meaning that keeping it clean is impossible. We’ve owned her since the summer of 2021 after catching the track day bug.
I’ve previously owned a few cars that are track orientated and when the first national lock-down hit, I decided it was the opportune moment to pick up a previously owned make and model, but this time utilise her to its full potential on the track (something I had previously never done). I loved the track day we attended, but turned into a complete frangipane at the thought of pranging it or something hitting me. So, we purchased a little Mini R53 as a suitable toy. Why the Mini? Well at the time Carly had an R56 as a daily and my sister had an R53 too, so, I knew what they could do for not a lot of money. Anyways, I’m off on a tangent – but it does have relevance as to why we went for a 225.
At each of the following track days we attended, without fail, there would be a Megane there. Not only would there be one or two there, but they would be having a riot whilst also upsetting many other more exotic items of metal. The criteria soon became apparent for Carly’s new daily, it must be comfortable to drive, have reasonable running costs, but be track-capable – the Megane was the front-runner.
This delightful example, when we picked her up, featured some horrible Ford offset alloys, useless tyres, the world’s loudest blow-off valve and a hole the size of a golf ball in the centre section of the exhaust. Alongside the limo tint rear windows and mega cool rear wiper delete, she essentially was a standard ‘Lux’ model 225, so doesn’t have the nice Recaro seats. There is a map upon her though, meaning she does go well. So well in fact that within a week of ownership, it began misfiring.
Mint she was not. Off the top of my head, within the first few months of ownership we forked out for standard 225 wheels, new tyres, varying dents pulled out from her, new Renault injectors, simple service on the drive, exhaust repaired, tracking done and blow-off valve promptly removed… then refitted. I hated it, Carly hated it, but despite me quaffing at the ‘cheap eBay special’ dump valve I thought it was, rummaging through the paperwork revealed it was in fact a very expensive adjustable HKS item. As I had no replacement sorted, it was cleaned, checked over and still resides within the engine bay.
I quite like working on it until I do not. The engine is fairly accessible, as are most of the suspension and brake components (shock horror). I’ve recently replaced the rear brake callipers and also treated her to some Ferrodo DS2500 pads + Motul brake fluid and the whole experience was ‘fun’.
I also attempted to change the front sidelight bulbs, and I have not succeeded. It’s painful, cramped, silly, French and painful, did I mention it’s painful? Both mentally and physically. No doubt others are reading this and saying ‘It’s simple mate’, and I’m sure it is. But so far it bloody isn’t.
In the last few months, we’ve had her go to K-tec (renowned Renault specialists) to have the infamous swivel hubs replaced, the timing belt serviced and a good old-fashioned check-over. ‘She’s actually a really nice example’ the lead technician advised us, as Carly presented her card to pay for essentially a luxury 5-star holiday to Maldives, but the 225 does at least look, well, absolutely no different – but we know the hidden bits are ok at least.
Still, I love it. It’s not the fastest car but is surprisingly prompt for a 1400kg French shopping trolley. The brakes are immense. The handling is predictable (now the wheels all point the same way) and it’s one of the few cars I’ve pushed and really felt the front end dig into the ground - if that makes sense. Carly loves it too, she likes the useable power, the noise, the looks (marmite we know for some) and the quirky ‘Wsshhhhhhhh-pffffffffft’ you get as she builds and dispenses, boost.
With a tasteful exhaust and some sought-after Recaros, she’s well on the way to being one of my favourite cars to have perched within and blatted around. I’m sure Carly would likely agree with that sentiment too. The handbrake is ridiculous though. You feel like Maverick pulling up on the thrust lever of his F-35, whilst also having absolutely no faith it’s going to hold the Megane in situ.
We did consider a Focus ST. Other worthy adversaries were a JCW Mini (too much £££), 500 Abarth (too much £££), a Porsche Cayman (too much... well you get the idea). A Clio was suggested, that suggestion taking roughly one hurried slurp of Carly’s prosecco, to reply with ‘No’. We liked the looks, sound and appeal of the 225."
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION (R26)
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 engine.
Power output: 230 horsepower (169 kW). Torque: 310 Nm (228 lb-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Performance: 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in approx 6 seconds
Top speed: 245 km/h (152 mph)