The latest version of the Mégane RS marks a change in attitude from Renault Sport, the French company that’s been responsible for some of evo’s favourite hot hatches.
Out goes the simple but well-honed chassis of the previous Méganes, with their humble torsion beam rear axles, and in its place is greater sophistication and more complex components. Most notable is the optional addition of a dual-clutch transmission, and the standard fitment of rear-wheel steering on all models bar the hardcore Trophy-R.
Subscribe to evo magazine
Different it may be, but the same well-considered approach has been taken as before; every one of the new car’s clever components works in unison with the next to make this hot hatch seriously capable. While it’s very impressive, fans of older Renault Sport models may find the new car a little cold and lacking the gritty, no compromise interaction between car and driver that was so evident in previous Mégane RSs.
But what this car can achieve, and what the more complex chassis allows it to do, will astound even the most ardent old-school hot hatch fan. Its ability to dispatch the most serpentine and challenging B-road with exceptional agility, unwavering traction and resolute body control is a thing to behold.
That the Mégane is also a looker, thanks to well-integrated flared arches, a neat silhouette and subtle spoilers, makes it an even more appealing package. Its understated exterior also further differentiates it from its somewhat grotesque rivals. Yes, we’re looking at you, Honda Civic Type R.
Renault Mégane RS in detail
Engine, transmission and technical details – The 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder has been breathed on by Renault F1 experts and it feels strong. We’d choose the manual, notchy though it is, over the dual-clutch transmission.
Performance and 0-60 time – It isn’t the fastest hot hatch, but its acceleration figures put it on par with the Honda Civic Type R. That said, the Mégane isn’t really about 0-60mph times and top speed.
Ride and handling – Quite a departure from previous Renault Sport Méganes. Four-wheel steering brings incredible agility, and the Cup chassis (optional on the entry-level RS, standard on the Trophy) is effective but very firm. The Trophy-R takes a different approach, omitting the 4WS, and is firmer still.
MPG and running costs – You won’t buy the RS Mégane for its economy, but you might be pleasantly surprised at how frugal it can be.
Interior and tech – The interior is certainly more high-end than those of previous Méganes. It looks good and feels good, too, mostly. Trophy-R gets the usual unique details and a pared-back equipment list.
Design – With nicely flared arches and a lack of wings and spoilers, the new Mégane is a great-looking car. A welcome change from other hot hatches, too.
Prices, specs and rivals
As the prices of hot hatchbacks spiral ever upwards, the entry-level Mégane RS seems like something of a bargain with its £27,995 price tag. While that’s a couple of grand more than the talented Hyundai i30N, it’s considerably less than the Ford Focus ST (£31,995), Volkswagen Golf GTI (£29,120 for an equivalent five-door car), Civic Type R (£31,550) and the Performance version of the i30N, at £29,495.
It’s also a chunk beneath the RS Trophy, which starts at £31,995 and is perhaps a closer match to some of the aforementioned hatches, but when you consider that most of the evo team actually prefer the Mégane RS at its most basic, in which spec it loses little in terms of performance to the firmer Trophy but feels better on the kind of broken surfaces that pervade British B-roads, we’re not sure it’s worth paying the extra – nor the £1500 it takes to upgrade the regular RS to the Cup chassis and fit a limited-slip differential.
There’s also a choice of two six-speed gearboxes: a conventional manual and a dual-clutch automated manual. The three-pedal option is the transmission to go for – it’s a bit obstructive and notchy, but does seem to free up with miles, it’s £1600 cheaper than Renault’s EDC ’box, and it feels more appropriate for a hot hatch.
Less significant is the £900 bi-material brake discs option. Rather than being made entirely from cast iron, the front brake discs are constructed using an aluminium centre, with the outer disc in cast iron. They reduce unsprung and rotational mass by 3.6kg, while they are also more resistant to fade and warping. The advantages aren’t immediately noticeable from the driver’s seat, but over time and repeated track use you might see the benefits.
If the regular RS Méganes seem like a bargain, though, then the Trophy-R restores the balance of the universe by coming in at an eye-watering £51,140. Well, before you add one or two desirable options, anyway, as opting for a fancy set of carbonfibre wheels lifts that figure to £63,140, and if you go for the full record-setting Nürburgring spec, which also adds a set of carbon-ceramic front brakes, you’ll pay £72,140.
The resulting car is quite remarkable, particularly on track, and you can rest easy that you probably can’t get hold of a car in that spec anyway, as only a couple will be coming to the UK. But given that money could get you an example of both the old Trophy-R and an R26.R and still leave enough in your pocket for a pristine Clio Trophy, it’s still a tough pill to swallow...