Ride and handling
Even with many of the same attributes as previous Renault Sport Méganes, such as the strong engine, the excellent body control and the impressive traction, this model behaves very differently from its predecessors. And that’s mostly down to the new all-wheel-steering system.
The Mégane is hyper alert, reacting – almost overreacting – to every steering input. Treat it like an ordinary hot hatch and it feels nervous and twitchy as you enter a corner. Play by its rules, trust that the rear-wheel steer alone will give it the capability to turn in rather than trying to improve the car’s agility yourself by braking later and deep into a corner, and what the new Mégane’s chassis and systems are trying to do makes much more sense. It changes direction with such precision and ease you long for a tight and twisty road for you to lead it down, repeatedly jinking one way, then the other.
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With the Cup chassis (optional on the RS, standard on the Trophy), which comes with a limited-slip differential, jump on the throttle early in a bend and you reveal the Mégane’s real party piece. The diff gives the front axle incredible bite and helps lock the tyres on the trajectory you’ve set with the steering. The back axle also engages to so religiously make the entire car follow the arc you set that it feels as though you could maintain the same radius no matter what speed you’re travelling at, without the front or rear tyres losing grip. Just as long as you keep your foot on the throttle. Lift off, and in traditional hot hatch style the back end will want to break wide – but rather than feeling graceful and controllable, it’s very sudden and startling, rather like the way it feels entering a corner.
As a result of its passive dampers, the Mégane – even in non-Cup guise – is perhaps not the most comfortable hot hatch you can buy. However, it’s still far from being too harsh, no matter which set-up it has. Any jolt or bounce you do feel – and it’s only really noticeable over the worst roads – is totally forgivable considering the tight control the suspension has over the body. Compressions and crests are dealt with without any fuss, and if the tyres do leave the tarmac the car returns to earth smoothly. There is some roll, but it’s kept to such a minimum and is so well contained that all it does is help you gauge the levels of grip, which, as it turns out, are huge.
Curiously, the basic, non-Cup Mégane is for once the sweetest of the bunch. The smaller wheels and softer suspension seem to calm it down a little and absorb some of the nervous feeling the four-wheel steering can instil. The basic car also flows down bumpy roads with greater composure, rarely lacking body control but absorbing craggy asphalt more easily than the stiffer Cup cars. It misses little of the Cup and Trophy’s agility, but feels better suited to UK roads.
The same can’t really be said for the Trophy-R, which is a surprise, as its ancestor, the Mégane R26.R, felt even better on the road than the standard Méganes of the time. In some respects it’s a more natural car to drive than the other RSs thanks to its conventional rear axle and the benefits of lower weight, but even tuned to its softest the ride quality is unyieldingly firm, and the car spends a lot of time being knocked off your chosen line as a result. Once again, the basic Mégane actually feels like a more appropriate car for the roads – though there’s no denying the Trophy-R is mighty on track.