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Driven: Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.

Driven: Renault Megane RS 280 Cup
The RS Megane has long been a corking steer and the new one is no different, but will it have things all its own way...?

 



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Renault Megane RS 280 Cup

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: superb chassis, muscled looks, impressive interior, decent soundtrack from 1.8, stonking performance

Not so good: extremely firm suspension, four-wheel steering requires familiarisation, some tough rivals to beat

Key Facts

Model tested: Renault Megane RS 280 Cup
Price: Megane range from 17,715; RS 280 from 27,495, car as tested 34,345
Engine: 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive with Torsen limited-slip differential
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 163g/km (VED Band 151-170: 515 in year one, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.2mpg
Top speed: 158mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: 280hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 390Nm at 2,400-4,800rpm
Boot space: 384-1,247 litres

Our view:

In the wide, wide world of hot hatchbacks - which now come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of power outputs, drivetrain configurations and even, in some instances, slightly different takes on what, precisely, constitutes a hatchback - the Renault Sport versions of the Megane have long stood out as being among the best of the best. Things started a little ropily, in 2004, with the original Megane Renaultsport 225, based on the bustle-backed Megane II, but while it originally had to play second fiddle to its then-vaunted sibling, the Renaultsport Clio 197, by the time it evolved into the mental R26.R in 2009 it was already leading the way for front-driven, hatchbacked driver involvement. That only continued into the next RS Megane, which was just sublime towards the end of its years as the 275 Trophy. Meanwhile, the poor old Clio seems to have become steadily more mediocre as time goes on.

However, this isn't about bemoaning the Clio's fall from grace, but rather celebrating the Megane's enduring excellence. And so, here we are, at the point where we're on our third generation of Renault's hot C-segment contender, based on the Megane IV hatch. The big news, as Neil found out on the international launch, is that the Megane RS has downsized, from a 2.0-litre engine in all its previous incarnations to a new 1.8-litre motor here. It's basically the unit found in the marvellous and magical Alpine A110, only it has additional power and torque here. Well, with 1,407kg, it's hauling more timber than the 1,103kg Alpine...

This one's a 'Cup'. To explain that in more detail, the Cup Chassis Pack, for 1,500, adds to the base Sport model of the RS Megane 280 by equipping a torque-sensing (Torsen) limited-slip diff on the driven front axle, as well as red brake callipers, 30 per cent stiffer springs and dampers, and a 10 per cent stiffer anti-roll bar. All Megane 280s, be they Sports, Cups or the forthcoming 300hp Trophy, have 4Control four-wheel steering, which is unique to the sector and said to aid the agility of the car, especially in Race mode - where it will swing the rear tyres in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds of up to 62mph, instead of just 37mph otherwise.

As a base price, 27,495 looks good for a front-driven hot hatch that'll run 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds, but with the Cup pack plus a few more options - such as our test car's Volcanic Orange metallic paint (1,300), interior Alcantara Pack (1,200), Alcantara steering wheel (250), 19-inch full black Interlagos alloys (950), the 8.7-inch R-Link 2 portrait infotainment touchscreen (300), the Bose Pack (a beefy sound system, for 800), the Visio system of Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and Automatic High-Beam (250) and the Renault Sport Monitor (300) - then you're looking at a Megane that's beyond 34,000. Which immediately takes it away from Volkswagen Golf GTI territory, a 230hp front-driven car that the Renault significantly outpunches, and into the realm of the AWD, 310hp Golf R.

It's that price, plus the weight of expectation weighing on the 280's shoulders (courtesy of its illustrious forebears), plus the rise of some stunning competitors from the Far East (see 'The Rivals', below), which all combine to present the Megane 280 Cup with a somewhat Herculean task - get back to the pinnacle of the C-segment hot hatch battle. And, if we're honest, as much as we absolutely love this new Renault Sport product, it doesn't quite succeed in its mission.

It gets mighty close, though, because in the initial familiarisation stages, the Renault feels tremendously lively and engaging. The engine has superb punch and it even sounds OK - not great, not as good as it does in the A110 (where you're sitting ahead of the snarling induction), but it's better than the boost-heavy hissings of the old 2.0-litre engines that used to power RS Meganes, there's a nice amount of non-augmented rumbles and thuds from the exhaust system, and overall the Renault's soundtrack is probably about as appealing as A.N.Other forced-induction hot hatch four-pot, the Hyundai i30 N aside. The six-speed manual gearchange is also possibly the best manual shift action we've ever encountered in a French car, feeling almost as snickety-snick as some Japanese linkages. So that means you can heel-and-toe the Megane beautifully, thoroughly involving you in the action as you pick up the pace.

More of what the Megane does is about you getting the best from it, rather than it doing the work for you. There's no rev-matching function to take that heel-and-toe fun away from you. The suspension is fixed-rate stuff, without recourse to adaptive dampers. Various drive modes are on offer to increase the throttle response/steering weight and so on, but in reality the car is so dynamically well-judged across the board that you'll not find a setting which doesn't suit it. The brakes are monster and have great progression, and on the subject of the steering, while it might not have the ultimate, granular levels of feel of the old 275 Trophy, it is wonderfully direct, super-keen to respond to inputs and magnificently consistent across the lock.

All of the above allows you to get the Megane Cup really boiling away on your favourite roads, where it will feel rabidly quick and hugely rewarding, in the main. You can even get the rear end of the car moving with well-timed lifts of the throttle, more so than you would in four-wheel-drive alternatives. However, it's not quite perfect on the handling score, for two reasons: one is the 4Control, which takes some getting used to - reading just when the rear end is breaking traction is harder to do, because the steering on the trailing axle can sometimes give the impression of oversteer, even when it's all fully hooked up to the surface; and the second issue is the ride quality.

Maybe it's just us, maybe we're getting older and more truculent as time passes us by, but - good grief! - the Megane Cup is firm. Like, ridiculously firm. Even allowing for its hot hatch status and its no-doubt incredible abilities on a race track, on the roads it feels unforgiving at all times and at all speeds. As there are no softer damper settings to fall back on, as there are in the i30 N and Honda Civic Type R rivals, then you have to constantly put up with the Megane's recalcitrance to smoothing out bumpy roads. While it's not the worst-riding car we've been in during recent months, it is one of the toughest hot hatches to travel in that we can think of. The old 275 didn't feel like this, from memory, and a Golf GTI/R would be in a different league of comfort entirely, so bear that carefully in mind if you do go for the Renault.

However, we can just about tolerate the ride quality as payment for the Megane's undoubted dynamic abilities. And we've not even touched on how fantastic it looks in Volcanic Orange, with its blistered wheel arches and its big rear diffuser and those wide rear light clusters all combining to give it remarkable street presence; for our 426-mile week with it, quite a few owners of other makes of hot hatchback - newer and slightly older alike - seemed to want to prove their worth against the Cup, so it clearly hits a chord with its target market. Indeed, the inside is almost as good, especially if it's drenched in the (optional) Alcantara of our test car - there's a great, low driving position and excellent ergonomics, so the Megane is a vehicle that should not put potential buyers off in the showroom in the slightest.

The Renault is therefore brilliant. Exceptional, even, in 280 Cup guise. Up there with the very leading lights in the hot hatch world right now. But standing tall, at the top of the pile, out in front of the competition? No, the Megane 280 is not quite there yet. Whether the Trophy 300 will address this issue remains to be seen, but - on the basis of this car's striking performance - we know one thing for sure: finding out if the Trophy can regain its crown is sure going to be a huge amount of fun.

Alternatives:

Honda Civic Type R: if you don't like its looks, the Civic Type R will not be for you. If you do like its looks, this is one of the best hot hatches ever made.

Hyundai i30 N Performance: Hyundai, with a little help from a certain German (cough Albert Biermann cough), has come from nowhere with this blinder... which we prefer to the Megane, rather incredibly.

SEAT Leon Cupra R: with its storming 310hp engine and glittering chassis, this Spanish car would be one of our absolute faves, if not for one thing - its utterly ridiculous rarity.


Matt Robinson - 13 Sep 2018









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2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.

2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.2018 Renault Megane RS 280 Cup. Image by Renault UK.








 

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