31 Jan, 2018 6:00am
It feels as if we’ve had to wait a long time for a new Renault Megane RS. The standard hatch was launched back in 2015 and from that point the question on everybody’s lips has been: “When is the RS coming?”
A little over two years on and it’s finally here, wading into a hot hatch market brimming with talent; the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai i30 N and VW Golf GTI are only a handful of the capable cars the Megane RS has to face up to.
The newcomer also has big shoes to fill because of the success, popularity and value offered by its predecessor. Key to that model’s success was its relative simplicity; it was lightweight, front-wheel drive, had a snappy manual gearbox and a willing 2.0-litre engine.
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On paper, at least, a lot of the previous Megane RS’s values have filtered through to the new model. Sure, it’s more powerful, thanks to a new 276bhp, 390Nm 1.8-litre turbo. But in the car we’re driving here it’s hooked up to a new six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. A manual transmission is also available, though.
What’s also new to the RS (and a first in a hot hatch) is four-wheel steering, which Renault calls 4CONTROL. It’s designed to increase agility at low speeds and stability at high speeds. But it also adds about 30kg of weight; the RS tips the scales at 1,430kg, which makes it heavier than the Type R.
As before, two chassis set-ups are available: Sport and Cup. You can spec either with a manual or auto gearbox. The Sport chassis is the standard set-up and kits the RS out with redesigned hydraulic shock absorbers and torque vectoring on the front axle.
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Opt for the Cup chassis, which should set you back around £1,500 to £2,000, and Renault throws in a mechanical limited-slip differential and 10 per cent stiffer dampers. At the end of the year the company will launch a more potent Trophy version of the car, which promises 296bhp and 400Nm of torque from the same motor.
Our first drive, in Sport-chassis spec with a dual-clutch gearbox, reveals that in Comfort or Normal mode you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between a standard Megane and the RS in terms of refinement. It’s quiet, smooth and incredibly compliant.
As the road tightens, toggling through Sport and Race modes makes everything a little more aggressive. The engine note is synthetically pumped through the cabin’s speakers, but it sounds convincing, while crackles and bangs erupt from the exhaust when shifting down gears.
The six-speed dual-clutch auto reacts immediately to your every command; the box is able to jump gears on the way down through the ratios if you pull and hold the left paddle in Sport or Race mode. It’s a shame the paddles don’t operate with a satisfying click, though; instead they’re a bit soft and mushy.
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The steering isn’t brimming with feel, but it’s sharp, and combined with the Megane’s four-wheel steering, it gives this hot hatch gymnast levels of agility.
Below 62mph in Race mode, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction from the fronts to boost turn-in; you can feel the rear end begin to swing round and the nose tuck into a corner.
Initially it turns in so quickly that it almost catches you off guard. But when you get on the throttle, because the Sport chassis only has torque vectoring rather than a proper diff, you can feel the RS scrabbling away at the asphalt.
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It doesn’t seem as fast as the Type R off the mark, nor as punchy when you get going, but with a 40bhp and 50kg deficit over the Honda that’s to be expected. The engine itself pulls strongly and smoothly from 2,000rpm up to around 6,000rpm where most of its work is done. Renault claims a 5.8-second 0-62mph time for the RS – one tenth down on the Civic.
Where the Megane really excels is its ability to cover bumpy and rutted ground at speed with real composure. The hydraulic compression stops fitted to all shock absorbers allow the RS to absorb road undulations without any fuss. The body control is superb.
We did get a brief taste of the firmer Cup chassis and a manual gearbox, but only for three laps on track. More time on the road is required, but it’s already clear it’s the better flavour of Megane; power is put down cleanly and the front end finds more bite thanks to the limited-slip diff. Add in the sweet and precise manual gearbox and it feels like a proper Renault Sport product.
Visually, the RS also cuts a striking shape on the road, its squat stance emphasised by bulging arches housing beautiful 19-inch alloy wheels.
The cabin is more patchy; there are enough RS flourishes, like the Alcantara steering wheel and bucket seats, to give it a sense of occasion. But the carbon fibre-effect door fabrics, and some of the dash plastics, look and feel cheap.
Interior space is fair at best. There’s decent headroom for those in the back, but the deep bucket seats steal a fair bit of knee room. So while you can sit three in the back (unlike the Type R, which only has two rear seats), you probably wouldn’t want to for long.
- Model: Renault Megane RS
- Price: £29,000 (est)
- Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
- Power/torque: 276bhp/390Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
- Top speed: 155mph
- Economy/CO2: 40.9mpg/155g/km
- On sale: April
New Renault Megane RS 2018 review