► New Renault Sport Megane review
► Sport, Cup and Trophy versions tested
► Choices aplenty: manual, auto, different suspension setups
The latest Renault Megane R.S. polarised opinions when we tested the base 280 version: it handles superbly, especially on track, and it’s crammed with inventive engineering, but left some of our testers a little cold on the road.
We’ve just tested the new, more powerful Trophy variant – can it take the fight to our favourite hot hatch of the moment, the Honda Civic Type R? Click here to read our first impressions of the Renault Megane R.S. Trophy, and read on for our full review of all the Megane IV R.S. variants so far.
New Renault Sport Megane: need to know
The new Renault Megane IV R.S. is the third hot Megane to be developed by Renault Sport, the company’s motorsport and high-performance road car division but it’s based on the fourth-generation Megane, hence the potentially confusing numbering.
While the previous R.S. Megane was a two-door coupe, the new one is strictly five-door, like the rest of the current hatch’s range. As before, two suspension set-ups are available: Sport (now designed to be more well-rounded for everyday use) and Cup (a more hardcore, track-focused arrangement).
Cup chassis pack-equipped versions cost around £1900 extra at the time of writing.
Choice of gearboxes: manual or paddleshift
The current Clio R.S. is available only with a paddleshift dual-clutch auto gearbox – a manufacturing decision that wasn’t universally popular with fans. The Megane offers the choice of a full manual H-pattern, or ‘EDC’ (Efficient Dual-Clutch), both with six speeds.
To appease purists even further, the manual gearbox comes with a manual handbrake, too. The auto has an electric parking brake switch.
The manual gearbox is the exact same one used in the previous R.S. Megane but the lever now has a shorter throw and tighter gate.
An auto option is crucial for markets like Australia and Asia – the new car will be offered in as many as 50 markets, and part of its remit is to appeal to as many different buyers as possible.
What’s under the bonnet?
The previous R.S. Megane had a 2.0-litre turbo engine, but the new car downsizes to a lighter aluminium 1.8 turbo, the same one found in the Alpine A110 sports car (also developed by Renault Sport).
In the regular R.S. 280 it develops 276bhp and 288lb ft, an impressive specific output for its size, although a deficit to the likes of the 296bhp Seat Leon Cupra 300, 316bhp Honda Civic Type R and 345bhp Ford Focus RS in today’s power-crazed hot hatch market. The Trophy makes up for that just a little with 296bhp from the same engine.
Four-wheel steer as standard
The smaller, mostly aluminium engine has saved weight, but a few pounds have been put back on by a new four-wheel-steering system.
While Ford’s Focus RS and VW’s Golf R have turned all-wheel-drive to manage their increasing power outputs, Renault Sport has stuck with front-wheel drive.
Its engineers said they briefly considered looking at using all-wheel-drive technology from within the Renault-Nissan alliance but quickly decided it ‘wasn’t ready for sports cars yet.’ Instead, it claims the rear-steer ability has enabled a similar-magnitude step forward in agility.
Below 37mph (or below 62mph if the car’s in Race mode) the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts, by as much as 2.7deg. This helps the nose dart into corners quicker or negotiate tight corners more easily. It also gives the car an incredibly tight turning circle for its size, which we’ve found genuinely useful in town.
At higher speed, they ever so slightly angle themselves in parallel with the front wheels, effectively lengthening the wheelbase for stability.
Four-wheel steering is established in high-end cars such as Porsche 911s, AMG GTs and certain Ferraris, but hitherto unheard of in hot hatches. The only other C-segment car to currently feature it is the Megane GT, the warm version of the regular car.
Two 280 versions: Sport and Cup
While the Cup is the exciting one, the regular Sport set-up is just as important to the Megane R.S. range, as it opens it up to a broader range of customers – those looking for an undemanding performance car to live with all year round. Golf GTI, 308 GTI, Focus ST and Leon Cupra territory, in other words.
The Cup, meanwhile is more focused on driver engagement on road and track. Natural rivals would be the likes of Honda’s Civic Type R, Ford’s Focus RS and the Performance Pack-equipped version of Hyundai’s i30 N.
The Cup ‘chassis’ (by which Renault is referring to the suspension, rather than the car’s structure) is around 10% stiffer overall compared with the Sport, and has its own specific tuning for the springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and hydraulic compression stops (derived from rallying and unique to the Megane’s segment – they’re standard on the Sport chassis too). Cup cars also get a mechanical limited-slip diff, and the option of lighter multi-material brakes.
Handy note: in most of these pictures, the Sport version is orange with regular alloys, Cup is yellow with black alloys.
Renault Megane R.S. 280 Sport review
As a fun but well-rounded, all-seasons hot hatch the standard Sport-spec 280 fulfils its brief well.
It rides well, it’s agile and fun to drive – subjectively, I doubt you’d have more fun in a Golf GTI – and its surprisingly refined, with very little tyre roar or engine drone making its way into the cabin at a cruise.
The four-wheel-steering is subtle in its operation – more so than an AMG GT, for instance – and you quickly tune into it, and forget it’s there. The new car is missing a little of the immediate, clear steering feel of previous R.S. Meganes. There’s the slightest glaze of fuzziness that wasn’t there before – maybe a result of the four-wheel-steer, maybe the redesigned front axle, maybe both – but the wheel doesn’t give you quite as high-definition a picture of the road surface as it used to.
But what’s missing in feel is made up for in response. Four-wheel steer has enabled Renault Sport to speed up the steering rate, and the amount of lock you need to put in has been reduced, especially in tight corners. The turning circle is city-car-small, too.
Unlike some of its rivals, the Megane R.S. uses passive dampers rather than electronically controlled adaptive shocks, and its rear suspension is a torsion beam while the Civic’s is independent. The ride is really very supple in Sport trim (helped by those hydraulic compression stops), and yet the car corners very flat – a product of the four-wheel-steer, Renault Sport’s engineers say.
The car’s project manager Loic Feuvray says they’d rather sell two suspension setups with passive dampers and get them both right than use electronic dampers, which he describes as being ‘always a compromise.’ On the strength of this car’s ride-handling ratio, his point of view makes sense.
Occasionally the car’s sheer width can make you breathe in a bit on narrow roads – seriously widened tracks make the front arches a full 60mm wider overall than the standard Megane, and the rears 45mm – but it’s arguably worth it for the high-speed stability. Once you’ve tuned into it, it’s a very confidence inspiring car.
The interior is a little nondescript, even with the red stitching and carbonfibre-effect leather trim on the doors. It’s positively luxurious compared with the previous R.S., however. The steering wheel’s a mix of leather and alcantara – unusually with the suede on the top and bottom of the wheel, where you probably won’t hold it – while the seats are also trimmed in suede. They’re good – deeply, but squidgily bolstered, easy to climb in and out of, supportive on twisty roads and reasonably kind to your (well, my) back on long distances. The footwell is incredibly broad for a performance car – the arches don’t seem to intrude at all, and there’s a giant footrest to brace yourself on.
The head-up display is clear, and there are plenty of places to store stuff. But the less said about the fiddly, laggy touchscreen the better.
What’s the EDC automatic gearbox like? And the manual?
The auto ’box feels more convincing than that of the Clio R.S., shifting unobtrusively by itself (with only the occasional shunt through the driveline at parking speeds – common to almost all twin-clutch transmissions), while in manual mode the engine’s keen rev response allows snappy-feeling downshifts. You don’t need to pull the paddles as far as you do in the Clio, and there’s a more definite ‘click’ as a gear engages – there could still be even more haptic feedback in that regard, though.
The paddles’ column-mounted position is compromised by the traditional audio control box on the bottom right of the steering column shroud, which forces the shifters to be mounted unusually high. If you’re turning right, you may need to remove your hand from the wheel in order to reach up and pull the right-hand paddle – otherwise you end up muting the stereo instead of changing gear. The car also has a tendency to roll forwards when you take your foot off the brake after you’ve selected reverse, as if the electric handbrake’s auto-hold function is a little dozy. Good practice for left-foot braking.
At 80mph in top gear the engine was pulling just under 3000rpm; it feels almost like it could do with a seventh overdrive gear for economy, were that possible. Official average is over 40mpg with the EDC gearbox and standard 18-inch wheels – on 19s over 170 miles we averaged around 22mpg, in a mix of city centre crawling, steady motorway driving and less steady mountain road climbing.
The EDC features two ‘goodies’ for track work: launch control and multi-downchange (hold the left hand paddle and it’ll automatically ping down to the appropriate gear for the corner, whatever it may be). On its way up through the gears on full-throttle, an ignition cut function creates a barking sound from the cavernous central exhaust housing, which sounds pretty cool.
That’s something that can’t be said for it the rest of the time. Although it’ll make the occasional crackle on the overrun, a genuine noise rather than a synthesised one – there are no valves or flaps within the exhaust, instead two pathways alter its note depending on gasflow and ensure it doesn’t sound droney on the motorway, and a little augmentation through the speakers can make it sound a bit more exotic from within, although you can turn that off if you don’t like it – but most of the time it just sounds a bit whoosy, whirry and forgettable. To these ears, anyway.
The manual is… okay. It’s good on the track, its tightened throw making it harder to wrong-slot a gear in the heat of the moment, but it feels vaguer than some rivals (the Civic Type R in particular), and some cars we’ve tested have made a whirring noise as the lever passes through the gate. Still, it is more involving than the auto, and for keen drivers it’s the natural choice.
Renault Megane R.S. 280 Cup review
On track, the Cup-spec Megane is seriously impressive. So too on the road, but to a lesser degree – it’s not as exciting as previous hardcore Megane R.S. models, but it is very agile and adjustable. The ride is noticeably firmer than the Sport-spec car, as you’d expect, but not to the point of spoiling a journey.
Where the Sport uses its brakes to slow the inside wheel and tighten its line while cornering (which works well enough on the road), the Cup has a mechanical limited-slip differential. It’s not electronically controlled – with rear-steer in the mix, Renault Sport felt the car was complex enough already on the computer-control front.
Whereas the previous R.S. Megane used a mechanical LSD by GKN, the new one is by Torsen and can transfer as much as 45% of total torque to the wheel that needs it most. It finds impressive traction, both in Sport mode and Race mode – which switches off the traction control and stability control.
Also impressive is the lack of torque-steer through the wheel. You can accelerate hard in a low gear on a smooth surface with little in the way of steering corruption, although crowned roads may require you to tighten your grip a little. As before, the Megane uses a dual-axis front axle with a separate hub carrier to lessen the effect of torque steer and cambered roads. It’s a new design this time, however.
Just like the Sport on the road, it does feel like there’s not quite the same thrillingly instant synapse response between the steering wheel rim and the front tyres that old Renault Sport Meganes do so well, but the steering is accurate nonetheless. And it’s fast – no matter how tight the turn, you won’t need much lock to get round it.
The rear-steer is much less noticeable in action on a circuit. It reduces the amount of lock you need to apply tight hairpins and in faster bends the virtual wheelbase extension helps make the car feel very stable, but still adjustable. The small-to-medium amount of downforce generated by the rear diffuser (which starts around the rear axle) and creditably demure-looking boot spoiler help here too.
What’s more, it’s forgiving. Lift your foot from the throttle mid-corner, or tweak the wheel, and it’ll slide on demand, but it does so progressively. It feels more predictable on the limit than its forebear.
Whereas 18-inch wheels are standard on Sport cars, and 19s an option, all Cup cars get 19-inch wheels. The brakes on the car we tested were the optional multi-material cast iron discs with aluminium centres, which save a hefty 1.8kg a corner in unsprung mass. They made a worrying groaning noise (the car had been given a pasting all week long on track) but their stopping power was impressive, as was stability under braking.
Sadly you can’t switch off the automatically triggered hazard lights under heavy braking (a regulatory requirement for the road), which might get a bit annoying on a track day. The pedal needs a good firm press, and doesn’t have much travel, which makes it ideal for heel and toeing. The pedal placement and the engine’s keen response from low-to-mid revs helps in this regard, too. The Megane R.S. doesn’t have automatic rev-matching, since Renault Sport says its customers enjoy doing the work themselves.
Renault Megane R.S. 300 Trophy review
The Megane R.S. Trophy is the hardest-core version. If the regular car in Sport trim is a well-rounded daily driver to rival the Golf GTI, the Trophy is a serious driver’s car to rival the Civic Type R.
The Trophy is fitted with the Cup chassis as standard. Its suspension settings are identical – there are no changes to the springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
What it does get in exchange for its price increase of around £4000 (final UK pricing is TBC at the time of writing) is a power increase to 300 metric horsepower (296bhp), hence the 300 bit in the name. Torque is up too, to 296lb ft or 310lb ft in auto versions – the Trophy is available with both gearbox options.
It also features bi-material lightweight brakes, an option on the 280 but standard-fit on the Trophy, with new grooves for better durability when used hard on track. Lightweight Recaro seats trimmed in alcantara are standard, too. They’re adjustable rather than fixed buckets. They’re decently supportive, although the broad upper bolsters can pinch broad-shouldered drivers. That’s come partly from a bigger turbocharger, and partly from a new exhaust, which features a new electronic valve system. Valves fully open its loud, crackly and really quite rude, but when you’re trundling through town it’s quiet and unobtrusive.
As standard the Trophy comes with some very tasty looking 19-inch wheels with red highlights inspired by the Renault R.S.01 concept, but lightweight rims saving an entire 2kg at each corner are an option. Add those to the lightweight brakes and there’s a big chunk of unsprung mass missing from each corner.
That may be part of the reason the Trophy feels so nimble and alive on the track. We tested it at Estoril, in the wet and the dry, and it’s an extremely responsive and lively driving experience.
Tail-happy, too. In the wet it doesn’t half oversteer. There’s a lot of front-end grip from the new, bespoke Bridgestone Potenzas developed for the lightweight wheels and at the slightest lift from the throttle, the tail slews round to follow. It’s very predictable however, and the steering is so fast you hardly need any lock to catch even the broadest of slides. The Torsen mechanical diff finds excellent traction, and you can straighten the car easily with the throttle as well as the steering.
It’s one of the most accurate, adjustable and entertaining hot hatches for circuit driving that you can buy today.
The extra helping of power and torque means the Trophy does feel noticeably quicker than the 280 on the road. There’s little lag from the bigger turbo (helped by expensive ceramic bearings), and the engine’s flexible and willing to pull from low revs.
Although the Cup suspension settings are firm, the Trophy rides well on bumpy roads. It’s jiggly yes, but never crashy, and body control is hard to fault. The exhaust is quiet when you’re not pressing on, there’s plenty of space in the back behind the narrow Recaro seats and you get the feeling it would be an easy car to live with as a daily driver.
It’s perhaps less fun on the road than the circuit. Although it still has the likeable feeling of nimbleness on turn-in and stability under braking, the steering is relatively light, the manual gearchange is short-throw but a little vague feeling, and the engine is flexible but not particularly charismatic. While the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30N Performance are ultimately less agile, the Civic is more communicative – it’s a car where you find yourself changing gear just for the sake of it, because it’s so pleasurable to do so – and the i30N’s big-lunged engine is more charismatic.
Still, the Trophy is more inventively engineered than them both, more agile, and to many eyes more attractive.
If the old R.S. Megane was a bit too hardcore for you, the Sport is a very credible modern hot hatch all-rounder – it’s fun to drive, comfortable and easy to live with, without thrilling its driver to the same degree as Renault Sport hot hatches of old.
The Cup feels quicker over a lap and more stable and forgiving at high-speed than its predecessor, with a tighter, more fool-proof gearshift if you pick the manual and a credible alternative in the EDC. It’s a seriously impressive track car, with higher abilities than most mainstream hot hatches. But for us the Honda Civic Type R is more exciting and involving to drive on the road, if less agile than the Renault. But the Megane’s more subtle, well-resolved styling will likely be far more palatable to most buyers.
While the Trophy’s extra power does make it feel more lively than the 280, unless you’re likely to attend trackdays the advantages of its lighter brakes and seats aren’t quite enough to separate it from the rest of the range on the road.
Our pick of the range would be the Cup chassis-equipped 280. It’s well worth test driving the Megane against its rivals. While its forebears are perhaps more exciting to drive, it’s more well-rounded and easier to live with than previously. It’s an impressive modern hot hatch.
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