Car reviews - Renault - Megane - RS
Chunky design, added space and practicality, manual and auto choices, sharp steering, impressive ride comfort, great seats, added safety
Room for improvement
Heavy-handed dash design, not enough visual changes inside over Megane GT, no Cup/DCT combo as yet, loss of sleek three-door coupe/hatch bodystyle
A series-first dual-clutch auto broadens the Renault Megane RS’ appeal
14 Sep 2018
RENAULT is so serious about dominating the hot-hatch market that, for the Megane RS range, it has abandoned the sleek but impractical three-door coupe styling for a regular five-door shape and ushered in a dual-clutch transmission option for buyers that don’t want to change gears themselves.
These, along with more space, improved safety and extra standard kit, should certainly attract more customers, but has the French car-maker thrown the baby out with the bathwater by making the iconic Megane RS more mainstream?
Australia is one of Renault Sport’s biggest markets, with our consumption of the Megane RS ranking third globally. So, an all-new version is a big deal.
It’s all change too. Gone is the pretty and distinctive three-door coupe-hatch silhouette for a far-more mainstream five-door hatch body that immediately broadens the Gallic boyracer’s appeal by a huge amount.
Secondly, in comes a series-first automatic option in the form of a six-speed dual-wet-clutch transmission, taking the fight right up to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but then going one step further by keeping a six-speed manual gearbox option for the many traditionalists who want to keep it real.
The latter has been withdrawn from the German competitor due to emissions testing hold-ups.
There’s more too. The classic old F4RT 2.0-litre turbo screamer has given way to a gutsier yet more economical 1.8-litre four-pot turbo out of the delicious Alpine A110, giving the Megane RS 280 modern muscle in the face of fierce competitors offering larger yet less powerful hearts.
Throw in improvements in comfort (due in part to trick new dampers as well as that roomier, quieter and more practical cabin featuring heavily bolstered yet right-sized sports bucket seats), and the hot-hatch status quo is about to be prised wide open.
Whatever you make of the bigger and squarer body, Renault Sport’s stylists have made good with a tougher and more aggressive stance by way of those pumped-out arches, wider tracks, redesigned air intakes, blacked-out alloys and gnarlier LED lighting. It just looks right.
From the outside, anyway. Inside, the slabby, blocky dash just isn’t different enough to the wildly underrated Megane GT’s, which means that it’s all a bit plasticky and heavy-handed visually.
We do appreciate the body-hugging seats and revised central touchscreen with RS-specific additional gauges, data and driving telemetry, but they’re just add-ons; there’s neither the quality of the Golf nor the flair of the fab Peugeot 308 GTi’s special interior treatment.
Oh well, at least the Renault’s is a bit more special than the extremely gifted Hyundai i30 N’s dull interior.
Now, the previous Megane RS III held a special place in the hearts of keen enthusiasts longing for affordable fun, sitting at the top of the heap with its almost visceral rawness and sharpness, taking no prisoners at the altar of scalpel-sharp steering and ultra-pin-point handling finesse.
Unfortunately, the Norwell racetrack launch venue near Brisbane in Queensland is no place to really ascertain just how far or otherwise the RS has progressed, since the freshly-laid bitumen and go-kart-favouring tight track simply lacked the breadth and scope to reach any real definitive conclusions.
What we can tell you is that the 1.8-litre engine is a strong and stirring performer, that reaches its 7000rpm limit very quickly as the hottest Megane bolts forward; the manual shifter is a delight to operate; the steering in Sport and Race feels immediate and fluid, but in really tight, fast corners in the latter driving mode there isn’t quite the desired progression from neutral understeer to snap oversteer (we spun off the track); and the brakes indeed do haul the Dieppe-developed hot-hatch up with confidence and control.
What we’re saying is that all signs point to a podium finisher in the GTI stakes, but beyond that there just wasn’t sufficient time on real-world roads to judge how well the RS280 really drives, steers, grips and stops.
A two-hour road loop out to the hinterland also revealed precious little except that the new DCT dual-clutch transmission is a slick and smooth shifting affair and that there’s some strong acceleration squirt on offer when required, since unexpected roadworks and heavy traffic turned that into a frustratingly slow and fractured transport stage.
Apologies for that, but in the end we’re none the wiser really; our taster has certainly whet our appetites, and what we’ve experienced is really positive, but there’s no way we can say for certain that the brilliant hot-hatch mastery of the outgoing Megane RS265 and RS275 has been bettered.
We do know that if you’re after a Volkswagen Golf GTI, Peugeot 308 GTi or Hyundai i30 N rival, then you’d be fooling yourself if you ignore what Renault has to offer.
Watch this space because a more definitive test is on its way soon.
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