When you think about a track-day hot hatch that's capable of blitzing lap times – one that positively exudes driver engagement – the Megane RS is among the first vehicles that come to mind. We get behind the wheel of the latest iteration of the iconic hatch.
It’s an all-new Megane RenaultSport (RS) and comes in two versions, a road-usable Lux (specced to a Golf GTI-rivalling level) and a more track-honed beast, named the Cup. The Trophy derivative is in the works, so expect that ultimate track Megane to start setting lap records for front-wheel-driven cars relatively soon...
For South Africa, the Lux derivative comes equipped with the EDC (dual-clutch) transmission, while the Cup comes with a 6-speed manual plucked from the previous model. Other differences include an electronic differential for the Lux and mechanical limited-slip diff (LSD) for the Cup, which is also adorned with red brake calipers.
The Lux version of the Megane RS can be specced with 18 or 19-inch wheels, 19s are fitted to the car shown here.
Both enjoy the same peak outputs from their 1.8-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol mills: 205 kW and 390 Nm of torque. The Cup is said to match the 0-to-100 kph sprint time of the Lux (5.8 seconds), which is impressive, considering that the former has a manual 'box and the latter's EDC automatic is endowed with a launch control mode.
The Lux was the only version available to drive at the launch at Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth, so we got behind the 'wheel and turned some laps in damp conditions.
Is it still the track king?
There are noticeable differences between this RS and the old model, the biggest being the new dual-clutch transmission. Renault insists on mounting the paddles to the Lux's steering column (instead of its tiller), which obligates mid-steer hand movements to find the appropriate paddle. It’s not ideal, but you get used to it. The ‘box is rapid in shifting on track and fires off a raspy “pah!” as it switches between gears. Golf GTIs would be proud of that sort of gearshift belch.
However, the new version feels a little less track-honed than its predecessor. The electronic diff is not as good as the old mechanical diff – it's prone to spinning the wheels on corner exits, rather than apportioning the torque to whichever front wheel has the best traction. Here’s hoping the LSD in the Cup has a better track setup.
The Lux version feels softer than previous Meganes, hopefully, the Cup derivative will impress more on track.
That said, the Lux has a real talent for turn-in oversteer. You can really brake deep, come off the brakes and steer with the rear, using the throttle to adjust your apex point. It's fun to provoke the RS in this way, just to see how much you can get the "tail to wag the dog". It’s also quite un-Megane RS like as it has always had balanced, accurate turn and fast steering. This is certainly less serious, but the serious stuff could all have been carried over to the Cup version, we can't wait to find out!
This Lux feels more like a faster, fun Golf GTI/Ford Focus than a track toy, the likes of what we are used to. The new engine, downsized from the Darth Vader sounding 2.0-litre to a 1.8-litre doesn’t lack for fizz in any way. The numbers are good, as you can see, and it doesn't lag at the low end and delivers a hefty kick of torque from 2 400 rpm through to 4 800 rpm. Beyond that, the urgency of the power delivery starts to taper off a little but doesn’t sound like it's straining too hard.
Is it rock hard on the road?
It is certainly firm, but not so uncomfortable that it leaves you in need of a pilates class to straighten out your vertebrae. The Lux is well-suited to a fast, winding road where the limits don’t need to be pushed very far. With the pace dialled back a bit from the track, the RS Lux feels low and planted and the steering nicely weighted.
The Lux model may well offer up a bigger challenge to the GTi and ST on road than ever before.
The EDC transmission is just not as good as the DSG in a Golf GTI, but Renault is getting there. It lacks some of the smoothness in slow traffic and it sometimes feels like its riding the clutch as it tries to figure out which gear it should select. On the open road, that’s less of a problem and the shifting occurs relatively seamlessly.
Stripped out interior?
With this Lux derivative being a softer, Golf GTI rival, its insides are as upmarket as Renault can offer. The sports seats hold you firmly in situ and are set low within the cabin, the leather steering wheel comes with a red stitch marking at top dead centre and carbon fibre weave on the door panels is a creamy soft-touch velour.
The Lux interior, complete with EDC (dual clutch) box and paddle shifters.
The centrepiece of the dashboard is the R-Link 8.7-inch vertically mounted touchscreen. It's Android Auto and Apple Carplay enabled and houses the RS monitor – an app suite that logs performance telemetry. It could have a bit more of a glitzy, hi-resolution look to its graphics and more smartphone-esque glassy look to the screen that would lift the presence of the cabin, but it's still a functional and adequate infotainment system.
It’s a well-specced derivative (with a plethora of tech and safety features as standard). At R575 000, it offers more kit and performance than its closest priced rivals.
We've accustomed to Megane RS models being track-bred and hardcore, so this Lux version, with its softer approach, had us a little confused at first. But considering that Renault will still offer the purposeful Cup version (well we hope its harder), this Lux has its place. Not everyone wants a track day toy, they might want the looks and the straight-line performance, but they also want something they can live with on an everyday basis – a car that doesn’t leave them with a compressed spine at age 35.
This is where the Lux comes in, it’s still a fun performance toy, but it’s not as serious as before and its directly aimed that the Golf GTI and Focus ST buyer, except that it wipes the floor with them in the performance stakes at the same price. For a full spec and pricing breakdown click here.
Megane R.S. 280 CUP 205kW Manual - R549 900
Megane R.S. 280 LUX 205kW EDC - R549 900
Metallic paint - R2 522
Leather seats - R10 088
Special Metallic Paint (R.S. Models) - R10 088
19'' Alloy wheels (R.S. 280 EDC LUX) - R8 070