I’ve just come back from an all too short zip around the race track here at Jerez in sunny southern Spain. And while the adrenaline is flowing, I thought I’d convey my thoughts on and impressions of the new Renault Megane RS after two days at the wheel.
It gets to Ireland in the second quarter of the year to vie for buyers of the Golf GTi, Golf R, Honda TYPE-R, Hyundai I30N and so on. That means this volcanic orange RS will cost somewhere in the mid-to-late €40,000s (maybe less?). I know it’s a lot but you get a handful for your money.
I’m not a mad fan of these cars. I don’t see the logic of something that can – stress ‘can’ – go that fast in a country with a top permissible speed of 120kmh.
But there is a loyal following who just love the idea of being able to drive one normally on a practical, everyday basis and know they can get a bit of fun up and down the gears now and again. Grand if you can afford it.
Cars such as the Megane RS are all about the excitement of motion and power – the feelgood factor essential for any decent hot hatch. This third-generation RS and your ordinary Megane are worlds apart on technology (and price) but you can see why they make such a fuss about it – the halo effect is a much prized objective in marketing. Its techie stuff also percolates into mainstream cars eventually.
They’ve done all sorts to make this different visually and technically. Visually, it looks bigger and more muscular thanks to wider front (60mm) and rear wings (45mm). To take the extra-wide track, the grille has F1 cues with the front blade. The exhaust pipe (great sound) is bang in the middle of the back and the inside is all suede and red stitching with a big steering wheel and myriad instrumentation (I like the way the infotainment interface is embedded in the dash) as well as aluminium pedals. I’m sure you get the picture.
The chassis (Sport and, for more extreme driving, Cup) is tuned to take the thrust and pull generated by the Renault/Nissan Alliance 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine that pumps 180bhp and dredges 320Nm of torque.
It’s quick at 5.8 secs from a standing start but I was surprised and disappointed there was so much torque spin (the wheels couldn’t cope with a burst of power).
I gave it a fair old run over some great driving roads. The best thing I can say about it is the more I drove, the more confident enjoyment I got from it on the clingy hairpins and mountainous loops. The worst I can say is it was ever so slightly tail-happy on slippery roads when pushed to the red line. I used the steering column paddles to great effect – better than leaving it to the 6spd auto EDC transmission (which has improved a lot).
Meanwhile, the sports seats were excellent in keeping us anchored throughout lashes of twists.
They’ve gone even more hardcore with the Cup version which, in manual guise, I drove around the Jerez track. It was hard to say if the souped-up suspension and limited rear differential made that much difference because I didn’t drive it on the road. But I haven’t enjoyed as smooth and as secure a feeling on track since I drove the Jaguar F-TYPE sports car.
There are things to really like about the Megane. I hope an additional one is price. Only a handful will be interested here. That’s a pity because there’s so much technological effort gone into it, you’d love to think it would be appreciated by more (even though I’m not a mad fan).
There is stiff competition and I don’t know if I’d part with that sort of money if I could buy the highest-powered VW Golf GTi and its utterly effortless performance, or a Ford Focus RS (more expensive), for example. I’d have to try them all out for a long time to make up my mind. That’s a bit of a cop-out but also a backhanded compliment to the Megane. There will be a 300bhp Trophy version later in the year.
Megane RS key facts:
1.8-litre turbo petrol (280hp, 390Nm); 4CONTROL: rear wheels turn up to 1deg in same direction as front; at low speeds, rear wheels turn in opposite direction (up to 2.7 deg, didn’t notice much).
Front axle redesigned. Two types of chassis (Sport or Cup), two types of handling (springs, shocks, stops, anti-roll bar stiffness). Cup chassis 10pc stiffer, new limited slip differential. Air intake redesigned; second one added.
Modes: ‘Race’ quicker gear changes. In Sport, Race modes EDC gearbox has Multi Change Down (drop several gears simultaneously).
Wings widened by 60mm (front), 45mm at rear (compared with Mégane GT); Ride height lowered 5mm; 18ins/19ins wheels.