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First drive: Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.

First drive: Renault Megane RS
Renault takes the fight to the Golf GTI with an insanely talented chassis in its new Megane RS.


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Renault Megane RS

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Renault takes the so-so Megane and turns it into one of the very beat hot hatches around. It has more power than a Golf GTI and, arguably, is a more entertaining steer, even if cabin quality is still behind the VW curve.

Test Car Specifications

Car tested: Renault Megane RS Sport EDC
Pricing: approx. £30,000 (to be confirmed)
Engine: 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 155g/km (Band 151-170, £500 per annum)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: 280hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 390Nm at 2,400-4,800rpm

What's this?

Well, it's not a new high-speed delivery system for Red Leicester cheese, in spite of what the paintwork might make you think; it is, in fact, the new Renault Megane RS and it's here for the VW Golf GTI's crown as best hot hatch around.

Well, best medium-powered hot hatch around anyway, as the spec-sheet readers amongst you will have twigged that, with 280hp maximum power, the Megane RS is stopping short of taking on the mega-power likes of the Honda Civic Type R, VW Golf R and Ford Focus RS. Renault's people say that's because they were focused on providing a driving experience that was more about fun than outright speed, but is that the case or is it just a convoluted excuse for a lack of ponies? We shall see in a moment, but as engines go, this one has some interesting provenance. It's a new 1.8-litre four-cylinder unit, and it is essentially the same engine as that found in the new Alpine A110 mid-engined sports car. With 390Nm backing up its power figure, it only has about as much torque as a good 2.0-litre diesel, but its cylinder head was apparently redesigned by the guys at Renault's Formula One engine works, so there is a genuine bit of motorsports lineage here.

Rolling down the same production line as regular Meganes (in a factory just outside Madrid) the RS gets wheelarches that are 60mm wider than standard, to cover front and rear tracks boosted by 45mm (when measured to the centre of the wheels), with 18-inch alloys standard and 19-inch versions as an option. There's a deep front airdam, which features a blade-like detail that supposedly mimics the shape of an F1 car's front wing, a big diffuser under the back bumper that's apparently properly effective and some chunky wheelarch vents. It's a subtle thing, though - take away the orange paintjob of our test car and the casual passer-by would probably just keep on passing; there's no Civic Type R bodywork lunacy going on, and the standard Megane's already handsome shape wears the extra muscle well.

The cabin is, sadly, also that of the standard Megane with a few bits of RS tinsel to liven it up. We say sadly because, even though you get digital instruments and the big, portrait-style R-Link touchscreen, they do look a bit cheap in their graphics, and the functions of the touchscreen are a bit fiddly. Very fiddly in fact. Some of the cabin plastics, too, are unbecoming of a car costing close to £30,000. There is a new function for the screen though, which is the RS monitor, a track day-oriented bit of software that monitors things like brake temperature, turbo boost, etc. and which can be connected to a GoPro-style camera so that you can overlay telemetry from the car onto your hot lap videos. The real saving graces of the cabin, though, are the front seats, which are truly wonderful buckets, swathed in Alcantara. They're massively comfortable, without the excessive pinch factor of Ford's sporty seats (for example), but also very supportive when you're pressing on.

How does it drive?

How it drives comes down to which Megane RS you choose - there are two. You can have the Sport chassis, which is designed for everyday use, or the Cup chassis, which is 5mm lower, stiffer, has a front Torsen differential and bigger Brembo bi-metal brakes. During our road test we drove the Sport version, fitted with the EDC dual-clutch gearbox, and spent plenty of time with it. We got to drive a Cup chassis car, with a manual gearbox, only on track, and only for a handful of laps, so we'll talk mostly about the Sport car here.

Initially, the Megane RS doesn't feel all that quick. A 5.8-second 0-62mph time is nothing special, these days, and while there's only a little turbo lag, power delivery is more consistent shove than neck-breaking speed. In automatic mode, the EDC gearbox (never Renault's finest hour at the best of times) also feels a touch sleepy.

In Sport mode (there is a Race mode as well, but this disables the stability control and is only designed to be used on track), the steering assistance reduces, but is still a little short of outright feel and feedback. The weighting is very good, though, and actually the Megane RS's steering feels very similar to that which you get in the Golf GTI. Using the EDC gearbox in manual mode, changing up and down with the steering wheel paddle, also helps - the sleepiness is shrugged off, and you get some delightful noises from the exhaust when changing up and down, with some distant popping and rumbling on the overrun. The sound is only partially amplified, according to Renault's engineers, as they wanted us to hear the real engine, not some fake Moog keyboard impression.

As the traffic around Jerez in southern Spain clears, and the road starts to turn, loop and twist up some mountains, so the Megane RS starts to come to life. The steering may be short of feel, but every twitch of the wheel gives you a perfectly proportionate response at the tyres, and you soon build up a confident rapport with the chassis. There is torque steer, rather more than you might be expecting, but it's not enough to have the car spearing off of your chosen line. Grip and traction level are exceptionally high, even on damp, dew-settled roads, and that claim of aiming for an agile car, rather than a powerful one, start to come into focus. Down on power compared to the top hot hatches the Megane RS may be, but you soon find that you can carry massive speed both into corners and across country, just because the chassis is so friendly.

It's not simply a benign chassis, though - it's playful, feeding back through the seat of your pants that you could have gone a bit quicker there, or picked a better line here. It is enormously good fun. It's also comfortable - the suspension has been given a thorough going over (including new hubs that isolate the steering from the bump control, a more upright geometry), but the big change is the fitting of new hydraulic bump stops. A standard Megane, on a bad road, will almost immediately clatter into its solid bump stops as soon as you press on a bit, but the RS can essentially get away with slightly soft springs and dampers, letting the hydraulic stops deal with really savage bumps and extreme wheel movements. The upshot is a chassis that feels soft and pliant at low efforts (there's even an occasional sense of float at low speeds), but which sharpens up considerably when you press on. It's a truly remarkable combo, especially considering that there are no trick electronic dampers. The RS breathes with the road, rather than fighting against it. It's a zen hot hatch.

That's helped by the standard-fit four-wheel steering, which really does improve the Megane's agility. Turning into tight hairpins taken at too-optimistic a speed, time and again the RS tucked close into the apex, where rivals might have understeered wide.

And the Cup chassis? Well, it's just as quick (same engine), feels less likely to understeer (that Torsen diff), has exceptional brakes (several other drivers had hurled my car around before me and they felt only slightly softer than ideal) and the manual gearbox is slightly too heavy and long-of-throw to be enjoyable. It could well be that a Cup chassis with the EDC gearbox is the best combination of all, but until we drive one on the road we can't tell for sure.


We all know hot hatches are the best cars of all, right? That's thanks to a heady mixture of performance, entertainment, practicality and affordability. It's a mixture that the new Megane RS whips up rather beautifully, ending up with a delightful soufflé of a car. Down on power it might be compared to some rivals, but it is enormously good fun to drive, with a chassis that, in Sport form, mixes thrills and comfort in a way that few can equal. It's definitely the sternest competition yet for the VW Golf GTI's hot hatch crown, and is arguably merely a better interior away from having the Golf beaten outright.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Neil Briscoe - 31 Jan 2018    - Renault road tests
- Renault news
- Megane images

2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.

2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.2018 Renault Megane RS. Image by Renault.


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