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Clockwise from this pic: Megane Cup lacked grip, but was nevertheless huge fun. Subaru's revitalised STi is a welcome return to form. Ford's Focus RS left Sabine surprisingly frustrated.

Clockwise from this pic: Megane Cup lacked grip, but was nevertheless huge fun. Subaru's revitalised STi is a welcome return to form. Ford's Focus RS left Sabine surprisingly frustrated.

"A tiny little car with lots of power, so if you turn in and the turbocharger comes on the car just moves straight because of the all the power going through those front tyres, so I'm fighting with it. But it's very powerful and fun."

overheat after just one (admittedly hard] lap'' Perhaps this particular long-serving test car had simply had enough...

The Subaru WRX STi, which has recently been rebadged and relaunched in saloon guise, proved to be the balm to Sabine's loudly proclaimed disdain of front-wheel drive performance cars. Subaru fans will rejoice in the welcome return of the saloon shape and the boot scaffolding that lends the WRX STi the presence of a true rally-bred street fighter.

By contrast with the RS, the Scooby positively begs to be man-handled. Its flat-four engine thrives on revs and, while the combination of a heavy clutch and a mechanical action to the gear change may prove tiresome in traffic, the STi is eminently suited to track duty. There's bags of grip on offer and, though the steering is accurate, understeer is still the order of the day. It can, however, be negated by the seemingly counter-intuitive action of barrelling into the corner, standing on the brakes at the apex and then hoofing the throttle to catapult you out - an action in which Sabine positively revelled. Once you know how to handle the Subaru, it serves up an addic-

So the Subaru wins, right? Well no, actually, it doesn't. It has the goods on the track, but is also an overly-demanding prospect as a daily driver. And, while you're getting a lot of car for your money, it still costs a substantial R499 000.The limited-edition Focus RS has the power and looks suitably 'aggressive^but when driven in

An unlikely victor tive drive that goads you into coaxing ever-faster lap times whilst enjoying in the off-beat thrum of the boxer engine and its whistling turbo. When asked which of the trio she'd opt for, Sabine patted the Subaru's fat-rimmed steering wheel as she glided into the pits and calmly replied, "This is the one."

anger on a racetrack it reveals a surprisingly soft, less precise facet to its personality that blunts the overall package. It's still a consummate performer with more on-road refinement than its brutish looks suggest, but with a price tag that's only R11 000 shy of the Subaru it will only appeal to a very devoted niche audience.That leaves us with the least powerful of the trio - and an unlikely victor.

Given the calibre of the competition it was up against, it would've been understandable to write off the Renault prior to this test, but it managed to quietly work its way into our hearts to usurp both of its more extrovert rivals with a neat balance of impeccable road manners and entertaining dynamics backed up by a surprisingly powerful engine and crisp steering feedback.You could happily live with the Renault on a daily basis yet, come track time, you can also put in a very respectable performance. We claimed that the Focus RS was our new king of the hot hatches when it emerged, but it seems that the Renault might just have it taped.

Continued overleaf┬╗

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