Before I even try and get started on what I think of the new Renault Megane RS, I think it is vitally important that you understand what the new car is all about.
Previous Megane RS cars appealed mostly to hardcore performance enthusiasts that were prepared to live with a very firm everyday ride for the sake of a hot hatch that outhandled almost any other hot hatch in the twisties or on the track.
And Renault also offered an even more hardcore Cup version and then even more than that in the Trophy spec cars.
Even the ‘everyday’ RS was seriously focused on handling, and owners understood and loved that. What we have now, is a Megane RS that is a lot more refined for everyday use.
A hot hatch that is a better all round, everyday package that will appeal to a wider base of potential customers.
So, the new Megane RS is not a Civic Type R or VW Clubsport S competitor, think more VW Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST and you will understand exactly where Renault has gone with this car.
Some will see this as a bad and some will see it as a good move. Before you judge the new car, remember that there is already a Cup version on the table, and a Trophy version should see the light of day before the end of the year.
It is said it will run around 225kW and 400Nm, the Cup chassis, 19-inch wheels and bi-material brake discs as standard to cater for the out and out performance junkies.
All of that had to be said, because even I was caught a little unawares when I jumped in the new car and tackled the first mountain pass just outside Jerez in Spain. I was expecting the uncompromising, razor sharp, track based car of old but instead found a hot hatch that was happier to be pushed at seven tenths rather than nine or ten tenths, just like its GTI and ST rivals are.
Under the bonnet is an all-new 1.8-litre direct injection turbo engine boosting at 1.7 bar, which is good for 205kW of power at 6 000 rpm and a peak torque of 390Nm available from 2 400 to 4 800rpm.
For South Africa’s market introduction at the end of July, we are only getting the much improved six-speed EDC dual-clutch gearbox.
The box and related set-up was good, but it did have its quirks. I don’t like steering mounted paddle shifters that don’t move with the steering wheel, and at times, especially in tight corners, I found myself looking for the paddle.
And for some strange reason, you can’t use the gear lever to manually shift gears.
Another little quirk was that when you had selected comfort mode, and then found yourself wanting to quickly overtake, you could floor the accelerator, but the car would still short shift at around 4 500 rpm and leave you a bit short of the urge you were looking for.
Other than that, Sport and Race modes did what they should. And of course there is a launch control function.
Talking of Sport and Race modes brings me to the handling and the 4Control technology on the new Megane RS. Fitted as standard on the Sport and Cup chassis, this four-wheel steering system is a world first in the compact sports car segment.
What 4Control does in basic terms is at low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels, up to a maximum angle of 2.7 degrees, and at high speed the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction for improved all round agility. The switchover point is set at 60km/h in all modes except Race, where the system works at speeds of up to 100 km/h.
They do say Race mode is intended to be used when driving on racetracks, and they might be right, because it was not happy when driving hard on normal roads.
As you were about to enter a tight corner, below 100 km/h, the rear of the car would rotate and go into a type of oversteer condition, which could easily catch an unskilled or unprepared driver out as Race mode means no traction control to save you.
And then when you straightened out the car, and came away from the apex of the corner, hard on the gas, the front tyres would spin and lose the fight for grip, as the Megane RS does not come with a limited slip diff, and this results in, a more than expected, amount of understeer.
On the track this would be more fun, because you could throw the car around a bit more.
We never drove the RS Sport on the track, but we did get a run in the manual version of the Cup chassis car at the Jerez Circuit, and this car featured a limited slip diff and was much more at home in this environment.
The last little quirk that I think needs tweaking, is the brake pedal feel. Although the braking system has been improved, and now offers greater stopping power, there is no initial feel when you jump on the brakes. Bite they do, but you do have to stand on them a bit.
Inside it is much improved, from upmarket Bose sound system, to the sporty RS theme that is apparent everywhere..
The new Megane RS is a good looking, well specced hot hatch, that is now versatile enough for everyday use. Sure, it had a few quirks at the limit that I didn’t quite get, but if priced right, I think it could tempt a good few new buyers.
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