There has never been a better time to be a driving enthusiast. Machines with the desire to entertain are no longer only accessible to the lucky few with a seven-digit bank account balance. If you have fifty big ones lying around, cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Subaru WRX STI, Ford Focus RS and Peugeot 308 GTi are yours for the picking, offering nearly the same amount of fun of heavy hitters costing double the price.
With the return of the Renault Megane R.S., drivers are now literally spoilt for choice, even for those with practicality in mind as the much-loved French hot hatch is now offered exclusively as a five-door.
Priced from $44,990 plus on-road costs (Sport chassis), the third generation Megane R.S. has a lot on its shoulders, for it has not just a tough competition set, but also a highly capable predecessor to better. Consistently ranked as one of the segment’s best, the previous model was an absolute blast to drive and one of my favourite hot hatches.
No doubt, improving upon what is already a very well sorted performance car is a tough act, but Renault, with its Formula One heritage and know-how, have managed to produce an even more potent R.S. Despite displacing 200cc less than before, the new 1.8-litre turbocharged four-pot churns out 10kW more power to bring total output to 205kW at 6000rpm. There’s a completely new cylinder head, reinforced structure, more efficient cooling and reworked twin-scroll turbocharger. It also gets the same mirror bore coating that’s used in the Nissan GT-R, while adopting a higher capacity, dual intake air filter. All of these elements resulted in a 390Nm peak torque from 2,400-4,800rpm, 30Nm more than before and on tap 600rpm sooner.
Like before, drive is channeled to the front wheels only via a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the latter available for the first time to lure buyers on their way to purchase a Golf GTI DSG.
Out tester is equipped with the dual-clutch ‘box (EDC in Renault speak and a $2,500 option) and draped in a striking Tonic Orange paint job ($880). Other options such as the $1,190 R.S. Alcantara leather upholstery and $500 BOSE sound system were also ticked, bumping up the as tested price to $50,060 plus ORCs.
For keener drivers, there’s a more focused Cup chassis pack priced at $1,490 that brings Brembo red brake calipers with bi-material brake discs, Black Interlagos 19-inch alloy wheels and Torsen Mechanical front limited-slip differential.
Design wise, the new Megane R.S. initially looks a bit lacking compared to its low-slung, three-door forebear with beefed up wheel arches. With an extra pair of rear doors, the new styling is definitely more mature but the wider body, pumped up bumpers, side vents and 19-inch wheels do spell out its performance credentials to wicked effect.
It’s not just a styling exercise as its chassis has also been worked on. The front and rear tracks are respectively 60mm and 4mm wider than the standard Megane, while the front brake discs have grown 15mm to 355mm. The rear has also gained a deeper diffuser to improve downforce without the need for a Civic Type R-style spoiler.
While the previous model’s interior was nothing to write home about, Renault has clearly pursued a more premium approach with the new cabin. It feels upmarket inside with generous lashings of polished aluminium inserts in the dashboard, door cards and centre console, complemented by quality soft touch surfaces throughout.
Still, the RenaultSport theme is not forgotten as driver and passengers are treated to chrome-plated R.S. door sills, custom R.S. roof lining and heavily bolstered sports seats with dark carbon R.S. upholstery.
The driver also receives a little extra luxury with a Nappa perforated leather steering wheel and gear gaiter. Also new for the driver is the heavily updated R.S. Monitor which serves up a huge array of performance and driving data on the 8.7-inch infotainment screen. It also includes Monitor Expert which lets drivers connect a camera (either a traditional camera or their smartphone camera) to film their drive. They can then play it back on the spot or share the clip on social media.
The Megane R.S. debuts a couple of world-first for the segment. Renault’s 4CONTROL four-wheel steer system, first seen on the Megane GT, has been re-calibrated specifically for the R.S. At speeds over 60km/h (or 100km/h in Race mode), the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction for increased stability, while below those speeds, the front and rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to give increased agility, particularly through tight corners.
Another segment-first is the use of hydraulic bump stops for the shock absorbers all round. Effectively integrating a shock absorber within the shock absorber, as the end of travel approaches, a secondary piston dampens the movement of the wheel before the bump stop, enabling optimum tyre-ground contact.
All very clever stuff but how does it drive? Pulling away from a standstill, the hot hatch feels stronger than its smaller engine capacity might suggest, with its chubby mid-range torque offering zesty punch with very minimal turbo lag. While not quite as revvy as the Civic Type R, the Renault still spins enthusiastically all the way past 6000rpm, where peak power is produced, only starting to lose a bit of puff in the last 500rpm or so before the 7000rpm cutoff. The accompanying soundtrack is also satisfyingly rorty at low speeds, extending to a frantic rasp at higher revs. There’s even muffled pops and cracks on the overrun.
The dual clutch gearbox doesn’t shift as quick as VW’s DSG but still responds swiftly to the frustratingly small column mounted pedals in manual mode. The gear ratios are spaced almost exactly like a manual box, which isn’t a bad thing, though in manual mode it will still grab the next gear at the limiter in any drive mode other than Race. When left to its own devices, the EDC is seamless and in traffic it’s smoother than the DSG.
The previous Megane R.S. was a warrior around the bends and I’m glad to report that the new model packs just as much dynamic powress and driving thrills as its forebear, if not more. Despite the shift to a loftier and heftier five-door body, the new R.S. is more agile and more fluid in its response, thanks in large part to its four-wheel steer system and hydraulic bump stops. Turn-in is where all the new tricks come into play, with the rear wheels angled a few degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels to tuck the nose into a tight corner. Some may find the feeling a little odd but it is vastly effective and, together with brake actuated torque vectoring, allows you to carry impressive speeds through a bend. And where the old car trembles over large mid corner bumps, the new one just soaks them up and moves on.
While the previous model let the front do most of the work, the new car, with the smaller engine removing some weight off the front, feels just more cohesive and balanced. It’s a brilliant combination of poise and control, one that fits the brief of high performance hatchbacks remarkably well.
Away from the twisty bits, the Renault’s well tuned suspension shines on our crumbling suburban roads as well, with the passive, non-variable system offering a firm but fairly relaxed ride over undulating surfaces. On the freeway, road and wind noise is also well suppressed.
Fuel efficiency has improved thanks to the lower capacity engine, with the trip computer returning a respectable 8.7L/100km after my week-long test covering varying roads with not much regards for fuel economy.
As a usable daily sports car, the Megane R.S. comes fitted as standard with features such MULTI-SENSE driving modes, 8.7-inch portrait touchscreen with satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control and handsfree keycard with automatic locking and welcome function.
Safety is taken care of by Easy Park Assist handsfree parking, heated folding electric door mirrors, Hill Start Assist, ESC, ABS, Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), distance warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB).
Design & Comfort
Performance & Handling
Equipment & Features
- Handsome looks
- Innovative driving tech
- Well-tuned Sport Mode and Immersive Race Mode
- Brilliant poise and control
- Small pedal shifters
- No three-door version
- Dual clutch box not as quick as VW’s DSG
So, where does this leave the Renault Megane R.S.?
The combination of progressive body control, agility and good feel through the chassis and steering makes the Renault one of the most involving and well balanced cars in its class. That said, it still doesn’t feel quite as special or as chuckable as the Civic Type R, nor its EDC dual clutch gearbox is as slick as the Golf GTI.
Perhaps, the Megane R.S. six-speed manual is the model that sits closer to enthusiasts’ heart and that’s the car I look forward to testing in the near future. Stay tuned.
2019 Renault Megane R.S. 280 Sport Pricing and Specification
|Pricing (Excluding on-road costs):||From $44,990.
As tested: $50,060
EDC Dual Clutch: $2,500
Premium Metallic Paint – $880
R.S. Alcantara leather upholstery – $1,190
BOSE Sound System – $500
|Warranty:||5-year / unlimited km|
|Country of Origin:||France. Manufactured in Spain|
|Service Intervals:||12 months/15,000km|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol:
205kW @ 6000rpm, 390Nm @ 2400-4800rpm
|Transmission:||6-speed manual / 6-speed dual clutch automatic with paddle shifters (tested)|
|Power-to-weight Ratio (W/kg):||146.7|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 7.5; Tested: 8.7|
|Fuel Capacity (L):||50|
|Safety:||6 airbags, ABS, BA, EBD, ESC, reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, park assist, ISOFIX|
|Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:||4,364/1,875/1,435/2,670|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1,450|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||N/A|
|Entertainment:||8.7-inch touch screen, AM/FM/DAB+, Bluetooth, USB, AUX, Apple CarPlay / Android Auto, navigation|