Few things cause a roar from motoring enthusiasts like changes to a performance model, and while the new Renault Megane RS may not have the long and storied reputation of some of its competition, any change is still met with skepticism.
In its newest generation the Megane RS ditches the ‘coupe’ form factor of the previous generation - no big deal, past Meganes have been offered with five doors - but the three door ends with the outgoing model.
That’s nothing compared to the feathers ruffled by Renault’s decision to add an automatic powertrain. A first for the Megane RS, though thankfully (and unlike the smaller Clio) a manual option remains. Purists, take a deep breath.
Vehicle Style: Small hot hatch
Price: $45,990 (estimated) plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 205kW/390Nm 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd manual. 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.9 l/100km
Australia will see the new Megane RS in the third quarter of 2018, launching as an entry-level Megane RS Sport model costing around $45,000 in manual form, or for an added $2500 with six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
That puts the Megane RS into the middle of packed hot hatch field that includes everything from the iconic Volkswagen Golf GT, to the uncompromising Ford Focus RS as well as newcomers like the Honda Civic Type R, and Hyundai i30 N.
the third generation RS will not only have to be better than its predecessors wearing the Renault Sport badge, it will have to be very good indeed. After driving it for the first time on the roads of southern Spain and the Jerez race circuit, the signs are it’s got the goods to give its rivals a big scare.
ON THE ROAD
While capacity of the new turbocharged engine is down from 2.0 to 1.8-litres to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, power is up with a maximum 205kW on tap.
Renault claims acceleration in the range of 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds using the newly developed launch control in the dual-clutch (EDC) version, or barely a tenth slower than the more powerful Civic Type R.
From 2019 the RS Sport will be joined by an even more potent RS Trophy variant with a higher-output version of the 1.8-litre turbo engine pushing out 220kW and packaged with stiffer suspension and a limited slip differential which form part of an upgraded Cup package.
To help set itself apart from cooking Megane variants the Sport comes with bodywork that’s been widened by 60mm sitting over 18-inch (or optional 19-inch) wheels, unique front and rear bumpers, sports seats, a chunky steering wheel, and performance telemetry software for the infotainment display.
The RS also uses a specifically-tuned version of the 4Control four-wheel-steering system as used in the Megane GT, revised geometry for the front suspension, hydraulic bump stops in the shock absorbers to improve ride comfort and compliance, and bigger Brembo brakes.
TMR spent time behind the wheel of two different version of the RS, on the road we sampled the EDC automatic and standard Sport suspension, while on the track we drove the manual with Cup suspension and limited slip differential.
Fire the new car up and the cabin fills with a rich exhaust burble, but as is increasingly the trend part of what you’re hearing is synthesised through the Megane’s audio system. Much like the Clio RS before it the volume can be adjusted via the tablet-style central infotainment display.
The noise is at least backed up by real performance credentials, not least of which is peak torque of 390Nm developed from 2400rpm and genuine willingness from even low in the rev range. When paired with the automatic transmission accessing its potential is as simple as pressing the right pedal and holding on.
But the engine is as smooth as it is willing so speeds tend to creep up on the driver and it takes a wary eye on the digitised instrument cluster to keep within sensible limits.
Renault Sport seems to have nailed the combination of both a nimble and grippy chassis, but also one that delivers a surprising amount of comfort.
On the latter front, that’s partly due to the trick dampers that cushion road shock even on the larger 19-inch, low profile tyres while also delivering plenty of roll stiffness.
The four-wheel-steering helps deliver precise turn-in and steering accuracy that makes the RS easy to place on the road and it hangs on through corners at speeds approaching ludicrously quick.
For all of the good work instilled in the handling the Megane RS can’t hide its front-driven shortcomings, like hefty twitches of torque steer and wide-open throttle, and an automatic gearbox that can occasionally hold a lower gear for too long when left to its own devices.
Of course, the driver can change gears manually via steering column-mounted paddles but for the average automatic punter it can be too frenetic at times, and a little tardy reacting to upchange requests at others.
While the availability of the auto obviously opens up Megane RS ownership to a whole new audience the regular purist will be all-too-happy with the manual version.
Not many cars translate on-road manners to the rigors of the race track but again, the RS delivers.
Like its predecessor the new Megane RS maintains an alert clutch take-up point, but once rolling the clutch response becomes a perfect pairing to the well-honed package.
The Cup chassis’ stiffer setting give adds another dimension of grip and control and the limited slip differential sends power nicely to both front wheels instead of spinning the one with least load.
Handling-wise, there’s very little understeer and indeed, the rear end will move around if corner entry speeds are a little high but any loss of grip is easily felt by the driver, the sharp steering allows any counter-adjustment needed and overall, there’s just a heap of fun to be had.
While the Megane RS may look like its been softened with the addition of an automatic transmission and the deletion of a three-door fastback, the truth is Renault Sport has simply broadened the appeal and versatility of its hot hatch hero.
A few cycles of hard-stopping track work aren’t enough to dull the effectiveness of 355mm front brakes, the deeply bolstered front seats grip superbly on the track - yet the sport side is balanced by the ease of five-door access and the practicality of a reasonably reasonably big boot.
Australia’s love of performance cars seems only likely to grow with the introduction of the new Megane RS - already we’re the largest Renault Sport market behind France and Germany, impressive on a per capita basis.
With a new Megane RS that’s faster, more comfortable, and now caters for those who don’t want a manual transmission but hasn’t diluted the original sporting appeal of the generations that came before it, Renault can only find its popularity rising.
MORE: Renault News and Reviews