The evolution of hot hatches continues with the latest crop of practical performance hatchbacks offering more tech, more power and more driving pleasure than ever before. And there are also a couple of impressive new additions to the usual mob that is the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, Audi S3 and Volkswagen Golf R.
Renault has always been up there competing too, but since the launch of the all new family hatch in 2016, we’ve been waiting for a hot RS version. Now, finally, the wait is over, but how does it stack up against the long established competition?
On the road
Within just a few minutes of driving the Megane RS and you can tell straight off that this is a car for drivers, rather than a practical hatch with a bit more oomph. Everything about it feels driver focused, the steering is sharp and responsive, the body lean is virtually non-existent and there’s a tuneful note when you floor the throttle – albeit a rather artificial sounding one.
Power takes the form of an all-new 280bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine, in fact it’s the same unit that powers the Alpine A110. That makes it good for 0-60 of around just under six seconds secs, top speed 155mph. Now in a straight line drag race, it would more than likely fall behind against the likes of the Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS, but where it really would claw time back, is on the bends.
As we’ve learnt from cars like the Fiesta ST though, is that the character of a hot hatch isn’t just brute force, it’s about how it handles too, and Renaultsport have a trick up their sleeve. New for the Megane RS is the 4Control four wheel steering, which makes it incredibly agile, and ultimately more fun when pushing it at pace. A side note is that it makes reverse parking considerably easier, but whisper that on track days.
For the first time in a Megane Renaultsport there’s a choice of a transmission, you can have this six speed manual or an optional six speed Efficient Dual Clutch automatic. The manual isn’t as strong as the one in the Civic, and we prefer that auto you’d find in German rivals. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just that others are fractionally better. The differences are marginal though.
The hot megane is available in two guises, Sport for spirited driving, and this Cup, if you’re more inclined to take it on track days. If you want more power, then a Trophy version with around 300 brake and 400nm of torque will be available later in the year. Now the lack of a limited slip diff is noticeable on the sport model when exiting corners as pace, but it is available though on this Cup chassis though.
There are a couple of optional extras available for really keen petrolheads. The first is the R.S. monitor that gathers and summarises information from around forty sensors dotted around the car. This then takes the data, like tyre pressures, acceleration and braking telemetry, steering input, temperatures etc, and displays it on the touchscreen infotainment screen in the middle of the dash. The RS Monitor Expert, will even let you film your hot laps, then overlays the data which can then be downloaded and shared on social media.
In the cabin
One area the Renault really needed to step up was the quality of the interior, and in all honesty, it’s not really moved the game on that much. There are still too many cheap, scratchy plastics on show, and there’s a rather gimmicky jingle that plays when you get in the car, that I’m sure would get irritating after time, and this fake carbon-fibre look doesn’t really work for me.
Having said that the seats are figure hugging and comfortable, and there are nice touches of alcantara on the seats and steering wheel. With regards the driving position, there is limited adjustment on the seat, but plenty on the steering wheel, and the pedals are nicely lined up for the driver and the high sides on the seat will stop you from being thrown around when cornering hard.
Lets be honest, if you’re in the market for a driver focussed hot hatch, practicality isn’t going to be top of your list. Which is probably a good thing with the Megane. Space is good up front, but there’s really only room for two in the back, and it’s the same story in the boot too, which is a fraction of the space you get in the likes of the Octavia vRS or Civic Type R. Yes you get the 60:40 split folding rear seats, but the high bumper and narrow boot opening means getting heavy items in the back are particularly awkward.
Standard equipment is pretty generous and includes essentials like climate control, LED headlamps, rear parking sensors and keyless entry. It’s worth spending a little more on the extra safety kit, which includes automatic emergency braking.
If you’re a real petrolhead who’s looking for a fully-fledged hot hatch, then you won’t go too far wrong with the Megane. Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges in a few areas, like the infotainment system and cabin plastics, but it handles impressively well and the Cup version adds stiffer suspension and an LSD without breaking the bank. The ride is a little firm, but the offset is a nimble, agile sports car, which really threatens to topple the very best in the category for driving dynamics.