On wheels: Renaultsport 225

This sporty Mégane is a sickly smooth operator, says Michael Booth
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Renault Mégane: Renaultsport 225
Would suit: Car-sick toddlers
Price: £20,000
Maximum speed: 147mph, 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds
Combined fuel economy 31.2mpg
Further information: 08000 723372

My youngest son, Emil, who is two-and-a-half years old, gets car sick. The last time I borrowed a Bentley, we were driving to Switzerland, when he started to make familiar insistent moaning noises from the back seat that augured an imminent food expulsion. We turned around just in time to see his head start to spin and the carton of chocolate milk he had drunk a good half-hour earlier spray, as if from a lawn sprinkler, over the pristine, creamy leather. The Bentley's elegant stitching clung to its new lactic coating despite our best efforts to scrub it with my toothbrush. Luckily, it was sub-zero in Switzerland and we soon learned to keep the air conditioning on max, so we were spared the pungent impact of the odours that would undoubtedly have rendered the cabin uninhabitable once springtime came, or someone turned the heated seats on.

With this experience still in my mind, I was concerned about the Renault Mégane Renaultsport 225 I borrowed for a family trip to Normandy last week. When I first drove this car a year and a half ago, I was quite taken by it and, among other things, claimed it was "a car that you could use every day without the kids redecorating the rear seat every time you accelerated", but, dear reader, I must confess that I was talking hypothetically. The truth was I had not let Emil within a mile of it, as is our policy with any car with more than 150bhp. This, you see, is the hardcore version of the car your auntie uses to visit craft fairs, with a 222bhp 2-litre turbocharged engine. The 225 refers to it's Pferdestarke by the way; a continental power rating in which one PS is about 98.6 per cent of a horse power.

Anyway, the Renault also has powerful Brembo brakes, and, ominously - as far as its rating on Emil's vomitometer was concerned - stiffened, lowered suspension. The threat of a terrible, new eruption hung like a diced-carrot-and-custard cloud over our trip.

Astonishingly, he slept for the entire journey, which was a first. The Renault's suspension did jiggle a little over some surfaces, but the throttle, clutch and six-speed gear change were slick, and it was easy to drive smoothly. Above 4,000 revs, the turbo spools up and lets rip with a pleasing but, again, gentle shove in the back. Emil remained slumped to one side in his baby seat, clutching his cuddly mammoth, and drooling slightly.

By rights, the Mégane should be far more vulgar - it is designed to compete with lairy lads such as the Civic Type R and the Alfa 147GTA, after all - but, this time, I borrowed the five-door version which, aside from some fabulous 18in alloy wheels and a gigantic air vent mounted low on the front to vacuum up small mammals that stray into its path, is quite sombre. It offers a far milder driving experience than, say, the old Focus RS or the Mini Cooper S Works, with little torque steer and few tyre squeals. I wouldn't have minded if it had sounded more farty though: I do think a car with sporting pretensions should have a touch of flatulence from its exhaust, don't you?

I couldn't fault the quality, though. Renault has made vast improvements with its interior materials and the way they are put together. These days, a Mégane is every bit as good as a Golf. At any rate, Emil refrained from making his usual alterations. s

It's a classic: Renault GTA

Now here's a proper lairy hatchback, one of the lairiest of all time, in fact. The Renault GTA was France's answer to the Porsche 911, with a rear-mounted, 2.5-litre V6 engine and rear-wheel drive giving it famously tail-happy handling but, in the right hands, supercar-rivalling performance.

The GTA, later updated as the A610, was built by Matra in Dieppe and this radical, plastic-bodied four-seater was something of a bargain compared to the Porsche and other rivals like the Lotus Esprit. Though less powerful than the Mégane Renaultsport, its 165mph top speed and 5.7-second time to 60mph were matched by few cars.

But the GTA was always an odd choice and, though popular in France, its badge, buyers' prejudice against plastic-bodied cars and widow-maker reputation, meant few were sold in the UK during its seven-year production. Today, they are a bargain second-hand - just check carefully for accident damage.

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