Renault Mégane RS review – capable of toppling the Civic Type R? - Ride and handling
It might not drive like the other Renault Sport Méganes we’ve known and loved, but this version is still mightily impressive
Ride and handling
Unlike some of its rivals – the Hyundai i30N Performance and the Honda Civic Type R – the Renault Sport Mégane does not have adaptive dampers. They aren’t even an option like they are on the Golf GTI and R. Instead, the Mégane has passive dampers, but rather than being devoid of any state-of-the-art technology each unit has inbuilt hydraulic bump stops that make the extremes of the suspension movement far less abrupt than with conventional rubber stops.
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.
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The 1.8-litre engine feels far stronger in the Mégane than it does in the Alpine, even more so than the 27bhp extra might make you believe. Not only is it powerful enough, it feels sophisticated. Maybe not as smooth as VW’s EA888 engine that’s found in many hot hatches within its group, but still eager and refined. Even the rasping noise it makes is alright, if not the most evocative.
Play around with the driver modes, pop the Mégane into Race and the inoffensive engine noise is masked by a thrummy, synthetic din emitted by the speakers. Not only does this not sound very appealing, it’s barely like an engine noise at all. The Perso mode, where you can choose your own set-up, allows you to select the race settings for everything but the engine noise, if you wish. Excellent.
The EDC transmission is unobtrusive at slow speeds when left in automatic mode. Use the column-mounted paddles to change gear yourself and, not only do you realise they’re set too high and are too small to comfortably use, you also get a jolt as the next gear engages, especially in Race mode. When not in the sportiest setting, though, the dual-clutch ’box still changes up automatically as it hits the red line.
The manual transmission may not have the best gear change in its class – that accolade goes to the Honda Civic Type R – but it’s more than good enough and is rarely frustrating.
So, 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 try to physically improve its agility 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.
In the Cup models, with the limited-slip differential, jump on the throttle early in a bend, then 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 make the entire car follow the arc you set so religiously 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.
The new Mégane RS is, without doubt, incredibly impressive and massively effective. But there’s only one way to drive the Mégane; the way it has been designed to be driven. In older Renault Sport Meganes and more conventional front-wheel-drive hot hatches, similar levels of agility are possible from cars without such fancy rear axles, but technique and commitment is required to get the very best from them. Some of the Mégane’s nervousness, to the point of being unapproachable, means that you can’t really experiment with it; every corner is dismissed with speed and efficiency rather than thrills and excitement. It isn’t what we’ve come to expect from Renault Sport.