Visit the Nurburgring and you’ll mostly spot three types of car in the car park: Porsche 911s, BMW M3s and Renaultsport Meganes. The Megane may have lost its front-wheel-drive lap record to the Honda Civic Type R, then the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S, but it remains a firm favourite of weekend racers.
However, a new Megane has already hit the streets and an RS version follows in late 2017. We already know it will have rear-wheel steering like the Megane GT. It may have a semi-automatic gearbox like the Renaultsport Clio. It could even have four-wheel drive. Clearly, time is running out for Renault’s old-school hot hatch.
With that in mind, we decided to have one last blast in the Megane RS: driven here in run-out 275 Cup-S spec. Join us for a fond – and very fast – farewell.
- Read our review of the new Renault Megane GT
- Get the MR verdict on the 2016 Renault Scenic
- Read another car review on Motoring Research
Surrey, in a hurry
Squaring up against the 350hp Ford Focus RS, 310hp Honda Civic Type R and 300hp Volkswagen Golf R, the 275hp Megane appears to have turned up to a sword-fight brandishing a baguette. Still, we’d hardly call 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 158mph slow. And it’s the way the RS goes around corners that counts.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many corners of note in south London: certainly nothing to worry the Nurburgring. So we set the sat nav for deepest Surrey, in search of roads that could at least bring those Bridgestone Potenzas up to operating temperature. Time to find out if the ageing Megane still cuts it.
A bumpy start
We settle into the snug Recaro seat and grasp the chunky Alcantara wheel with its racecar-style centre marker. So far, so good. Then our eyes begin to wander over a dashboard that’s more akin to a mid-90s minicab. Hmmm. Creature comforts have never been the Megane’s strong suit.
Neither, it turns out, has ride quality. On stiff springs with Öhlins Road and Track adjustable dampers, the RS jitters and jars over urban pockmarks, while drain covers and sleeping policemen transmit thuds and thumps. By the time we cross the M25, we’re feeling shaken, but not stirred.
We pass a national speed limit sign and, at last, it’s time to test the Megane’s mettle. Its 2.0-litre engine wakes up with a growl, punching us forward with a wallop of turbocharged torque. It may be front-wheel drive, but there’s no shortage of traction: a mechanical limited-slip differential – part of the Cup chassis pack – sees to that.
As standard, the RS has 250hp: you need to select Sport mode for the full 275 horses. Doing so also sharpens throttle response, ramping up the intensity to a level only surpassed by the Civic Type R. No doubt, the Megane still feels ferociously fast, its Akrapovic titanium exhaust popping deliciously as you stir the six-speed gearbox. It simply begs to be driven hard.
Grunt and grip
If the Renault is quick in a straight line, that’s nothing compared to its appetite for bends. We were worried that it might simply be too taut for British tarmac, but find a flowing B-road and suddenly that stiff suspension starts to make sense. Where lesser hot hatches might float or flex, the Megane feels positively tied-down. It turns in with pinpoint precision, holding its line with the tenacity of a ravenous rottweiler. Then, that diff works its magic and catapults you towards the next corner.
Shifting to neutral
It would be easy to get carried away, sure, but unlike many rear-wheel-drive sports cars (or indeed some hot hatches: we’re looking at you, Peugeot 205 GTI) the Megane won’t bite back. Push harder than you think sensible and it just grips. Push stupidly hard and it will understeer safely.
You’re unlikely to even get near the Renault’s limits on dry roads, although that neutral balance is reassuring in wet weather – particularly if you’ve opted for the track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Likewise, if you are using your car on a circuit, it’s good to know that it won’t dump you unceremoniously in the gravel the first time you make a mistake.
Steer we go
We should also talk about the Megane’s superb steering. Instead of isolating you from the road below, it’s feels positively alive in your hands. The downside of any powerful front-driver is, inevitably, torque steer, but – for us at least – this slight unruliness under full-bore acceleration only adds to the appeal.
Besides, this is no ditch-seeking missile like the old Astra VXR. The steering weights-up consistently in corners, helping you place the car with confidence. It works with you, not against you – allowing you to explore its abilities without exceeding yours.
What else makes the Megane great to drive? Well, there are the strong, progressive brakes, which haul the car to a halt swiftly and – so we’re told – stand up well to track-day use and abuse.
There’s also the six-speed manual gearbox, which offers a short throw and a pleasingly mechanical feel. For anyone who’s sampled the clonky EDC twin-clutch ’box in the Renaultsport Clio, that should come as no small relief. Flappy paddles? Who needs ’em?
Phew! We pull into a services and take a breather. The Megane might be a four-wheeled adrenalin-shot, but we still need our mid-morning dose of caffeine. Slipping a flat white and listening to the exhaust ticking as it cools gives us time to reflect. What a drive of two halves: the first an awkward and uncomfortable suburban slog, the second a riotous rural romp.
Where some hot hatches are great all-rounders (step forward, Golf GTI), the Megane is more focused, and more specific in its abilities. If said GTI is a flat white, the RS is a double espresso.
Plastic, not fantastic
Stopping for a break also gives us time to look around the Megane’s interior. Sacré bleu. Renault must have blown its budget on the chassis, leaving nothing for niceties. The plastics are brittle, ergonomics are haphazard and build quality feels shoddy. ‘Typical French car’, you might think, but there’s no quirky Gallic charm here. Optional Recaros aside, it’s dull and slightly depressing – and don’t even get us started on that fragile, card-shaped key. No wonder Renault has had a complete re-think – including a large tablet-style touchscreen – for the latest Megane.
If there’s one redeeming feature inside the Megane RS, it’s the Renaultsport Monitor, a data-tracking system similar to what you’d find in a Nissan GT-R. As well as providing info about the major functions, such as turbo pressure and oil temperature, it provides real-time data about engine torque and power – plus straight-line and cornering G-forces.
With an eye on track use, there’s also a lap timer and an 0-400m and 0-62mph acceleration timer. We confess, the temptation to use the latter at traffic lights was simply too much. And yes, in case you wondered, we matched the official 5.8-second 0-62mph time after several attempts. After which we gave a clutch a well-earned rest…
Going with the flow
Crossing the county border into Hampshire, we drove through picturesque villages linked by leafy lanes. Away from the sprawl of London, traffic had thinned and the sun finally burst through the scattering clouds. The Megane felt in its element here, hunkering down and devouring each ribbon of tarmac. One of our esteemed journalist colleagues described it as ‘the 911 GT3 of hot hatches’, and he had a point. The RS is an awesome tool at maximum attack – probably faster than a supercar on narrow roads like these – yet it ‘flows’ like only a truly great driver’s car can.
Still, all good things must come to an end, and my patient passenger was tiring of the rock-hard ride and my attempts to play Sebastien Loeb. So we joined the M3 and headed back east, switching off the Renaultsport Monitor and switching on the radio (you can only operate one at a time).
On the motorway, the Megane felt out of its comfort zone again. Its hyperactive steering needs regular corrections to stay in lane. That radio is pretty awful, too: sound quality is tinnier than an old Renault 5. At least the exhaust offers a great soundtrack – and not one that’s augmented by the speakers, thank God.
Options add up
The Renaultsport Megane has its faults, and there are many, but it’s certainly cheap. On paper, at least. Prices for the 275 Cup-S start at just £23,935: more than £7,000 less than a Ford Focus RS. However, much like the 911 GT3 mentioned earlier, many owners will spend big on options to transform their car into a fully-armed track terrorist.
Case in point: our test car cost a jaw-dropping £33,555, which included Recaro seats (£1,300), larger 19in alloys (£1,000), Öhlins dampers (£2,000), the Akrapovic exhaust (£2,500) and more. Sorry Renault, but at that price we’d have the Ford.
End of the affair
We loved our brief fling with the Megane, but we’re not sold on a long-term relationship. The great thing about hot hatches is they’re multi-taskers, as capable on the school-run as the Stelvio Pass. The RS is a fabulous driving machine, no question, but it’s too compromised to be an everyday car. And frankly, if we wanted weekend fun, we’d rather put the cash towards a used Porsche Cayman. Or perhaps a Caterham for track days.
Nonetheless, we will miss the Renaultsport Megane. Its place in the history books – and in our hearts – is assured. The next Megane RS promises to be altogether different. Let’s hope it’s even half as desirable.