First Drive: 2018 Renault Megane RS

First Drive: 2018 Renault Megane RS

Love it or loathe it, the first generation Renault Megane RS was one of the most focused front-wheel drive hot hatches in the market.

My first encounter of the vehicle was back in 2007 when I had on test the then special edition R26 F1 Team variant, which commemorated Renault’s 2006 F1 championship title win.

The third generation Megane RS has now been launched in Jerez, Spain and I was more than intrigued to sample the model since we have been running a Megane GT in our long-term fleet, which is a rung below the RS variant.

Baroque pose

As subjective a topic as styling is for some, I have to mention right off the bat that the pictures you see before you of the new RS do no justice to the vehicle. Things like 60mm wider fenders front and back (compared with the GT model) lend it a squat and baroque pose that has to be seen to be appreciated. There is an RS front blade on the lower valance and chequered flag design fog lamps, while 19-inch alloys are wrapped in 245/35 ratio tyres.

At the rear, a centrally located exhaust outlet with twin pipes sprouting ever so slightly is flanked by a diffuser that is both functional and visually pleasing.

The cabin is a carbon copy of the GT, which includes the form hugging seats, infotainment screen and instrument cluster. But instead of the GT’s blue theme, the RS has a red hue to denote its sporting prowess.

Under the bonnet lies the company’s new 1.8l turbo engine, which replaces the previous model’s 2.0-litre displacement, but punches out more power and torque of 205kW and 390Nm respectively. This is harnessed to the front wheels via a new six-speed EDC (efficient dual clutch) automatic transmission.

We’ll get to the engine and performance a little later, but I have to commend Renault on the latest gearbox, which is different to the seven-speed unit in our GT. More responsive to paddle inputs, the transmission was a pleasure to use and was not plagued by the pauses that afflict the box in the Clio RS for instance.

It might not be as dextrous as the Golf GTi’s DSG box, but it is mighty close and I enjoyed the flatulent belches between gear changes, which was a positive nod to the originator, the GTi.

Good performance

Performance from the engine is good with plenty of reserves in most gears.

With a 1.7 bar turboboost, it does require some time for the boost to get on song, but then it really piles on the power once past some turbo lag.

The Sport version, which we drove on the roads of Jerez, is the softer variant (there will also be a Cup version later) and comes with no limited slip differential (LSD). The front wheels always scrabble for traction and the car never settles to a point where you can relax and get on with the business of driving, fast.

Torque steer is an issue without the LSD, which means the vehicle also has a propensity to understeer when flung into corners at a fair lick. It is a bit disconcerting and I have a distinct feeling that the Bridgestone tyres shod on our launch cars may not be the best compound for this type of car.

The 4 Control rear wheel steering has been calibrated here to turn in the opposite direction as the front wheels up to speeds of 100km/h in the interest of making the vehicle more agile, while beyond that speed the wheels turn in the same direction to aid stability.

In practice, however, I found that you need to adapt your driving style to complement the rear wheel steer technology as I found that if you dial in too much steering input, then the rear of the vehicle tends to move around more than you might require, resulting in driver steering inputs to counter the effects.

It is a great system, but I reckon you have to wrap your head around how it functions to truly relish its benefits.

I can see what Renault set out to achieve with the new Megane RS. Being slightly softer, it will appeal to a much wider audience boosted by the fact that the model now exclusively comes in the more practical five-door body form.

We also managed to drive the forthcoming Cup version, replete with a six-speed manual gearbox and LSD, around the Jerez racetrack. While the vehicle was more eager to pull out of corners, thanks to the aforementioned LSD, I was not particularly impressed by the transmission’s positivity.

The synchromesh between third and fifth gear could be better, but then again we were driving left-hand drive cars, so it could easily be a matter of co-ordination on my part. We will have to wait to drive it on public roads to resolutely ascertain how it fares.

For those with a penchant for an even more focused model, a Trophy version with 221kW is earmarked to join the fray sometime in 2019 and it is likely to be the car the company will use to once again attempt the Nurburgring lap record for a front-wheel drive car, which is currently held by the Honda Civic Type R.

Earmarked to be launched here in March, the new Megane RS has matured somewhat — a good thing for sure — which should give it more universal appeal than its predecessor. – Lerato Matebese