Renault Megane RS

Broader appeal rides in on softer Sport chassis

ALEX INWOOD

THE problem with creating an absolute ball-tearer of a hot hatch is that when the time comes to replace it, you also create certain expectations. Welcome to Renault’s challenge.

The previous Megane RS was a riot; a three-door, manual-only screamer (especially in hardcore Trophy R guise) that trounced all-rounder rivals in terms of ultimate driver appeal and chassis tactility.

Razor sharp, analogue thrills have become the Megane RS’s schtick, which is what makes this particular version so interesting. This is the default Megane RS; the entry-level ‘Sport’ version that forgoes the additional ‘go-fast’ bits of the Cup chassis we tested last issue (there’s no LSD, and the springs, dampers and anti-roll bars are softer) and ushers in the option of a six-speed dual-clutch auto (a Megane RS first). However, don’t dismiss the Sport Megane RS as the weakling of the range.

On scarred, knotted tarmac it acquits itself well, the additional 10mm of ride height lending a breath of pliancy missing in Cup cars. But there’s no escaping that this remains a taut proposition.

There’s a sense of intent to the way it reads the road surface and transmits bumps and irregularities into the cabin, though the damping is brilliant. Controlled and disciplined, it never feels overly stiff or punishing, though torque steer and camber chasing is occasionally apparent.

The six-speed dual-clutch upholds its end of the bargain too. Smooth, intelligent and unobtrusive in city driving, it’s also quick and decisive when you’re on it, providing you select the right drive mode. Comfort is a fun-sapper; the ’box constantly looking for the highest cog possible, while the throttle and powertrain feel as though they’ve swallowed an entire bottle of Stilnox. Neutral is the sweet spot for everyday driving, but dialling in Sport or Race (the latter disables ESC) adds a noticeable, and welcome, dose of aggression.

Full throttle upshifts are hammered home with an addictive braaap, the steering is heftier and the 205kW/390Nm 1.8-litre four pot is more assertive.

Sport versions miss out on the Cup’s Torsen LSD, instead relying on electronics to shuffle the torque about, but for road driving, it’s no great loss. Out of tight hairpins the front axle just grips and goes.

Just trust it, ok?

The standard four-wheelsteering system can feel odd at times. It pulls the usual trick of turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at slow speeds (by up to 2.7 degrees) before moving in-phase (turning up to 1.0 degree) as the velocity increases, but unlike other, more subtle systems, the effect in the Megane is pronounced. It never feels nervous, but the eagerness of the chassis to turn can feel unnatural until you learn to trust that the grip is there.

Sure, it lacks the ultimate capability and involvement of the Cup chassis (which is just $1490 extra), but the Sport auto gives the Megane RS broader appeal than manual-only rivals such as the Civic Type R and i30 N. Little wonder Renault Oz predicts 60 percent of buyers will opt for the two-pedaler.

ALEX INWOOD